Understanding the Risks of Bariatric Surgery Abroad: Do Reputable Bariatric Centers Exist?

Risks of Bariatric Surgery Abroad

Is it ever a good idea to seek out weight-loss surgery abroad? For hundreds of thousands of patients throughout the United States and Canada, traveling for medical care has been the way to get life-changing, life-saving surgery without the cost and roadblocks that are common when dealing with hospitals and insurance approval. Popular destinations for weight-loss surgery include Mexico, Colombia, Turkey, and Thailand.

While it may seem counterintuitive, traveling thousands of miles from home can actually provide a person seeking weight-loss surgery with better access to care. Researchers studying the trend of traveling abroad for bariatric surgery note that inadequate access to public bariatric surgical services has contributed to the growth of bariatric medical tourism.

In the United States and Canada, patients often have to go through lengthy approval processes to get bariatric surgery. Each consultation and medical visit can represent immense out-of-pocket costs before a surgery date is even guaranteed. What’s more, patients may feel that their health is getting more and more out of control as time passes. Patients seeking cost savings can pay just a fraction for weight-loss surgery abroad compared to local and regional hospitals.

There’s no denying that interest in weight-loss tourism is on the rise. However, many questions still remain about the safety of this choice. Keep reading to learn everything that needs to be considered when weighing the safety versus risks of seeking weight-loss surgery abroad.

Cost Savings vs. Potential Consequences

The average cost of weight-loss surgery in the United States can reach as high as $30,000 before insurance. What’s more, patients often don’t know how much the full procedure will cost until billing has already started. That’s because hospitals and doctors in the United States bill nearly every single service and material separately during the surgical and post-surgical processes.

One of the enticing details about bariatric surgery abroad is that most surgical centers offer all-inclusive pricing that covers preparation, surgery, recovery, medications, travel to and from the facility, and more. How much cheaper is weight-loss surgery abroad?

Generally, patients can expect to pay just a fraction compared to costs in the United States and Canada. For instance, patients traveling to Mexico for gastric sleeve can expect to pay $4,000 to $5,500 for all-inclusive surgery.

Know About the Potential for Hidden Costs

This is where selecting a reputable surgical clinic becomes important. Unfortunately, some surgical clinics located abroad try to take advantage of the fact that patients are looking for the cheapest way to get bariatric surgery. They may hide fees until the patient arrives at an international destination for surgery. When working with an unvetted surgical center in a foreign country, there is also the potential for negative long-term financial implications. For example, a patient may develop complications that require long-term hospital stays. If a surgery is performed incorrectly, a person may need to have a revision surgery done in the future to correct the issue.

Value Means More Than the Cost Alone

When selecting a surgical center, it’s important to consider the overall value of the procedure beyond simply trying to cut costs. This is done by looking for a surgical center that offers a comparable level of care to centers in the United States or Canada. There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to make critical weight loss surgery more affordable.

In some cases, being able to access surgery at a lower cost may be the only way that a person can realistically get the bariatric surgery they so desperately need to turn their health around. However, a decision can only be made by understanding the full potential cost involved.

Medical Risks and Complications of Bariatric Centers Abroad

Like any medical procedure, a bariatric surgery performed abroad comes with the potential for medical risks and complications. The good news is that modern bariatric surgeries are considered exceedingly safe when they are performed properly. However, complications can arise under even the best of circumstances due to everything from medical mistakes to an unknown factor in a person’s medical history. Known complications associated with gastric sleeve and gastric bypass include, but is not limited to:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Profuse bleeding from surgical wounds
  • Leakage
  • Hernia
  • Perforation of stomach or intestines
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Protein or calorie malnutrition
  • Pulmonary or cardiac problems
  • Skin separation
  • Spleen injury
  • Organ injury
  • Stomach or intestine ulceration
  • Stricture
  • Vitamin or iron deficiency
  • Blood clots

People who undergo gastric surgeries are also at increased risk for something called dumping syndrome. Dumping syndrome refers to a group of symptoms caused by rapid gastric emptying that occurs when food moves too quickly from the stomach to the duodenum. People with dumping syndrome often experience diarrhea, nausea, lightheadedness, or severe tiredness following meals.

Understanding the Challenges of Care Following Gastric Surgery Abroad

Following any form of gastric surgery, a person can feel extremely vulnerable. It’s essential to have impeccable postoperative care and follow-up care to ensure that healing is occurring at the right pace. During postoperative care, care providers should monitor vitals, properly cleaning wounds, changing wound dressings regularly, and ensuring that patients are keeping circulation at adequate levels to avoid blood clots. If a person begins to rapidly decline following surgery, it’s essential for a surgical clinic to have a contingency plan for getting the patient to an emergency facility.

Mitigating the Risks When Seeking Medical Care in an Unfamiliar Setting

Information and communication are so important when planning surgery abroad. First, it’s important to be provided with an itinerary that allows the patient to share their whereabouts with trusted friends and family back home. When traveling to a place where the language is unfamiliar, patients should inquire about having an interpreter available to relay essential information back and forth between the patient and care providers.

Medical Risks and Consequences

Lack of Regulation and Quality Standards of Bariatric Centers Abroad

Unfortunately, not every surgical center that promises low-cost weight-loss surgery abroad can deliver safe and adequate care. In some parts of the world where medical tourism is popular, local cities and towns where medical centers are located don’t actually have the infrastructure to provide safe and reliable care. This can leave patients vulnerable to infections and complications. What’s more, local emergency services may not be available to transport and care for a person who endures a medical emergency stemming from surgical complications.

