The Dangers of Medical Tourism

Medical Tourist? Buyer Beware.

Known for unpredictable results and potential patient safety concerns, medical tourism is a term that refers to travel outside one’s country of residence to receive medical care. Patients who choose to fly to an unfamiliar environment for cheaper care are often looking to save money, however, some people seek treatments that are either unavailable or not approved for use in the United States. So why do some patients take the risk? The answer is usually one of the following factors:

  • The patient is looking for cheaper medical care
  • The patient shares the same language/culture as the foreign destination
  • The patient wants a surgery that is not approved for use in the US

Described as a “risky” choice by the Center for Disease Control,(1.) medical tourism offers a plethora of surgical options to patients, but certain procedures are more sought after by US residents than others. The CDC lists the following procedures as the most popular in medical tourism:

  • Dental care
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Fertility treatments
  • Organ and tissue transplantation
  • Cancer treatment

The safety of medical tourism has been examined by a number of professional organizations representing plastic surgeons both nationally and internationally. A survey conducted by the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery found that 37% of its members had seen patients with complications resulting from medical tourism.(2.) That’s nearly half. Unfortunately, this disconcerting percentage is not an anomaly. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, hundreds of Baltimore residents annually risk traveling to a foreign country to get a coveted cosmetic procedure at a discounted price. 

In light of these developments, it is the duty of ethical plastic surgeons in the US to help their patients make informed choices about where they receive care, and advise them of the inherent risks of medical tourism. Alyson Wells, M.D., F.A.C.S., is a board-certified plastic surgeon who has cultivated 20 years of experience as an advocate for the highest standard of care for her patients. To discover more about the procedures Dr. Wells offers, call Valley Plastic Surgery & Medi-Spa at (410) 628-8200 to find quality plastic surgery care, closer to home.

Risks of Medical Tourism

In recent years, the safety spotlight has been on overseas plastic surgery procedures in common medical tourism destinations such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Colombia. Sadly, findings have shown a number of risks associated with medical tourism to destinations such as these, including:

  • Antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA
  • Unknown blood supplies used during surgery
  • Bloodborne infections and bacterial infections due to unsanitary conditions
  • Infection from foreign waterborne bacteria to which the patient has not developed immunity

The most disconcerting consequences of medical tourism are the physical and financial difficulties that can arise from postoperative complications. Providers in foreign countries may not have easy access to patients’ medical records, which can include vital information for their care. Many plastic surgeons in the United States believe that this creates unnecessary uncertainty and possible safety implications for US residents seeking treatment. Additionally, it can be a costly process for patients to rectify the unsuccessful results of a procedure performed overseas. For plastic surgeons in North America, this is a deeply frustrating situation as they find that their skills are increasingly being called upon to rectify surgical missteps taken by other surgeons abroad. In one Canadian study about medical tourism, a participant summed up the current medical tourism situation, remarking that, ‘when [medical tourism] goes wrong, it really goes wrong.’(2.) 

DVT: Another Deadly Risk

Deep vein thrombosis is a condition where a deep vein, usually in the leg, develops a blood clot. The chance of developing DVT can be elevated after any surgery. DVT is a serious condition as the blood clot may migrate to another vital organ in the body such as the heart or the lungs causing serious, sometimes life-threatening symptoms. Such worst-case scenarios, although infrequent, should be noted and avoided by knowledgeable patients at all costs. A disadvantage of medical tourism in relation to DVT is that a procedure performed overseas cannot easily be assessed by US physicians after the fact. Doctors at home do not have pertinent information about their patient on hand because their procedure was performed outside the United States. As a result, there is sparse information to assess the risks of DVT developing in patients after a procedure performed overseas. For quality professional care that you can trust in Baltimore, visit the Valley Plastic Surgery Services website to fill out an inquiry form.

Case Study: Dominican Horror Story?

For many patients in the United States, the Dominican Republic has become a popular medical tourism destination because of the lower cost of care and familial and cultural links to the island nation. However, prior to their procedure, many medical tourists are in the dark about the standard of care they will receive, the sanitation of the facilities they choose, and the magnitude of the risk of developing complications after their procedure. During 2013, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, MD, received reports of Maryland residents who had been infected with mycobacteria after cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. (3.) Mycobacterial infection after a surgical procedure can lead to a number of undesirable side effects including cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain. 

In another, more recent study from 2019, 12 individual cases of complications due to cosmetic surgery were recorded in patients that had undergone cosmetic procedures in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Central American nations. Patient complaints ranged from excessive pain due to poorly inserted breast implants, ulcerated buttocks after silicone butt implants, uncomfortable and unsightly skin lesions on the legs after silicone filler treatment, and excessive facial scarring after facial surgery.(4.)

Your health and safety are of the utmost concern to Dr. Wells, and it should be noted that the purpose of providing these data to our patients is not to fearmonger, but to shine a light on real issues that could affect your safety and wellbeing. The reality is, medical tourism is associated with risks and uncertainties that many of us are unaware of. This information is worth presenting so that you have the full picture before you choose your plastic surgery provider. To stay in-the-know about the latest, safest surgical procedures available to you in Baltimore, and to read more about nonsurgical medspa treatments, visit our blog for more information.

