Cosmetic surgery tourism: value for money or a leap into the unknown?

Guardian article: Budget flights cheaper operations: cosmetic surgery tourism takes off

A research group based at Leeds University, led by Professor Ruth Holliday, hosted a stakeholder event at the Leeds Radisson Hotel on 24 June 2013 to consider what motivates patients to seek cosmetic surgery abroad and the potential pitfalls and the socio-economic impact of cosmetic surgery tourism.

The conference brought together delegates from Europe, the United States, Australia and the Far East, and attracted pre-event media coverage in the national press.ESRC-Sun-Sea-Sand-Silicone Research document Professor Holliday’s team presented their data mapping trends in cosmetic surgery tourism to introduce the conference.

Christopher Stone, a cosmetic surgeon with a clinical negligence interest, illustrated the difficulties that patients might encounter should they develop a complication of surgery, given the limited access that they might have to their surgeon when they get home.

Cosmetic Surgery Tourism Presentation by Christopher StoneDownload Mr Stone’s presentation

Mr Stone discussed the implications for the NHS in managing such complications and indicated how dissatisfaction with the long-term aesthetic outcome could be difficult to pursue in negligence. This was an area expanded upon by Laurence Vick, clinical negligence lawyer with Michelmores LLP.

Mr Vick pointed out how differences between jurisdictions might impact upon both the limitation period and upon damages. Enforcement of rulings made in UK courts may also prove challenging.

Survey data from ‘Treatment Abroad’ was presented by Keith Pollard. This highlighted how patients are often inadequately insured when they travel abroad for surgery. Satisfaction rates among cosmetic surgery tourists was recorded as very satisfied (60%) and quite satisfied (20%), leaving one in five patients either quite dissatisfied (9%) or very dissatisfied (11%) with their treatment.

The main sources of dissatisfaction were in the aesthetic result (17%), aftercare (17%), communication issues (16%) and the treatment experience (14%). Interestingly, dissatisfaction rates were higher when patients accessed treatment via an agency (an industry which is largely unregulated) than when patients sourced treatment themselves.

Nevertheless, there was also passionate personal testimony provided by a patient who had undergone bariatric and body contouring surgery abroad, as well as a presentation by Angela Chouaib of Secret Surgery Ltd, to balance the debate and show how many patients do have a positive experience.

European Aesthetic Surgery Services Standard

It will be interesting to see how the planned introduction of a new ‘European Aesthetic Surgery Services Standard‘ next year will influence this rapidly developing healthcare market.
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