Monday, April 18, 2016
USA - Why you should cross the border for a new face
At a Mexican border crossing feeding into Southern California, an immigration agent scrutinized a passport. He questioned whether the face in the picture matched that of the woman standing before him. Two days after getting a chemical peel in Tijuana, she was almost unrecognizable.
“My face was red and raw and coated in what felt like Vaseline; my eyes were swollen shut,” says the 45-year-old Brooklyn-based bartender who declined to give her name due to privacy reasons. “I went to Mexico since it was way cheaper than in the US — $3,000 there compared to $6,000 here — and I wound up having the work done inside a tiny office in the middle of Tijuana.”
While the incident happened only five years ago, it hearkens back to the bad old days of medical tourism — when the desperately ill (or the desperate to look beautiful) took their chances with sketchy doctors using questionable equipment. Currently, however, with medical tourism booming, options have increased and conditions have improved.
An international wing of the Joint Commission, a 65-year-old nonprofit organization that monitors the quality of health-care facilities, has, as of Feb. 29, accredited 561 international hospitals. Ten years ago, only 27 had the seal of approval.
According to Josef Woodman, CEO of the international medical and health travel Web site Patients Beyond Borders, increasing numbers of people are going abroad for health care. Judging by data from ministries of health and hospitals around the world, he says, 1.2 million to 1.4 million Americans are now heading overseas for surgery annually. And that number has been increasing by an average of 23 percent per year for the last 10 years. He attributes recent rises, in part, to Obamacare making Americans increasingly comfortable with shopping for physicians and insurance plans.
“You are not going to a mud hut where they use rusty scalpels,” says Woodman.
But you will be saving money. Doctors are often paid less overseas, where costs of living are lower and overheads are more modest.
Jessica Cooper, a 22-year-old school teacher from New Jersey, experienced that when she visited Colombia to enhance her nose, which had gotten banged-up during a childhood fall.
“It never healed correctly and I had been completely self-conscious about it,” she says. An aunt of hers had successfully gotten a tummy tuck in Medellín, Colombia, plus several relatives live there.
“Surgery is so much cheaper in Colombia — like half the price,” Cooper enthuses. “I had no pain and a great doctor — he was from New Jersey and spoke perfect English. Plus, the office was gorgeous.”
And she couldn’t be happier with the result. “I love my new nose,” Cooper says. “There’s no bump!”
But before seeking medical care overseas, it’s imperative to do your homework. Make sure your doctor speaks English, has practiced in America (or is US-board certified) and graduated from a reputable medical school, says Woodman.
Here’s a Woodman-approved guide to popular medical tourism destinations.
Specialty: Bariatric surgery
Procedure: Gastric bypass
Price: $6,600 to $8,500 ($25,000 in the US)
Recovery: Two to three days
Why go: Close to the US, doctors are often board-certified in both Mexico and America (as is Dr. Alejandro Quiroz at Vida Wellness and Beauty Center in Tijuana). While there, check out the cool, new wineries in Baja’s hot grape-growing district Guadalupe Valley.
Specialty: Cosmetic surgery
Price: $3,300 ($6,200 in the US)
Recovery: Two weeks
Why go: There are 500,000 plastic surgeries performed in Colombia each year. The industry was built on the sudden fortunes of narco-traffickers, and is now popular among the middle class. Plus, you can heal while shaded on the beaches of Cartagena — think of it as a mellower version of Rio — complete with cool restaurants, hopping salsa joints and colonial architecture.
Specialty: Reproductive surgery
Procedure: In vitro fertilization
Price: $5,750 ($12,000 in the US)
Why go: Barbados Fertility Centre is one of the few Joint Commission-accredited fertility clinics outside of the United States, and claims twice the average success rate that patients experience in America. And since you and your beloved have already saved a bundle, why not splurge on a room at the island’s luxury oceanfront Sandy Lane resort?
Specialty: Restorative and cosmetic dentistry
Procedure: Four-implant bridge
Price: $12,000 ($22,000 in the US)
Recovery: Two days outpatient plus a followup visit in three to six months
Why go: Hungary has more dentists per capita than any other country. Even better, you can road-test your new choppers at one of Hungary’s new “home supper clubs,” in which you dine in the residences of local epicureans.
Specialty: Orthopedic surgery
Procedure: Hip resurfacing
Price: $8,000 ($34,000 in the US)
Recovery: Up to three days inpatient plus 11 days outpatient
Why go: Considering that 7 percent of physicians in America are of Indian descent, the country is rising as a medical hotbed and breeding superstar bonemen such as Dr. Vijay Bose. Bose, who’s based in Chennai, a city in eastern India, has performed more than 1,200 hip resurfacing surgeries. Afterward, strolling through Chennai’s gallery-rich Cholamandal Artists’ Village will help you get accustomed to your new hip.
Specialty: Cosmetic surgery
Procedure: Full face-lift (including neck)
Price: $5,600 ($15,000 in the US)
Recovery: One night inpatient plus seven to 10 days outpatient
Why go: According to Woodman, Thailand is the world’s most traveled destination for cosmetic surgery, and Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital feels more like a top-flight hotel than a medical center. It ranks as the first Asian hospital to receive accreditation from Joint Commission International. And while you’re there, you can pick up some new threads. Thailand’s custom tailoring industry mirrors its medical one: Prices are low and quality runs high.
Specialty: Cosmetic surgery
Procedure: Breast augmentation (gel implant)
Price: $7,500 ($11,000 in the US)
Recovery: One night inpatient plus four or five days outpatient
Why go: The country boasts a highly regulated, government-controlled cosmetic-surgery industry, and Woodman ranks it among the safest places in the world for going under the aesthetic knife. Afterward, check out COEX, the largest underground mall in Asia, situated in the famously ritzy Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul.