By Dr. Philip Solomon & Nancie Heiber

Medical tourism is a hot topic and we had plenty of questions about it. So, we asked Dr. Philip Solomon, MD, FRCSC, Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgeon, practicing Facial Plastic Surgery in Toronto, his thoughts on travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery. Read on for his thoughts and consider his expertise if you’re contemplating a trip.

Travelling for cosmetic surgery is all over social media these days, and apparently, it’s a rising phenomenon. What exactly is medical tourism?

Dr. Philip Solomon: Medical Tourism essentially means you are travelling abroad to an exotic destination for the purpose of cosmetic surgery. Historically, the category of patients seeking this experience were those looking for privacy and a spa-like environment for their cosmetic surgery, affording them the ability to return home looking refreshed and rejuvenated. Some countries in South America have long been known as a hub for cosmetic surgery, recognized for good surgeons, good results and a price savings. More recently, though, other countries such as Türkiye, have gained a significant presence on social media that has allowed them to draw patients from the North American and European marketplace.

What are the more common cosmetic procedures Canadians travel for and what are some of the reasons these patients make the choice to go abroad?

Dr. Philip Solomon: Hair transplant, Rhinoplasty and Brow Lift procedures are the most common surgeries being marketed, as they are more generic in nature. With hair transplants, there is an assumption that the quality of surgery in Türkiye is like that in North America and is marketed with a significant price difference. This may lead some to opt for the location with the lesser fees outside of North America. People may also find it appealing and worthwhile to make a trip to Europe/Asia and stay in a high-end clinic or hotel being advertised, undergo surgery and still have financial savings.

It seems like a risky proposition, considering some people go to countries that might not be safe or might not have the same rigorous medical training, licensing, etc. What are your thoughts when it comes to patients who pick up and leave Canada for cosmetic surgeries?

Dr. Philip Solomon: There have certainly been cases where patients have had poor outcomes that have come to surface in the media. These are likely outliers; however, one should consider the fact that these are surgical procedures with known risks.

In rare circumstances, when an adverse outcome arises, it may be easier to manage in your home country. It’s also not uncommon for cosmetic surgery to require touch-ups, even if performed well. Surgical touch-ups would then require one to return to the country where the surgery was performed. What people should be aware of is that post-surgical care is part of the surgical process, which would be more challenging to have to address abroad.

Tell us about the risks people should know about, and are there any red flags patients should look out for?

Dr. Philip Solomon: As with all cosmetic procedures, you want a surgeon who has excellent training credentials and experience. This always applies, regardless of where you choose to do your surgery. In Canada we are governed by regulatory bodies whose mandate is to ensure public safety. Additionally, not only are the surgeons regulated, but so are the facilities where these surgeries are being carried out. If you travel abroad, you may not be as well-informed about the regulators, the surgeons and the surgical facilities. There have also been several travel advisories against cosmetic surgery tourism issued by the American Society of Plastic Surgery. The basis for these warnings can relate to the surgical procedure, as well as the potential risk for cardiovascular complications while flying shortly after a surgical procedure. Furthermore, insurance companies may not cover you in circumstances where you develop a complication from a medical procedure while abroad. Finally, cosmetic surgery does require regular follow-up and care, and this is not ideal when you travel for surgery.

For those who do their research and opt for medical tourism, is there anything patients should do before leaving for these treatments?

Dr. Philip Solomon: I would recommend acquiring additional healthcare insurance, getting a complete physical examination, including a cardiogram and basic blood work to ensure you are in good health and have no surprises when you arrive in another country. I also recommend making a thoughtful and educated decision prior to committing to surgery elsewhere. In North America, we have world-class surgeons doing advanced techniques with the latest technology. You also have the security of knowing your surgeon is nearby should any complications arise.