Quality medical treatment overseas - let us be your guide

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Cosmetic Surgery Overseas: Turning back the clock

cosmetic surgery overseasThis article first appeared in The Retiree Magazine.

What began as a trickle a decade ago is becoming a flood as people from countries like the US, the UK and Australia stream into Asia and Eastern Europe in search of lost youth, beauty, fertility and freedom from chronic pain and disability.

As medical, hospital and health care costs spiralled out of control in the so-called ‘developed’ countries and waiting lists for surgery lengthened interminably, frustrated would-be patients and enterprising business developers set their sights on tapping affordable offshore solutions.

The result was the quiet evolution of a multi-billion dollar international export industry, known as ‘medical tourism’, whose benefits and burgeoning reputation spread in the first instance largely by word of mouth through local patient networks. 

More recently, comments have flooded the internet and, on providers’ websites, glowing patient testimonials pay daily tribute to overseas doctors, clinics and hospitals that have “...made my dreams come true”, “...given me new hope” or perhaps “...freed me from a world of pain at long last”. 

Traditional print media and television have more often concentrated on the negative side of undertaking surgery overseas.

Sensational stories about unscrupulous medical tourism operators and featuring damaged, regretful patients have regularly peppered the pages of tabloid newspapers and women’s magazines and boosted the ratings of TV current affairs programs as patients shed tears and bare their scarred faces and botched bodies to sympathetic and slightly horrified public scrutiny.  

These moral tales invariably come with dire warnings from the powerful local medical lobby, whose own livelihoods may be threatened by medical tourism, that beauty and the search for physical perfection overseas can come at a terrible cost and that local, high cost medical and surgical specialists and hospitals are the only safe and sensible choices.  

“Simply not true” say medical tourism industry leaders in Australia, who claim that there are few surgical complaints from the estimated 30,000 patients who each year seek a range of procedures in a variety of mainly Asian countries.

They claim that many of the dissatisfied patients tend to be young, female breast surgery patients who have focussed on the perceived benefits of very cheap implant surgery and a low cost holiday rather than on the certified skills of the surgeons, accreditation level of the hospital, quality of the prosthetics used, appropriate insurance and proper care both during recovery and on the patient’s return home.

But surgical ineptitude, operating table stuff-ups and post operative infections occur even in Australia, as publicly available medical and hospital statistics attest – along with a regular diet of local medical and hospital horror stories on TV and in the press. 

“As with everything you purchase or invest in – and especially with services that may affect your overall appearance, health and well-being - you must do the research and carefully evaluate the risks and benefits before you engage a provider and pay your money,” says Melbourne-based Cassandra Italia, whose five-year-old Global Health Travel (GHT) company takes more than 1000 patients overseas for surgery and medical treatment each year.

GHT says it uses only internationally accredited and regularly benchmarked hospitals and clinics, such as the respected Bumrungrad International Hospital complex in Thailand, which treats more than 400,000 visiting patients from 190 different countries every year, and which employs leading specialist doctors and dental surgeons, most of whom have been educated and post-graduate trained in countries like the UK, the USA and Australia. 

Different types of specialist surgery and treatment, such as gastric surgery and IVF, are also offered at globally renowned hospitals under internationally regarded specialists in India and Malaysia, while the new field of surgery using the patient’s own stem cells is being investigated in Shanghai. 

“The patient should take care not to put all the responsibility for a wonderful outcome onto medical tourism companies,” says Cassandra. “They are basically service providers and facilitators.

“A good company will give patients comprehensive, truthful information and hold their hands throughout what can be a daunting process, so they can make their own informed choices, recover well in an appropriate environment and have access to medical assistance if they need it when they come home” she said.

“However the patient must also be prepared to do their part and closely follow the doctor’s instructions before and after surgery.

“Dancing in a disco, swimming or lying on a sandy beach shortly after breast surgery, or trying to trek the tourist trails too soon after hip surgery, is just asking for trouble.

“You’d be surprised how many medical tourists are tempted to do very silly things they’d never do at home before or after an operation then want to blame someone else if something goes wrong which, fortunately, is a rare occurrence when you consider how many patients are involved overall.” 

In the USA in 2006 alone, half a million patients sought affordable medical and surgical treatment and even basic health care in places like Mexico and Hong Kong. Today, the number has doubled. 

Many people in the US are not medically insured (you must be employed or a family member of an employed person to get medical insurance) and, until recently, there was no national system similar to Australia’s Medicare to cover basic health needs.  

In the UK, patients with some money to spend and no time to waste on a waiting list are escaping the beleaguered and often belittled national health system to seek surgery and health treatments in countries like Turkey and Hungary, famous since the 19th century for their health spas, bath houses and regenerative therapies.

The main motivation for Australian patients taking their body business offshore is the escalating cost of dental treatment, including cosmetic dentistry, plastic surgery and other elective and reconstructive operations and procedures. 

This, combined with widening gaps between what Medicare and private insurance funds will pay for particular procedures, hospital stays, prosthetics and medicines, and what the patient has to pay to bridge the gap, has driven the desire to look elsewhere for more affordable alternatives.

The lengthening waiting periods for both necessary elective procedures, caused by an escalating population with too few GPs and specialists to service its needs and a hospital system under pressure, has led to increasing patient frustration especially in cases where pain and disability are the prices paid for delaying surgical intervention.   

As has happened with Australia’s once mighty manufacturing industry, where high costs have forced production and jobs offshore, the overpriced, overburdened, under-resourced Australian health system risks losing customers as would-be patients vote with their feet and their wallets to access the services that local specialists, such as plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists, rely on to support their well-heeled lifestyles.

An Australian TV current affairs program recently claimed that with so much breast surgery going offshore, where it costs about a third of the Australian price with a holiday thrown in, some Australian plastic surgeons risked losing up to 40 percent of their income. 

And Australian dentists could find themselves increasing bereft of patients requiring high level, lucrative care. Without free national dental care and with limits on private cover for major dental work, some Australians resist going to the dentist until damage mounts and they are faced with quotes totalling tens of thousands of dollars. 

With high tech, best practice, speedy, transformational dental services available for 70 percent less cost in a top notch Thai clinic, the urge to take a week’s holiday, jump on a plane and return refreshed, pain-free and with a nice smile, is already proving irresistible to Australians.  

And age is no barrier to a successful outcome as website testimonials clearly show.

A grey-haired man called Damian from Queensland has provided a smiling video testimonial for a major dental ‘full mouth’ reconstruction, including 20 crowns, a number of root canals and four dental plates, just days after surgery in Thailand. It saved him untold thousands of dollars and he was delighted by the whole experience. He even claims “it didn’t hurt”!

A tattooed, grey-bearded Daniel Martindale from north Queensland, was ecstatic following an operation on his spine in Thailand that allowed him to throw away his walking stick and freed him from 20 years of pain. His Australian doctors had told him surgery in an Australian capital city would cost $60-100,000. He paid $11,000.

Patient Yarna Burke claims she was up and about and ready to go shopping with an escort in Bangkok three days after her facelift, free of pain killers and bandaged up “like a demented car accident victim” but “not caring what anyone thought”. 

Yarna loved the results when they were revealed and couldn’t wait to introduce her new look to her friends and colleagues. She also had dental assessments while in Thailand and said she would return for dental surgery next year.

Want to get results like Damian's, Daniel's or Yarna's? Contact Global Health Travel today.

0415 595 100