Five Things You Should Know Before Traveling for Plastic Surgery
by Virginia Torres
The idea of traveling for plastic surgery to a popular plastic surgery destination like my hometown, Miami, where it’s always summertime and the Cuban food is delicious, is a tempting one. Why not combine recovery with “vacation?” You can find “plastic surgery packages” marketed to combine sightseeing and rehabilitation. In all honesty, any surgical recovery is far from a vacation. It’s work.
It’s work because each patient must take care of themselves and rest to protect their health and healing. The work is in the resting. There isn’t time to check out the local tourist spots after a procedure. The goal is to care for your body. No time for the beach. No time for mojitos by the pool at The Fontainebleau. Although once you’re all healed up (two months later) and ready to rock that bikini you’ve been dying for, then go right ahead!
Before I moved to Raleigh, NC and started working at Tannan Plastic Surgery I was a newsie. I worked as an Assignment Editor at a local TV station in Miami. An Assignment Editor is the first person to touch and nurture what later becomes a news story. In my career as an Assignment Editor, sadly, I did my fair share of stories regarding deaths at plastic surgery centers in Miami. You read that right, I did not misspeak. Miami is known for its medical and cosmetic tourism.This is a price-driven phenomenon where people travel for surgery in search of a good deal.
I was always upset in doing these stories, because they felt personal. It was typically (not always) someone traveling from another city drawn in by the “specials” of a Mommy Makeover or a Brazilian Butt Lift for outrageously low prices. Billboards inundate the highways in South Florida with all the “specials” in season. When working on these stories I felt upset, sad and hurt for these women. The marketing targeted mainly Hispanic and Black women. They clearly targeted moms who were insecure with their bodies and trying their best to have surgery at a lower price.
Traveling for Plastic Surgery Has Risks
Before I get to the meat of this article, I’d like to share a first-hand experience that inspired me to write this blog post. In Miami, I witnessed how dangerous these clinics would become. I remember sending my fiancé, a photojournalist, to a story about one of these deaths. It wasn’t too far from our condo. This hit close to home. When I called him to ask him if he’d shot a video of the location he alerted, “I’ve been here before, for the same story, except the business had a different name.” Assignment editors like me are very curious and resourceful. They’re like little detectives who know that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
After checking some public records, we identified a shocking trend. The plastic surgery center in question was closing under its current name and reopening under a new name. According to their statements to local news outlets they called it “re-branding.” You can read more about these practices in this investigative article by The Naples Daily News and USA Today where they provide an in-depth account of how these plastic surgery centers became businesses and were allowed to operate in such shady ways.
Now let me be clear: This blog post isn’t to discredit the amazing and talented BOARD CERTIFIED plastic surgeons in Miami. I’m from there and I’d never dishonor my city of origin in that way, because there are some amazing board certified plastic surgeons there who should not be grouped with these other plastic surgery centers that operate in a “business only” sense. It is, however, to paint a picture on taking heed at extremely low prices and the idea of traveling for a surgical procedure. Does the money outweigh the accessibility that you have in doing surgery in your same state or town?
Fast forward two years. Now I work in a plastic surgery office with a Female Board Certified Plastic Surgeon, who owns her own practice and is mindful about the number of surgeries and patients whom she’ll perform surgery on. I realize why you get what you pay for. In this article my goal is not to scare you but to share with you Five Things You Should Know When Traveling For Plastic Surgery.
1. Know The Local Laws if You’re Planning to Travel
This isn’t just for traveling out of the country, but even traveling to a different city. Do your research. Never make a hasty decision, this is your life. Any surgery comes with risks, and the higher the training, the more expensive. To become certified as a doctor in plastic surgery, a doctor must go through 25,000 hours of training – AFTER medical school. It’s what separates the best from the rest.
So make sure they are a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon and don’t take someone’s word for it. Don’t rely on marketing campaigns or social media to provide this information, as the wording can be tricky on purpose. For example- a doctor or website can be claiming that a doctor is a cosmetic surgeon. The title “cosmetic surgeon” is not even a specialty recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties! So in truth, anyone can claim to be a cosmetic surgeon.
