Medical Tourism: Finding the Right Cosmetic Surgeon

I am on a tight budget but want nose surgery. My research has uncovered lots of agencies that help finding a doctor internationally where our dollar is stronger and hospitals are less costly. One is called Med Journeys, another is called Flying Patient (which appears to be for Brits and Europeans). I know doctors on this website want patients to come to them. However I can not afford a plastic surgeon fees in Denver. Reality is I must find less expensive surgery. Any thoughtful comments on the best way to choose a service or international doctor is sincerely appreciated.

Doctor Answers 9

Even more problems from cosmetic surgery abroad

In addition to the answers provided by the providers below there is another important consideration. Problems with:

  • Qualifications abroad
  • Facilities abroad
  • Inability to get good follow-up

Travelling after surgery requiring general anesthesia can cause significant problems including deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) in the lower extremities which can lead to death. Also, many patients who have seen me after problems with surgery abroad report that they didn't save as much as they thought they were going to in the end.

San Francisco Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 49 reviews

Consider training programs

Getting plastic surgery abroad is very risky. You are gambling with your nose and your life. This is not to say that you cannot stumble onto a well-trained and experienced surgeon. Most people assume things will go right but don't prepare for things to go wrong.

Rhinoplasty has a relatively high secondary revision rate 10-20%. As mentioned by other surgeons, follow-up is impossible, records may be unobtainable when you return to the States, hospitalization or other provisions for medical complication may not be appropriate or available.

For the price of travel, accommodations, and potential complication, you might end up spending more. I would suggest looking at university residency training programs in your area that often provide lower cost surgery performed by plastic surgery residents who are carefully supervised by board-certified teaching faculty. It might save you money and aggravation.

Also, in today's economy, I would visit reputable surgeons in your area. Although you do not want to skimp on safety, many doctors and surgicenters, might be willing to discount their fees because of the slowdown in cosmetic surgery.

Good luck and always think safety first for an elective procedure.

Robin T.W. Yuan, MD
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Demand Perfection in Your Plastic Surgery Practice: Do not ever settle for less

As an indication of how well respected United States plastic surgeons are, our plastic surgery practice is inundated with patients from other countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Indonesia, Phillipines, China, and Europe.

Demand perfection in your plastic surgery procedures as the quality and expertise of your plastic surgeon determines your success.

If you do not feel that you can afford plastic surgery by a board certified plastic surgeon in the United States, I would advise you to delay the procedure until you can find an appropriate surgeon locally who is well qualified.

Raffy Karamanoukian, MD, FACS
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 94 reviews

Don't save money on your parachute

Imagine you could buy a parachute that had all its safety devices stripped out of it and was therefore cheaper than its competetors. No safety chute. Cheap materials. Cheap assembly. No testing. No doubt that parachute would be much cheaper, but you would probably never consider saving money on safety features and jeopardize your safety.

Choosing to have surgery where there are no protections can be similar. The United States have the strictest standards for medical safety, for medical malpractice anywhere. Properly accredited surgical centers have great costs associated with the filters in the ceilings that filter air, the emergency equipment that must always be there and functioning properly, the necessary staffing and credentials for every case.

Board certified plastic surgeons have such a rigorous path to follow that most who start out wanting to be plastic surgeons never make it, and end up doing something else.

Even with those safeguards, patients must be very vigilant about choosing their doctors and the surgical centers or hospitals they work in. Can you imagine if the safeguards were not there?

The choice is of course ultimately yours, but don't save money on your parachute.

Brent Moelleken, MD
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 177 reviews

Best to save your money and stay in America

I have seen several patients who have done what you are proposing and have had bad results and experiences. The cost to try to fix them is much higher than if they had it done right the first time in America. Plus, it is impossible to have quality follow-up with your doctor when you are at a great distance away.

Many US surgeons are offering excellent prices during the present economic crisis and you should check on this. If the prices are still too high, save for the time when you can get it done by an excellent doctor in the USA.

Richard P. Rand, MD, FACS
Seattle Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 67 reviews

Please Be Careful

Please be careful when going oversea or south of the boarder for plastic surgery. There are many great surgeons around the world, but those are usually not the ones who will be cheaper than what you can afford here. A considerable part of my practice is "fixing" plastic surgery mishaps that occurred when people traveled away to find better "deals" on plastic surgery.

