Surgery in Australia or overseas: Which is better?

Posted: 15 June 2017 3:34 pm

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It's the same, but also very different.

It's estimated that more than half a million Australians will be heading overseas for medical procedures in 2017, and Bali is emerging as one of the popular spots. Overseas surgery can be a lot cheaper, especially in places such as Bali where you can get return flights for under $200 and pay only a fraction of the cost for the surgery itself.

But is it safe? According to the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), and other accredited surgeons, there are a few things to consider first.

Are surgeons better in Australia?

According to the ASPS, no. You'll get good and bad practitioners everywhere. In fact, if you find an Australian surgeon offering procedures at Bali prices you might want to start running the other way.

As the ASPS makes clear, the cosmetic surgery industry in Australia might be much less regulated than you might think. As long as you consent to the operation, any doctor is allowed to try. Your GP could legally put you under the knife despite having no surgical training.

Whether you're in Australia or Bali, check the specific credentials of any probationer. Worldwide, the ASPS recommends you look for members of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. In addition to this, there are things you can look for while touring facilities and consulting doctors.

Are facilities better in Australia or overseas?

Once again, you will find more substantial differences between clinics in each country than you generally will between the countries themselves.

  • Check that they're using the latest equipment. Newer and more advanced equipment can be considerably safer than older gear, but it's not cheap. If a clinic has all the latest equipment then they're probably not skimping on the practitioner's quality or experience either.
  • Tour the facilities beforehand. A pre-vacation to tour the overseas facilities and consult various practitioners is a very good idea. The cost of doing so will be only a fraction of the total cost and it can go a long way to making sure you're satisfied in the end. Not only can you see the options first-hand, but more importantly you can also consult practitioners face to face.
  • Consult multiple practitioners. No cosmetic surgery practitioner should be able to recommend a procedure without an in-person examination. If you get conflicting insights, it's often a good idea to go for the one who's less enthusiastic about carrying it out and is more upfront with the potential risks. All surgery carries risks, wherever you are, and no good surgeon should gloss over these.

What are the odds of something going wrong?

You could have the exact same surgeon, the exact same facilities and the exact same procedure in Australia and Bali, but doing it overseas would still be considerably more dangerous and potentially more expensive in the end. In fact, almost one in five patients experience complications following overseas surgery.

Overseas surgery is simply riskier, but it's mostly because of the travel and distances involved, rather than actual differences in quality. For example, air that's become trapped inside a surgical wound can expand as an aircraft gains altitude.

What happens after the surgery?

Most airlines will not permit travel within a few days, or weeks, of undergoing surgery, with this "exclusion period" depending on how major it was. You might be able to fly home the day after a botox injection, but a full abdominoplasty might see you recuperating overseas for over a month. As such, you should consider the costs of extra accommodation and time required overseas, in addition to the actual cost of the procedure itself.

The post-operative period is just as important as the surgery itself, but you might not be able to find the same level of attendance overseas as you can in Australia. In particular, followups or touch-ups may be needed, no matter how experienced the surgeon is.

When am I "in the clear"?

It's not possible to know the end results until everything has "settled", so it's not uncommon for quality practitioners to offer free followups where needed in Australia. Similarly, some procedures might naturally require touch-ups several years later. In rare cases, it's possible that prosthetic items such as breast implants might randomly be defective, like any other product.

Some surgeons will offer a kind of "lifetime warranty" for these events, but once again these kinds of benefits are probably easier to find among high-quality Australian surgeons than overseas ones. To help offset these risks you might want to think about medical tourism insurance.

Australia or overseas: Which is better?

Both have different benefits and downsides, and neither option is inherently better than the other.

You can find both good and bad surgeons and facilities in Australia, Bali and all over the world. Wherever you go you should take steps to make sure you're attending a high-quality clinic.

You can get equivalent quality procedures done more cheaply overseas, but you'll need to do more homework before committing to it and will be facing additional risks. Consider more than just the surgery itself and bear in the mind the possibility of follow-ups, the recuperation periods and additional expenses that may be entailed with either option.

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