Medical tourism is a business model that is growing so fast that statistics can barely keep up with it. And not all the numbers tell a happy tale. In far too many cases, the patients end up sicker than ever due to poorly trained practitioners providing low quality products in substandard facilities. It’s one thing when these things happen overseas, but who would expect such a nightmare in Florida? Welcome to the world of domestic medical tourism.
When you hear about medical tourism it’s natural for your mind’s eye to conjure images of poor tropical or Eastern European destinations offering short waiting times and low prices compared to treatment back home. Depending on the clinic and the doctor (and luck), the experience can be wonderful, but far too often it’s just the opposite. Botched surgeries, the wrong surgery, severe infections, and even death are among the stories tricking back home from unfortunate medical tourism cases.
But did you know that the world’s top medical tourism destination is actually the United States? This little-known reality is the result of a number of factors. One is the presence of many of the world’s top hospitals and doctors drawing patients from around the world who can afford to pay for the very best. Another is domestic medical tourism. The U.S. is a big country, with laws, regulations, and prices varying considerably from one state (or region or city) to another. So just as a Texan may consider traveling to Mexico for treatment, a New Yorker may go to Florida. Some American health insurance providers even offer domestic health tourism as a way to control costs.
South Florida, in particular, has become a hotspot for all kinds of domestic health tourism, and that’s where many of the horror stories have been coming from. A few months ago we published a report detailing the scandals coming from the addiction treatment industry there. Some of the scams involved keeping the victims addicted in order to keep the money flowing from insurance and concerned relatives.
Now we are seeing news of similar shocking events at a number of South Florida cosmetic surgery clinics. These clinics, some of which are literally run by convicted criminals, market their discount plastic surgery deals primarily to African-American and Latino women throughout the United States, as well as in Caribbean countries. Upon arriving at the clinic, they are rushed through their procedure, waking up in the recovery room almost before they know what happened. Numerous cases of unsightly permanent scars and irreversible deformity have been documented. Needless to say, this is not consistent with the aims of cosmetic surgery.
But it gets worse. Some patients have been left permanently disabled or suffering chronic pain from their surgeries. Others have experienced severe infections, punctured internal organs, kidney failure, and shock. One surgeon forgot to remove a surgical sponge before sewing his patient closed. And over a dozen women have died.
The Florida state legislature has been trying to rein in the abuse for over a decade, but so far its efforts have come to little avail. Meanwhile, hundreds of women continue to suffer the ongoing effects of substandard surgical care. To add insult to injury, they paid thousands of dollars for the “privilege”.