Medical tourism has become very popular in the last ten years. The term refers to traveling to a destination, usually outside of the United States, and having surgery or some other treatment. For some people it is the only way to afford surgery or medical treatments that are prohibitively expensive in the States.
The un-insured or under insured can loose their life savings, their homes and retirement to an expensive disease or procedure. More often than not, it’s simple economics that drives the decision to practice medical tourism. Especially when it comes to plastic surgery. If someone looks hard enough, you can find surgery available just a few hundred miles outside the border for half of the cost of doing it here.
But there are dangers to medical tourism. The quality of the facilities, the doctors and the aftercare can be an issue. The fact that the visit will have certain duration can cause problems as well, as unforeseen complications can prolong the necessity for after-care.
In plastic surgery, my practice is sometimes the stopping point for well-to-do people from abroad who want the higher level of care and state of the art procedures available in California. No doubt, most of them are drawn from seeing us do these procedures on television in their homeland. The Doctors is seen all over the world and I receive a regular flow of inquiries, usually by email. Most of this correspondence is people volunteering to be on the show, but some are simply people who can afford a trip to “have it done” here. I often choose my Rancho Mirage office for these cases because of the easygoing flow of the desert. No traffic, no parking hassles and wonderful resorts to choose from.
I have had enough of these cases that when my surgeon-partner, Ritu Chopra, M.D. suggested we “go to them”, I was intrigued. We met a person of influence from Dubai and a plan came together. Since Dubai is the origin of many of our visiting patients and is centrally located to serve the entire region and Europe, I thought “Why not?” As I write this we returned from our first trip to engage in medical tourism in reverse. Instead of them coming to us, we are going to them. Dr. Chopra and I will personally inspect the hospitals and facilities to be sure they are up to our high standards. We will take a team of personnel to assure our patients the highest level of care. We will share our expertise and experience with local doctors, who will help us provide after care beyond the term of our visit. In the future I foresee combining trips to provide care to third world countries to serve the underserved while we are on the road. Since we will have our team all assembled, it would be wasteful to make a couple of extra stops along the way when time permits or natural disasters necessitate. Who knows? Maybe other doctors in other specialties will someday follow suit. I, for one, and really excited to embark on this next chapter in my career: reverse medical tourism!