HARD TRUTH OF MEDICAL TOURISM GONE WRONG

Written on the 2 April 2015 by Jenna Rathbone

HARD TRUTH OF MEDICAL TOURISM GONE WRONG

PLASTIC surgeons on the Gold Coast might have skin in the game, but they are still urging locals to think twice about taking advantage of cheaper overseas medical procedures.

Even though there is a growing number of Australians heading overseas, particularly to Asia, for procedures, fewer home-grown surgeons are willing to perform corrective surgery to rectify botched jobs that can occur from the trend known as medical tourism.

Prominent Gold Coast plastic surgery consultant and adviser Pamela Noon says up to 80 people a week enter her office seeking corrective surgery. However, she now only has two local surgeons on her books willing to perform corrective surgeries.

"The surgeons we work with do a fair bit of corrective work, however there are now some surgeons that don't want to do any more of this," says Noon.

"It is too difficult to correct, it takes more time to do it properly and I am finding that, across the board, qualified plastic surgeons are saying 'Pamela don't give me any more of that work, I don't want to correct somebody else's error'.

"For those patients who are coming back from overseas with problems, unless they can find their way through to the public system, it can be very difficult for them to find the right sort of assistance."

Australians are travelling to Thailand, Turkey, South Korea, India and Malaysia for both medical and dental work, and although many cases are appearance related, some patients are addressing medical concerns.

Just last month, a Gold Coast woman, Evita Sarmonikas, died in a Mexico hospital while undergoing surgery to insert buttock implants. 

An autopsy showed the 29-year-old died after suffering a cardiac arrest during surgery at the Hospital Quirurgico del Valle in Mexicali.  The doctor performing the surgery was once threatened with legal action by reality TV star Kim Kardashian.

"Certainly it is less expensive, but at what cost," asks Noon, who has been in the business for 30 years.

Compensation law expert Mark O'Connor says the tragic death of Sarmonikas is also a reminder that if you travel overseas for surgery and something goes wrong, it doesn't automatically mean you can pursue compensation action against the hospital or surgeon.

A director of law firm Bennett & Philip Lawyers, says this especially applied to countries in parts of Asia and areas such as Mexico.

"I understand this young lady had no travel insurance which only makes a tragic situation worse for her family," he says.

"Medical tourism, as it is now called, is a high-risk venture.  If you need any form of surgery, it's safer overall to have it done in Australia."

Noon says although the impact of medical tourism particularly hurt the Gold Coast when it first took off, this is changing.

"Medical tourism has definitely fragmented the local market, particularly on the Gold Coast more so than Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. But the Gold Coast was the one where we saw the most fall off in particular with breast implant surgery," she says.

"The situation has changed quite a bit - the costs here have come down a bit and the cost in Asia has gone up a bit, so there isn't such a drastic difference between the two markets.

"We have started to see more and more patients who had considered medical tourism either know somebody, seen somebody or read about something that worried them about the whole concept, and they are now prepared to pay that little bit extra to stay in Australia."

Noon says it is all about education and talking rationally with patients about the pros and cons of going to a third-world country to have a modern-day operation.

"Why would you have an operation in a country where you can't drink the water? That really says it all," says Noon.

"You can pick up a very bad infection from an operation and you can pick up a bad infection from drinking the water in these countries.

"I had one lady who had a facelift in Thailand and she picked up a superbug. Not only did she have a dreadful job that needed to be redone but she was in hospital for six weeks to get control of the bug before they could operate to correct the surgery."


Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.
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