Plastic Surgery Complications from Medical Tourism Treated in a U.S. Academic Medical Center

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Abstract

Background:

Medical tourism is a growing, multi–billion dollar industry fueled by improvements in the global transportation infrastructure. The authors studied patients living in the United States who travel to other countries for plastic surgical procedures and returned to have their complications treated in the authors’ center.

Methods:

A retrospective patient evaluation was performed. Patients who had presented to an urban tertiary academic hospital plastic surgery service with complications or complaints associated with plastic surgery performed in a developing country were studied. The authors collected demographic information, types of surgery performed, destinations, insurance coverage, and complications.

Results:

Seventy-eight patients were identified over 7 years. Most commonly, complications were seen following abdominoplasty (n = 35), breast augmentation (n = 25), and foreign body injections (n = 15). Eighteen patients underwent multiple procedures in one operative setting. The most common destination country was the Dominican Republic (n = 59). Complications included surgical-site infections (n = 14), pain (n = 14), and wound healing complications (n = 12). Eighty-six percent of patients (n = 67) relied on their medical insurance to pay for their follow-up care or manage their complications, with the most common type of health insurance coverage being Massachusetts Medicaid (n = 48).

Conclusions:

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. These complications pose significant burdens on our public health systems.

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