Nov 01

Cosmetic surgery is not a commodity. All facelifts are not created equal. And “How much is a facelift in Mexico?” … or in California, or Costa Rica, or Malaysia is not, are not questions that have tidy, brisk answers. You pay for the experience of the surgeon. You pay for geography. You pay what the market will bear.

Chapter 4 Page 2 | Cosmetic Surgeries and Procedures

Despite the efforts of my editor to wring specifics from me on cosmetic surgery prices, I held to broad ranges when characterizing what cosmetic surgeons charge in different countries — or even within one country, or in your neighborhood. As such, the information I gathered in 2004-2005 is probably just about as relevant now as it was then. Surgery prices have no doubt risen for some, declined for some and stayed about the same for others. Fluctuations of the dollar and exchange rates have mostly been unfavorable for overseas surgeons who operate on U.S. residents — but not extraordinarily so.

There are some changes, surely … and I hope readers will enlighten me as we go.

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Sep 22

Introduction Page 5 | Seeking Beauty from Afar: How I Got My Smile Back

Competition for the United States

The new context emerged out of the Far East and spread from government officials and hospitals to business journals. In India, Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries, medical tourism was not a fad; it was a business sector, an important part of the new Asian economy. Sure they were doing inexpensive boob jobs, and if that was all it was, maybe the story wouldn’t have changed.

But they were also doing inexpensive open-heart surgery and opening brand-new hospitals that rivaled any in the United States. The story grew in 2004 and spilled out over the Internet. In 2005, it splashed across the front pages and onto cable and network news in the United States. Two premises about traveling abroad for surgery now co-exist, uneasily. The first is that traveling abroad for surgery or medical care is unacceptably risky and should be avoided. This is certainly the general view of the medical profession in the United States, and it is shared by the bulk of the population. If one subscribes to this premise, the idea of traveling abroad to save money on elective procedures such as plastic or cosmetic surgery sounds especially foolhardy, as in, “Who cares if it’s cheap? You don?t even need it!” or “Why not save up until you can afford to do it right?”

The second premise is that the rest of the world, or at least some of it, has caught up with the United States in quality of medical care and facilities, and that going abroad for lower costs can be the best option, especially for high-cost elective and uninsured procedures and surgeries. Under this view, going abroad for plastic and cosmetic surgery is not a last, desperate resort but a best affordable option for the hundreds of thousands, even millions of people who desire such procedures annually. If the doctors and facilities overseas are up to U.S. standards but the prices are 30 to 80 percent less (even factoring in travel expenses), what is so hard about that decision?

There is truth in both premises, of course; and I considered that I was unprepared to write Beauty from Afar until I could argue impressively for either. One thing — perhaps the one thing — that supporters of either view would agree on is that consumers of medical services should do their homework and be as informed as humanly possible about their options. To that end, I offer Beauty from Afar, representing, as it does, about 18 months of day-in, day-out homework and research into traveling abroad for medical care, particularly plastic and cosmetic surgery, and dentistry. This book is intended as an introduction to medical tourism and as a guide to those who might want to consider traveling abroad for health care, whether as a best affordable option or as a last resort.

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Sep 19

Introduction Page 3 | Seeking Beauty from Afar: How I Got My Smile Back

A Nose Job in Iran?

I first focused on the bigger picture, which was plastic and cosmetic surgery in Costa Rica and elsewhere, and soon found myself swimming in a sea of Internet message boards. Mexico — was it safe? Had anyone been to Malaysia? Did South Africa make any sense at all? Why Spain for weight-loss surgery? Nose jobs in Iran, tummy tucks in Colombia, sexual reassignments in Thailand, new boobs in Brazil … it seemed that in every corner of the globe, plastic surgery was being performed for fees dramatically less than those charged by doctors in the United States and Europe, and it was even being done in places prospective patients could consider going to for a vacation.

Still, it was something one had to know about to find. It was a phenomenon, perhaps even a trend, but small — in fact tiny — when measured against the number of people who don’t leave the country to want cosmetic surgery. It didn’t even really have a name yet, though the mainstream media made periodic attempts to label it. “Lipotourism” was tried on for size (notably by The New York Times), but it didn’t really stick, describing, as it did, mostly a quick trip for fat suctioning and not much else. I’d run across “medical tourism” and used it once in an article, but it wasn’t in common usage. “Health tourism” was another borderline misnomer. As time passed, the term “medical tourism,” as uncomfortable as it is to some people, caught on.

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