Medical tourism has been a hot business. Before you book your breast-augmentation-and-vacation trip, you had better think twice, cautioned this Albuquerque plastic surgeon. On the surface, it appears to be a good deal: accommodation in a resort in Mexico, or Venezuela, or Thailand, etc. You then have your surgery the next day. Rest a few more days. Then go home with your new results of cosmetic surgery! What can go wrong, right? Plenty. See this ABC Nightline Prime report on 3/15/2014, and many more.

Having been a member of American Society of Plastic Surgeons and Board certified by American Board of Plastic Surgery for almost 20 years and having met many international plastic surgeons, I have no doubt that the majority of foreign plastic surgeons are ethical and competent. However, there can be many issues with surgery in foreign countries.

First, there may be a language barrier. Ever for those who speak the language locally, often the medical terminology is beyond the grasp of the patients. The medical systems are also quite different from the U.S. What entities oversee the qualification of the doctors? How about the facilities? What is the patients’ recourse if something were to go wrong? What happen if it takes a lot longer for the healing to complete even if there are no complications? What happens after the patients return to U.S. and realized there are problems or complications?

I remember vividly a patient I saw when I was on call at Massachusetts General Hospital when I was a plastic surgery resident. She went to Mexico to have breast augmentation a week previously. She presented with fever and extremely low blood pressure. It turned out she had massive infection from her surgery. The implants were removed and the infected tissue cut away and she spent the next 3-4 days in the ICU intubated with large doses of blood pressure support medications. Fortunately, she survived, but not before she lost all her fingers and toes (due to hypotension). She of course lost her implants and could never have breast augmentation again because of extensive scarring. She also accumulated $150,000 of hospital bill. Ironically, she could have had the surgery done at Massachusetts General Hospital for less than her spent surgical fee and traveling.

Obviously, not all medical tourism ends up with such tragic story. But think twice before you make that move. Besides, you have a Board certified experienced Albuquerque plastic surgeon here to serve you.

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