Surgical Tourism: Beauty Seekers Are Flocking to Cities with Competitive Prices
Last year the number of surgical procedures went up 7% from the previous year, while nonsurgical procedures went up 22%, according to statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. With a total of 12,792,377 procedures performed in the United States in 2015, that’s a lot of people looking for great quality work— and not everyone can afford Park Avenue or Beverly Hills prices, which probably explains why a number of people opt to take a surgery vacation more or less, and flock to cities where the pricing is a bit more competitive.
“Plastic surgery is no longer a regional specialty. In other words, where you practice does not indicate where you trained, whether you are a better surgeon, or whether you deliver better results,” explains ASAPS board-certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Donald Revis who is based in Fort Lauderdale, one of the cities that people are opting to pursue procedures in, in the hopes of getting a better price.
With general office maintenance costs in cities like South Florida being significantly lower than those in cities including Manhattan, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Boston, the physicians are often able to pass their savings in overhead and other operating costs right on to the patients.
“There are some very skilled and talented doctors, as well and a very competitive market,” says Dr. Constantino Mendieta of the plastic surgery market spanning from West Palm Beach to South Miami, where his office is located. “It is a surgical destination for most. We also have dedicated surgical centers that undercut the industry as they operate on low margins and high volume.”
It’s the ease of staying for several days in the balmy, South Florida air that makes it a big draw for many New Yorkers, and the easy parking and wheelchair access at many hotels doesn’t hurt either. Again, it’s a combo-platter surgery-cation. There’s got to be a better word blend for this, but anyway…
“I remember I went in to visit a doctor on the Upper East Side of New York City about seven months ago to see about fat grafting. I literally wanted to move my stomach into my boobs,” says patient Daniella James. “I was a bit taken aback when the doctor told me the surgery would cost about the same amount as my 2013 Honda by the time I returned to work, so I decided I needed to look for other options.”
The cost factor is major, because statistically speaking, if $2 million or so procedures are performed each year, there’s a healthy portion of that group that simply cannot afford tens of thousands of dollars to look the way they want. Daniella turned to social media to ask her friends and family where she might be able to find a more affordable solution without compromising quality.
“I didn’t want to end up looking weird or getting some random surgeon— I needed a good doctor, just more affordable, so I posted on Facebook if anyone knew any good surgeons outside the New York area. I figured I could use some vacation time from work and make a trip out of it. Almost instantly a friend I’ve known for years told me to come down to Florida (where she recently moved) and see her doctor. I called him, sent in photos, and chatted extensively. He ended up telling me that he would still need a pre-op visit to make sure that I’m really a good candidate, but that the surgery would cost me about $9,000 all-in. That was way cheaper than New York, even with flights and hotels.”
The key, according to the doctors and Daniella, is finding a surgeon you feel comfortable with and trust. Dr. Revis says it’s important to look for academic qualifications, and certainly, board-certification in plastic surgery - but just as important to find someone with a caring personality, good bedside manner and gifted hands—after all, it’s your body. Don’t be afraid to study before and after photos, ask questions, and get detailed pricing in advance. Here is a checklist to get you started.
What to know before you travel out-of-state for a procedure:
- Easy procedures, like injectables, are in-and-out procedures that may only take about an hour or less. You can often schedule these without having any consultations in advance.
- Surgical or more advanced procedures usually require pre-op visits. Either factor that in by making two trips, or plan to take at least a week off and do the pre-op as soon as you get to your destination city. You can often schedule your surgery 2-3 days later, but need to clear this with your doctor several weeks in advance.
- Find a board-certified plastic surgeon by searching the smartbeautyguide.com database using the Find A Surgeon search tool Don’t just trust blind advertisements in magazines or on google searches.
- Make sure you book a hotel room with easy wheelchair access—even if your surgery requires minimal downtime, there’s a good chance you’ll want to be wheeled with ease to your room when the surgery is over. The first day is really important.
- Your hotel room MUST have a mini fridge. You probably won’t be heading out for 2 days or so, you’ll want a good stock of healthy snacks, drinks, and might even need to refrigerate prescriptions.
- Most plastic surgeons can schedule experienced drivers to take you to and from their surgical centers. That means you’ll have help in and out the door and not have to worry about getting from point A to point B.
- You’ll want to hire someone to be with you for at least 5-10 hours a day for the first couple days, depending on your surgery. For procedures like Brazilian butt lifts, consider getting at least 3 to 4 days of help via sites like care.com or local home health aide listings.
Personally, I think there’s value to being on your home turf for a surgical procedure – and it’s worth the cost of admission, but I would definitely consider a surgery-cation if I was very committed to seeing a specific plastic surgeon for a specific procedure they happen to specialize in that happens to be located in a destination somewhere like South Florida, because with three kids in tow and a soon-to-be-fourth, I can get a few things put back into place and let my husband entertain the kids while I recover and walk out a new woman.