The growing trend in traveling abroad for surgery, is it worth it?

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Australians love to travel, but in recent years there has been a trend of going overseas for surgeries as well as holidays. The Sun, Sea, Sand, Silicone Project study estimates that Australians are spending $300 million a year on cosmetic tourism with 15,000 Australians head overseas for these surgeries each year.

Most travellers are electing to have plastic surgery and dental work done abroad in order to cut cost and save money. Surgeries of these kinds in Australia can be expensive, so why not get it done and have a holiday at the same time for less?

These savvy travellers are going to places like Thailand, India, South Korea, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, in order to have surgery for prices that are unheard of and unimaginable in Australia.

This is a quick comparison of average prices in Australia and Thailand, according to News.com.au:

Breast implants: Australia — $8,000-$12,000; Thailand — $3,000-$4,000

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Facelift: Australia — $9,000-$10,000, Thailand — $4,000-$5,500

Tummy tuck: Australia — $7,000-8,000, Thailand — $5,000-$5,200

Dental implant: Australia — $3,500-$7,500, Thailand -$2,300

Knee/hip replacement: Australia – $20,000, Thailand $12,000 – $14,000

Although it is not just the great prices people are chasing, Dr Meredith Jones, from the University of Technology, Sydney, worked in the study and told Australian Associated Press that some Aussies believe they can get better quality surgery overseas. “Most people are attracted to it because it is cheaper overseas but the agents are beginning to tell us that they are servicing people who are choosing to go overseas because they think they will get better work done,” she said.

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Sounds enticing right? There are even companies such as Global Health Travel and MEDIGO which help you plan out your medical holiday. A woman who had dental procedures in Thailand told SBS that she was very happy with how her procedure went. “I don’t think their technology is that great in Australia, because they gave me a plate that goes under the roof of my mouth and with wires. Whereas in Bangkok the temporary tooth they gave me was just a tooth that kind of just slipped in, it was just amazing. Very, very cheap it would have cost me probably 160 dollars, whereas here they charged me 700 dollars for that barbaric thing they put in my mouth”. It was not just the price she was happy with, she also said that the dentists in Thailand worked quickly and were “more superior and much more advanced” than those in Australia.

Although it sounds good at face value and there are plenty of success stories, Australia surgeons are warning that cheap surgeries overseas could come at a much higher cost, especially if there are complications. Both the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery (ACCS) and the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) argue that cosmetic tourism is doing more harm than good, trivialising invasive surgeries and the decision to have such operations should not be taken lightly.

“Surgical procedures and tourism should not appear in the same sentence,” says Dr John Flynn, chief censor at ACCS. “Surgery used to be very well considered and a serious proposition. It’s not something that you can add on to a holiday and it’s not something you do simply because this is the cheapest way to go.”

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He also argues that it is important to be able to have access and liaise with your surgeon after the operation, something which may not be available in cosmetic tourism, “The person who is best suited to treat your problem is several thousand miles away.” says Dr Flynn. “Even if it might be the same type of a complication that you might get in Australia, the most important thing is for the patient and the treating doctor to be in the same place.”

They also warn of further risks of infection in tropical climates, the risk of implants not being subject to the rigorous approval processes that are in Australia, the risk of post-operative deep vein thrombosis driving the flight home, which is potentially threatening.

Although Dr Flynn says that surgery overseas can be up to half the cost of those in Australia sometimes, surprisingly there is not that much difference in cost. “And it’s surprising that people would save themselves [an amount] as small as 20% improvement in price as a trade-off for the accompanying risk profile.”

Like any procedure or surgery, regardless of geographical location, there are going to be risks associated so it is important to be aware of the standards of facilities and carefully review and critique places before you book – and always have travel insurance. Although it may offer cost effective treatment, availability of surgeons and the relaxation of a holiday the disadvantages include legal issues, language barriers and complications pre- or post-surgery.

With these in mind here is a list we published of things you should do before you book (click the link).

Would you have surgery overseas? What would you get done?