Study: Plastic Surgery Tourism is Risky Business

Thursday, April 05, 2018 | Healthcare Trends


Seeking cosmetic surgery abroad may be penny-wise, but it’s also pound foolish and could potentially cost patient’s their lives, according to research published in the April 2018 issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Researchers looked at complications among 78 patients who had sought care at Brigham and Women's in Boston following plastic surgery performed abroad between 2010 and 2017: three-quarters had undergone procedures in the Dominican Republic.

Other problematic "medical tourism" destinations include Colombia and Brazil topping a list that included Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, El Salvador, China, Syria and Turkey, the study showed.

All the patients were American residents (average age 43), although many had been born in the country they chose to return to for surgery. More than 60 percent relied on Medicaid as their American insurance. About 45 percent had undergone an abdominoplasty. A third had gone in for a breast enlargement. Other procedures included a breast lift or reduction (17 percent); liposuction (13 percent); or injections of foreign substances such as silicone (nearly 20 percent). About a quarter underwent multiple procedures.

Following the procedures, nearly 10 percent of the patients sought corrective cosmetic surgery at Brigham and Women's. The most common complications were pain, surgical site infections, and wound healing problems. Twelve patients required hospitalization. Others required long-term wound care or repeated visits to treat infections or wound-related issues.

Three patients still had surgical drains in place, which they were instructed to remove themselves when ready. Three patients had hernias following abdominoplasty. Four patients had received breast implants that they did not consent to, including one patient who was unaware that she had breast implants. Other patients had more typical complications, such as contracture (hardening) of the tissues around breast implants, implant rupture, scarring problems, and dissatisfaction with cosmetic results.

"Cosmetic surgery done in developing countries can carry substantial risks of results. complications, causing a burden on patients, surgeons, and the US healthcare system,” the researchers conclude. "We hope that this study will bring attention to this emerging issue and encourage others to report any results related to medical tourism treatment and patterns.”

The authors point out some limitations of their relatively small single-center study, including the fact that it included only patients who saw a doctor in the plastic surgery department.

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