My best recommendation would be to talk to patients that have already had surgery by the surgeon you are considering. Word of mouth is the best advice.

Another consideration when traveling far for plastic surgery is that once you return home, it will be difficult for follow-up visits. While most of the time procedures go as planned, if you unfortunately have a problem, you will be in a tough situation and it will end up being very expensive.

David Shafer, MD
New York Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 75 reviews

Give yourself what you deserve

I'm sure you were hoping to have someone give you a great recommendation for a medical tourism company, but I have to agree with my colleagues: surgery abroad can be risky.

Still, I want to take a moment to address your particular situation, and there are two things I see that are very significant.

First: finances. You mentioned a "tight budget" and then said, "reality is I must find less expensive surgery." Here's my honest opinion: when it comes to budgeting, facial reconstructive surgery is not where you want to cut corners. Look at your overall budget, and adjust it so you can find a good plastic surgeon who will do a great job. 

Second: rhinoplasty. Of all the procedures I perform, this particular operation involves many, frequent patient follow-ups and consultations. It is definitely not a four day deal. Rhinoplasty is one of the most common operations to be done over again (as my colleague mentioned, it has a high secondary revision rate) so you definitely want to start with someone you trust, someone who can refer you if needed, and someone who can follow you closely. 

I have decided to dedicate some time to answering questions on RealSelf. I think it's a great forum for discussion, and a good way for patients from all over the country to get a wide variety of opinions. As I review the questions posed by rhinoplasty patients, I am reminded of how often post-operative rhinoplasty patients have one week, two weeks, one month, two months, and so on. I am always grateful that my own rhinoplasty patients have the option of calling me or simply coming into the office. 

You deserve the same thing, and I hope you can find it. 

Barbara Persons

Barbara Persons, MD, FACS
Bay Area Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 17 reviews

Never make cost a hurdle to Safety & Quality

Hello Ted,

I agree with Dr. Shafer's advice - I see patients on a weekly basis who have gone abroad for surgery and end up wishing they hadn't.

Many patient's who go abroad do very well with their surgeries, but horror stories and complications are also common.

Follow up is also very important - I see my Rhinoplasty patients up to a year after their surgery since this is how long it can take for the final results to be seen. Unless you are ok with traveling back overseas, then you do need to take follow up care into account.

Don't be afraid to shop around in your local area - many Surgeons are able to discount their fees if you volunteer to be a model for other patients or allow your photos to be used in their practice.

Financing is also widely available and it never hurts to just tell the Surgeon what you can pay and maybe they can work with you.

Always ask lots of questions, research your Surgeon and ask to speak with former patients - whatever you do do not allow cost to be a hurdle to safe and effective care!

Kamran Jafri, MD
New York Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Cosmetic Surgery Tight Budget - Consider Alternatives to Medical Tourism

Medical tourism has becoming increasingly popular in recent years; patients have been flying out of the U.S. for plastic surgery, lured by lower prices. If this is the only reason your are considering going overseas, then I recommend that you consider contacting a teaching  program at one of the major University Plastic Surgical Residency clinics. The surgeries are most often performed with University Faculty supervision at low cost to the patient.
Of interest, a parallel trend has also appeared: plastic surgeons in the United States are finding themselves treating an increasing number of patients who plastic surgery abroad, correcting complications and errors. A survey by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that 80% of the responding doctors had treated American medical tourists for complications including infection, contour abnormalities, and hematoma.
Medical tourists are often led to believe that they will receive the same quality of care for a lower price in a foreign clinic. But while it is true that the cost of plastic surgery in some foreign countries is lower, this is often because the quality of care and surgery is compromised. Such patients also seem to neglect the possibility of complications and the need for a follow-up visit.
In addition to the risks posed by sub-standard medical care abroad, medical tourists must consider these risks. 
It is often the case that medical tourists end up spending more money because they have to pay to treat complications from their overseas surgery.
Source: The Cost of Medical Tourism – Medscape Medical News

Larry S. Nichter, MD, MS, FACS
Orange County Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 154 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.