Chinese Encourage Medical Tourism to Taiwan - What Are Risks for Americans?

Princess 19 on 24 Jun 2011 at 10:00am

What possesses people to leave their own country, visit a foreign land and go under the knife?  With the economy at a turtle-paced recovery, many Americans are doing just that.  But, the growth of medical tourism is not just in the US.  It seems medical tourism is good for many countries' bottom line - that includes nose jobs, new breasts and the like.

Recently, the plastic surgery community in Taiwan requested the government to reconsider the extent of stay for Chinese nationals who visit their country under the FIT (free independent travelers) program.  Under current restrictions, current Chinese nationals can visit up to 15 days alone for pleasure.  But, surgeons pointed out that it was not enough time for recovery for those that come for cosmetic surgery.  They are looking for an increase to a one month stay, which would positively affect the amount of cosmetic procedures performed in Taiwan.

The Chinese goverment is well-aware of their citizens' desires to get work done.  They suggest that if they must go abroad for this, to use certified, large medical centers.  With China in 3rd place as the country with the most procedures done last year at about 2.2 million, this is good advice.  China actually leads in the category of most breast augmentations done.

For Americans, the top 2 reasons to use a passport when considering surgery are simple: overall cost and lack of insurance (for those that need a health-related correction).  Medical tourism is now a $40 billion annual business, according to the San Francisco Sentinel.  Going abroad is a viable option for a new nose or tummy tuck and, in some cases, one could experience this in style.

“I was treated like a billionaire,” says Paul Hambleton, who went to a facility in Mexico for reconstructive knee surgery.  “I had a Baylor[university]-trained surgeon, a personal nurse the entire time, stayed at a top hotel, and had the best chicken enchiladas I’ve ever had."

Thailand surgery center recovery room

But, what are the real risks?  

"The US has the best training and certification methods in the world and the safest health care system in the world," says Boston plastic surgeon Dr. Brooke Seckel.  "The only reason people leave the US to have plastic surgery is cost and when it comes to having surgery, cost should be the last consideration, far below the concerns of your safety and achieving the result you desire. "

"You will need to have frequent follow-ups with your [ ] surgeon for the first year after surgery," says New Jersey facial plastic surgeon Dr. Eric Joseph.  "I strongly advise against having elective surgery performed overseas. Prices are certainly lower...but the peace of mind you'll have knowing your surgeon is close by is priceless."

The Sentinel article does note there are some important factors to keep in mind if considering jumping on a plane for a new you.

  • The facility you choose may not be fully accredited
  • Consider your flight time (as this will adversely affect recovery if if the air for a prolonged period of time)
  • If you leave your records behind, your recovery process will be hindered
  • Is it worth the risk going to a country that may bein social turmoil?  Safety may be a prime factor

 Bumrungrad International Hospital Top destinations visited for cosmetic surgery are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Turkey.  One popular foreign medical center, Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, a top medical tourist facility named by Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, boasts all the standard cosmetic procedures alongside a hotel-like atmosphere complete with high-end lobby and neatly decorated rooms.  With nose jobs costing over $6k in the US, you can save $1000 by having the procedure done in Thailand.  But, as Dr. Seckel pointed, is cost more important than safety and recovery?  A marble lobby may be masking a lack of true helathcare.

At the end of the day, the difficulty in choosing to travel for surgery may come down to lack of resources more than anything.  As California plastic surgeon Dr. John Di Saia notes, "There is not a good way to check these foreign doctors the last time I looked into it."

On second thought, maybe we better stay stateside.

Have you had work done abroad? Or, are you considering it? 

Photo credits:  Focus Taiwan News Channel, Bumrungrad International Hospital