Medical Tourism in Legal Limbo

Over 15 million US residents seek medical care internationally, which represented a $50 billion industry in 2017.The legal ramifications of medical tourism can therefore not be overlooked. As a result, the largest plastic surgery specialty organization in the world, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) has issued a number of cautions regarding medical tourism, particularly in light of the complicated legal ramifications of mishandled surgical procedures abroad.(5.)  

One of the most concerning legal factors in medical tourism is that US courts cannot easily establish jurisdiction with overseas defendants, whether they are an individual medical practitioner or a medical organization.

This may result in the patient’s inability to enforce the terms of a lawsuit, even if it is won. In addition, there may be no legal recourse to collect financial damages internationally, leaving patients out of pocket as well as dissatisfied and distressed with the quality of their care. Put simply, medical tourists should not rely on the US court system if their surgery goes wrong, and it is ultimately the patient’s choice and responsibility to step into the unknown alone. If you are considering a plastic surgery procedure and you are ready to make an informed step toward a safe, cost-effective treatment in Baltimore, then you are in luck. Place your trust in Dr. Wells’ surgical experience, continuity of care and professionalism. Call (410) 628-8200 to book a consultation and find out how a plastic surgery procedure here in Baltimore can provide real, individual benefits to you.

Procedures for You in Baltimore, MD

Tummy Tuck

The tummy tuck, or abdominoplasty,  is a popular choice for women after pregnancy. This procedure addresses loose skin, damaged muscles, fat deposits and stretch marks to restore the appearance of a flatter, more trim waistline.

Thigh Lift 

A thigh lift is an aesthetic procedure that removes fat from and reshapes the upper leg. Patients gain a more satisfying aesthetic thigh shape and appearance. This procedure benefits patients who have lost skin elasticity in the thighs and desire better proportioned thighs after significant weight loss.

Body Lift

A body lift procedure targets patients’ midsection, thighs, buttocks and hips for a more comprehensive transformation. Contouring substantial areas of your physique, a body lift procedure removes excess sagging skin creating a smoother, more aesthetic overall contour.

Facial Surgeries

A facial procedure can enhance the natural radiance of your beauty and reduce the appearance of aging. A number of targeted facial surgeries are available to rejuvenate your complexion, and include: facelift, brow lift, neck lift and eyelid surgery. In addition, CO2 laser resurfacing is available to stimulate collagen production in the skin for rejuvenated, smoother looking facial skin.

Feminine Rejuvenation

For both aesthetic and medical concerns, a labiaplasty procedure can radically restore your sense of femininity and comfort. To reduce the physical and mental difficulties from enlarged or asymmetrical labia, a feminine rejuvenation procedure is an understandable choice for patients wishing to overcome the unwanted physical effects of pregnancy and aging.

For a complete list of surgical procedure options available to you at Valley Plastic Surgery & Medi-Spa, please visit our website.


Is medical tourism safe?

A number of sources have concluded that medical tourism is not as safe as patients generally believe it is. The cheapest options for surgery in a foreign countries may mean patients sacrifice their safety and long-term health to save money. For more information on medical tourism, it is advisable to speak to a medical professional.

Are trips overseas for plastic surgery worth it?

Although they are becoming increasingly popular with US residents, plastic surgeries performed as medical tourism may increase the risk of postoperative complications and infection due to a lack of continuity of care after the procedure. It is always the best course of action to speak to a licensed plastic surgeon to learn more about the pros and cons of medical tourism so that you can make an informed decision before you choose your procedure.

What are the risks of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) after a plastic surgery procedure?

Deep vein thrombosis occurs as a result of blood clots that develop in deep venous structures, usually in the legs. Surgical procedures that are lengthy in duration increase the risk of DVT occurring. Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks of DVT in relation to the individual circumstances of your planned surgical procedure.

Can botched plastic surgery be fixed?

The factors surrounding each individual case are different for every patient, so there is no definitive answer to this question. Although there are some aesthetic and procedural challenges to consider, qualified medical professionals are usually able to reduce or resolve the adverse effects of prior surgical procedures that have gone wrong. Book a consultation with a medical professional to discuss your personal circumstances.


  1. CDC. (2017). Medical Tourism: Getting Medical Care in Another Country | Travelers’ Health | CDC. Retrieved from website: 
  2. Crooks, V. A., Turner, L., Cohen, I. G., Bristeir, J., Snyder, J., Casey, V., & Whitmore, R. (2013). Ethical and legal implications of the risks of medical tourism for patients: a qualitative study of Canadian health and safety representatives’ perspectives. BMJ Open, 3(2), e002302. 
  3. Schnabel, D., Esposito, D. H., Gaines, J., Ridpath, A., Barry, M. A., Feldman, K. A., … Pritchard, P. S. (n.d.). Multistate US Outbreak of Rapidly Growing Mycobacterial Infections Associated with Medical Tourism to the Dominican Republic, 2013–2014 – Volume 22, Number 8—August 2016 – Emerging Infectious Diseases journal – CDC. 
  4. Zheng, C., Quentzel, J., & Brust, J. C. M. (2019). Complications of Silicone Cosmetic Procedures Among Medical Tourists from the Bronx, New York: A Retrospective Analysis. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 12(10), 24–28. Retrieved from 
  5. Wednesday, S. 26. (n.d.). Medical Tourism Can Put Patients in Legal Limbo. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from American Society of Plastic Surgeons website: 
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