Let me give you a real-world example of why you should know the local laws. In Florida, any doctor can perform any procedure as long as they have the patient’s consent. This means a dermatologist, family doctor, or gynecologist can literally call themselves a cosmetic surgeon and perform surgical procedures, even if they are not board-certified. This is downright dangerous. So protect yourself, look up the laws, and at a minimum, check to make sure your doctor is on that list of board-certified plastic surgeons.
2. If You Are Traveling for Surgery, Plan to Stay a While
If you’ve done your investigative due diligence in picking out your surgeon, then just be sure you’ll be staying for a while. When planning your trip, you’ll have to take into account that traveling to and from surgery and going long distances can put you in risky situations. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons advises that long flights combined with plastic surgery can further increase the development of pulmonary embolism and blood clots which can potentially be fatal.
Travel can also increase chances of swelling and infection. If you develop a problem, you want to be near your doctor. If you have a complication who will manage them if you are a five hour flight away from your doctor? What if you have a complication (start bleeding out for example) on the plane?
Finally, ask a lot of questions and make sure you tell your doctor that you’ll be traveling. You may need to stay longer for a tummy tuck than you would a breast augmentation. Make sure you’re clear on what timeline you can expect. And be sure to have supportive friends and family nearby.
3. If It Looks Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is
When looking to have plastic surgery, your life and your health are on the line. Is this worth “bargaining” over? A study in the Journal of American Society of Plastic Surgeons concluded that “Cosmetic surgery performed in developing countries can carry substantial risks of complications that can be challenging to patients, primary care providers, insurers, and plastic surgical teams not associated with the original surgery.”
They found in the study that even if the original surgery may have been successful, other complications arose from patients traveling to a foreign country, where they often have even cheaper prices, and patients eventually had to be seen here in the U.S. for follow-up care. Bottom line: this ended up costing more money.
4. Be Wary of Clinics Promoting Too Many Procedures in a Day
A lot of the centers that have received notoriety were because they put money over care. Each patient was a number, a drop in the bucket.
Even though the price per procedure may have been notably less, these centers had doctors performing eight or more procedures daily, when the recommended amount is about four. Some patients complained they hadn’t even met their doctors prior to surgery. This is not normal. This means that the clinic works as a factory. You should always be able to meet your doctor and have a consultation with your doctor so that before you schedule your surgery you’re able to have all your questions answered.
Now of course you want your board certified plastic surgeon to have extensive experience in a procedure. That should not come at the cost of being so busy that they’re unable to see you after surgery or can’t be reached by phone.
5. Ask to See Longterm Results with Before & After Pictures
It is important to see real before and after pictures that reflect how tissues look after healing has taken place. Seeing what someone looks like in the operating room is always stunning and dramatic, but not sufficient enough as an “after” picture. The real work, your body’s healing, takes place for weeks to months after the “on-the-table” result.
Requesting these pictures (often in-house and more available to you at the consultation) is crucial. Apart from seeing the final result after healing, you get to see that the doctor has seen this patient routinely for follow up appointments. This doctor has been present, supportive and attentive throughout the whole journey, not just the immediate surgery.
It’s ideal and encouraged to have surgery near where you live. If this is not possible, then be as close as possible. If you can, bring up your support person or family member to where you are for help. If this can’t be done and you need to travel for plastic surgery to be with your support system, you can use these five things I wrote as a guide. Don’t embark on this journey alone. We all care about our finances and want the best deal out there. However, when it comes to your health, you are definitely worth it.
We’ve included links to reporting, resources and information to help our patients in their decision-making process in this article.
Five Things You Should Know Before Traveling for Plastic Surgery
- Know the local laws if you’re planning to travel
- If you are traveling for plastic surgery, plan to stay a while
- If it looks too good to be true, it probably is
- Be wary of clinics promoting too many procedures in a day
- Request to see longterm results with before and after pictures