Everybody likes a bargain. Whether its BOGO at the shoe store or the hot dog and a coke combination for a buck and a half at Costco, we all want to feel like we got a good deal. This is great when it comes to clothes or shoes or lunch, but there is another saying that is equally true, “you get what you pay for”.
A number of stories have hit the national news recently about people who decided to have their plastic surgery procedures performed at a bargain basement rate outside of the US. None of the stories ended well for the bargain hunters in these cases. And these are just the stories of people who have died as a result of surgery outside the country. A large number of other patients, mostly women, have been left scarred and disappointed after their surgeries outside the country went wrong. Many of these patients have suffered at the hands of untrained or poorly trained “surgeons” who take advantage of unsuspecting people who want their cosmetic surgery at a discount.
So, what’s the difference between a plastic surgeon in the US and one in Mexico or the Dominican Republic? In the US, in order to earn the moniker of Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon, you must:
- Excel in Medical school (top of your class) to earn a highly competitive position in a Plastic surgery residency training program that lasts 5-7 years (after medical school)
- Pass a rigorous comprehensive written examination and impress upon a panel of experienced, grey haired surgeons who are leaders in the field of plastic surgery in an oral examination that you are a safe, ethical plastic surgeon in order to obtain Board Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
- Obtain hospital privileges to practice your specialty and submit to peer review and continuing medical education in order to maintain your credentials.
Outside the US… who knows? All you may need is a white coat, a slick website and a sign out front of your building. The point is, you don’t know. And that is what can be dangerous. In the US, you can check with your local or state medical Board to check the qualifications of your surgeon. Not so elsewhere. The practitioners are banking on your desire for low ball price shopping, and you ASSUME, that they are a safe, experienced, surgeon. It is this assumption that can prove disfiguring at best, deadly at worst.
So, what could possibly go wrong? Everything. In a recently publicized case, a healthy woman suffered an anesthetic complication before the surgery even started. The details are sketchy as the details were not readily provided by the clinic in Mexico. And then, oops, the records are accidentally destroyed. The patient gets transferred to a local hospital and then is basically held hostage until the bill is paid in full before releasing them to be transported back to the US where she later died. The clinic in Mexico, the doctor… ghosts. Good luck trying to track them down and leveling charges or filing suit.
That is the worst-case scenario. Say you make it back home in one piece. Can you be sure of what was injected or implanted in you. Tales of finding recycled implants or temporary sizers used as implants are what we plastic surgeons chat about when we get together at meetings. And what exactly was in that “filler” that was used?
What if you have issues after you get home? The incisions don’t look right. They are draining something awful and you can never seem to reach your surgeon in Mexico no matter when you call. You call your local plastic surgeon to get checked out, but they are not very enthusiastic about taking care of another surgeon’s complications and subjecting themselves to that liability and they politely decline. So, you go to the ER, where you find that your insurance, if you have insurance, does not cover complications of cosmetic procedures. Get ready for a medical bill that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
The moral of the story is, you get what you pay for. The BOGO shoes at DSW and the day-old bread at the bakery may be a good short-term decision with little downside. It is definitely worthwhile to save up to hire a surgeon who has the training, experience, judgement and the skills to perform the procedure that you are considering. And yes, that does come at a price. But it is well worth it.
You wouldn’t recommend a discount, cut rate plastic surgeon to operate on your best friend or family member, would you?
J. Michael Morrissey, MD is a board certified
Plastic Surgeon in Plano.