Regulatory Concerns

One of the biggest concerns among people who travel abroad for medical procedures is the lack of regulatory uniformity around the world. Patients who are used to the strict medical standards in the United States and Canada are often unprepared for the lax standards and general lack of regulation in other areas of the world once they travel for medical procedures. What’s more, they are unaware that medical licensing and education outside of North America have very different standards. What’s more, unregulated or counterfeit medicine and medical devices may be prevalent in countries where regulatory practices are not strict.

In medical settings without stringent regulations, patients may also be at increased risk for infections involving hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. Disease can be transmitted due to poor practices involving wound healing. Patients could also be exposed to diseases if they require blood transfusions due to unexpected complications in locations with poor donor-screening practices.

While the regulatory discrepancies that exist in different parts of the world can make the idea of having bariatric surgery abroad seem disappointing, there are safe ways to go about the process. For people in the United States and Canada, remaining in North America for care can help them to enjoy a similar level of regulation while also getting the cost benefits of medical tourism.

This is one of the reasons why Tijuana has become such a popular spot for weight-loss surgery. Located just below the United States-Mexico border, Tijuana offers world-class surgical clinics staffed by doctors and surgeons who have studied and trained at American universities. What’s more, medical standards and licensing requirements in Mexico mirror standards and requirements in the United Stages.

Cultural and Language Barriers

Receiving care in a hospital in a foreign country can be an extremely isolating experience. Cultural and language barriers don’t just create inconveniences for patients seeking care from outside of the country. These barriers can dramatically compromise the quality of the care being offered. For a person in a vulnerable post-surgical state, feeling like needs cannot be communicated can be a terrifying experience. It’s important for patients to be confident that they are in a setting where staff can communicate regarding pain levels, post-surgical symptoms, post-surgical care, and other crucial topics.

The Danger of Misunderstandings When Traveling for Surgery

When misunderstandings occur in a medical setting, a patient is in a dangerous situation. It is essential that patients are able to fully understand all verbal and written instructions provided to them. This is especially important when it comes to medication dosing, instructions for nutrition, and guidance about activities that are restricted following surgery.

At Renew Bariatrics all of our leading bariatric surgeons are bilingual and can speak perfect English, to help you turly understand the entire process pre and post-operatively.

Legal Implications

Can patients be confident of their rights when they travel abroad for weight-loss surgery? Medical tourists face the problem that there is no guarantee of the legitimacy or accuracy of the claims made on a foreign surgical center’s website. There are no universal legal standards or laws concerning medical malpractice. When seeking treatment outside of the jurisdiction of their home country’s laws, a patient may have limited options for getting legal assistance.

This is why selecting a US-based company, like Renew Bariatrics, is important when seeking bariatric surgery abroad. US-based medical tourism agency has the advantage of complying with US laws and regulations.

Related: Compare Renew Bariatrics to other bariatric centers in Mexico.

It’s important to chose a bariatric center with the highest level of reputation. Learn what makes Renew Bariatrics different from other companies.

Be Aware of Challenges and Limitations Before Seeking Surgery Abroad

When considering weight loss surgery abroad, it’s important for patients to be aware of the legal implications of seeking medical care outside of their home countries. Ideally, a patient will choose to travel to a county with board certifications that are similar to board certifications that exist for doctors and medical providers in the United States. For example, doctors and surgeons in Mexico receive nearly identical training as their peer medical professionals in the United States.

The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Traveling Abroad for Surgery

There is no denying that weight-loss surgery can be an emotional experience for a patient. For many patients, this surgery marks the start of a new chapter of life that is focused on health and wellness. Of course, the detailed preparation process and somewhat intense recovery process add to the emotional weight of surgery. Many patients who travel to foreign countries to get surgery in places that are both geographically and culturally far away from all that they know are surprised by how overwhelming the experience can be. 

With friends, family, and familiar medical professionals far from them, patients may experience a great deal of stress. Psychological counseling and support for mental health may be thin to nonexistent at many surgical centers that specialize in fast-paced, high-turnover surgeries. While the benefits of weight loss surgery can dramatically improve both mental and physical health, it’s important to also understand the mental health implications that surgery can have. Patients should be prepared to follow up with counseling after surgery. 

Final Thoughts: Information Is Power When Seeking Bariatric Surgery in a Foreign Country

Despite the growing popularity of weight-loss tourism, many surgical centers around the world do not offer a standard of care that is comparable to the care offered in North America. Luckily, there are many reputable surgical centers where patients can receive the same level of care, competency, and expertise that they would receive at home. Here are some best practices to follow when considering traveling abroad for weight-loss surgery:

  • Research the facility thoroughly.
  • Verify the qualifications of the clinicians who will be performing your procedure.
  • If traveling to a country with a different primary language, ask for specific details about how communication will be handled.
  • Make sure that your accommodations are verified prior to traveling abroad.
  • Bring copies of your medical records with you to ensure that any care providers that you see can be up to date.

If you’re considering weight loss surgery in a foreign country, knowledge is your greatest asset. Any reputable surgical center will be happy to provide you with information regarding clinician credentials, pricing, post-surgery accommodations, and success stories from other patients who have traveled for care.

Ultimately, the advice is the same whether you’re seeking surgery at home or abroad. Only work with healthcare professionals with the experience and reputation needed for a safe surgery and recovery!

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