Is Overseas Plastic Surgery Safe?

Q: Dr. Eppley, I am thinking about having some overseas plastic surgery (breast augmentation and liposuction) done in Costa Rica. I currently live in Indiana but I can get it done over there for about half the cost of here. Do you think this is safe or a bad idea? The idea of having the surgery in a warm climate seems appealing, particularly when it comes to getting a new shapely body!

A: While the appeal of low cost or inexpensive plastic surgery certainly has its appeal, as evidenced by a booming medical tourism industry, it is important to also look at its downsides. Like any aspect of plastic surgery, from the procedure to the plastic surgeon to the facility, one has to calculate the risks as best they can.

While complications of all sorts certainly occur amongst plastic surgery procedures in the U.S. (fortunately most are aesthetic in nature) there are less safeguards when traveling overseas particularly to third world countries. One major issue that most patients don’t think about it is the sterility of the procedure and how medical equipment and supplies are handled. (and even reused) The lack of following adequate sterile surgery protocols and the re-use of medical supplies is one way to keep down costs but place patients at increased infection risks. Just like you might not drink bottled water in some countries, would you really trust something much more important like actually entering your body?

You are also hedging your bet that you will have a complication-free surgical outcome, whether it be a medical or aesthetic problem. In lands that are not teeming with lawyers and medico-legal oversight, your far away surgeon may have little regard for a patient once they leave the operating room…and certainly has no obligation once you return home. (other than what you might say on the internet) When the long-term outcome  appears to have little real consequence, what level of detail and attentiveness might your far away surgeon hold themselves to?

While this discussion may seem negative about medical tourism and there are undoubtably many good experiences and results, it is really to provide you with the flip side of the coin of lower surgical prices. Like most things in life, it is all about how you want to hedge your bet on your plastic surgery outcome and what would happen if all does not go well. The most recent report of mycobacterial infections from plastic surgery done in the Dominican Republic by the CDC illustrates that point.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana