Oct 09

One of the great things about being a writer is that it gives one lots of opportunities to talk to interesting people one would otherwise never have met. For me, over the past 25 or so years, this has meant chatting with people ranging from accused murderers to U.S. Senators, the infamous and the celebrated.

For Beauty from Afar, I got to talk to doctors and surgeons. Lots of them. And they are a fascinating bunch. In today’s segment:

Chapter 2 Page 6 | Point, Counterpoint

… I compared and contrasted statements from two doctors, one from Texas and the other from Brazil, both renowned plastic and cosmetic surgeons.

I remember thinking that Dr. Rod Rohrich of Texas probably wanted to hang up on me while we were chatting on the phone and that I wouldn’t really have blamed him if he did. I was clearly writing something that was going to be at least somewhat at odds with his public pronouncements about going overseas for plastic surgery. I remain grateful that he took time to talk.

The Brazilian surgeon, Dr. Luiz Toledo, is now apparently working in Dubai! Links for both surgeons are provided in the segment.

The web site and staff of the International Society of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS) were both very helpful in my research. Sometime after Beauty from Afar came out, ISAPS published its own briefing paper on medical tourism which was rather less negative than the one put forth by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

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Oct 09

Chapter 2 Page 6 | Point, Counterpoint

Rod Rohrich, M.D., a Dallas physician who is a past president of the ASPS, is (was) perhaps the ASPS point man for the briefing paper. He reiterated many of the points in the briefing paper, stood behind them, and referred me to articles in which he had been quoted.

“People want to go for the deal. They want to go abroad because, quote unquote, ‘They can get the same surgery for a reduced price.’  Therein is the fallacy,” is what Dr. Rohrich said in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story in August 2004. “America has the best health care system in the world … You’re putting yourself and your body and your life at incredible risk.  Is it worth saving $500 on your face-lift if it could kill you? There are excellent surgeons in Mexico and all these countries. But I can tell you most of them don’t have these fly-in, fly-out deals.”

Ironically,  Luiz Toledo, M.D.,  a surgeon in Brazil who is active in the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), referred me to the same news story when I asked him for the ISAPS perspective on the ASPS briefing paper. Dr. Toledo said patients generally look outside their own countries for better-quality services, cheaper prices, or a combination of the two. But he warned against seeking treatment from “cowboys” — untrained doctors with different specialties who perform cosmetic procedures for quick profits.

“A patient may travel to Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, or Costa Rica and have top-quality surgery with a cheaper price, due to the exchange rate or to economic differences between countries,” Dr. Toledo said. “It is wrong, however, and it should not be encouraged to travel for surgery only because it is cheap.”

It would be wrong to assume that Dr. Rohrich and Dr. Toledo have anything other than the highest respect for each other s abilities; they represent two points of view. Dr. Rohrich’s is that the risks of making a bad decision in choosing an overseas surgeon, and of traveling overseas for cosmetic surgery, are simply too high. “It has nothing to do with competition,” he said to me.

Dr. Toledo assesses the risks differently. In general, I have found that medical professionals do not want to make statements that mark them as at odds with their professional associations, associates, or peers. At the same time,  it would be a mistake to think that the briefing paper is representative of all opinions on the subject of medical tourism within the ASPS.

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