Node Smith, ND

A recent article on the complications of medical tourism was published by the Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.Medical tourism is when individuals travel to other countries in order to undergo various medical procedures or receive medical care. This could include traveling to Europe to spend a week or two in the spas, or traveling to Canada from the United States to receive less expensive dental care. People also may travel to their home country for services such as plastic surgery, or other elective procedures which are not covered by their insurance company and is far less expensive.

Medical tourism could be costly

The article warns of traveling to developing countries for cosmetic surgery, and the complications that may ensue. The article uses information from a team of plastic surgeons practicing at Harvard Medical School from 2010 – 2017. During this time the surgeons treated a total of 78 individuals who had complications after receiving a cosmetic surgical procedure from a developing country. Almost all were women, and the most common procedures were “tummy tucks” and breast augmentation. The most common problems were pain, infection at surgical site, and wound healing issues. Twelve patients were hospitalized, and some required long-term wound care.

Article of interest: authored by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons

The article is immediately suspect of having a conflict of interest, being written by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, who obviously don’t want people leaving the country to get procedures done elsewhere. However, it is worthwhile to consider potential risks of traveling outside of the United States, especially to a developing country for healthcare. Healthcare is different in other countries, some for the better, and some perhaps not.

6 Considerations for Medical Tourism

  1. Do you speak the language? Do you understand what you are signing, what procedure you are getting, and the expectations on the doctor performing procedure?
  2. Can you ensure sanitary conditions? Sanitation is extremely important both before, and after a surgical procedure. Many complications arise from wounds getting infected after a successful procedure.
  3. Travel considerations – It can be stressful, uncomfortable, and labor intensive to travel. Do you have time to prepare, and recover after a procedure, (when) traveling to another country?
  4. Nutritional considerations – Will you have access to adequate nutrition, for healing, where you are traveling, including clean water?
  5. Do you have travelers insurance? Looking into travelers insurance may be a worthwhile idea in case something were to happen during a procedure overseas, or in another country.
  6. Do your research, and ask lots of questions.


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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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