Medical tourism is bracing to become a $100 billion global industry by 2012, but its prospects in Australia could be hindered by misconceptions. The fact remains that for many Australians, having cosmetic or other elective surgery locally is not always financially viable.

A RECENTLY launched medical tourism agency has called for mutual respect from local health practitioners as ‘misconceptions and slander’ present major challenges for the industry in Australia.

Gold Coast CosMediTour director Christyna Kruczaj, says ‘stereotyped comments’ from local practitioners and health providers are undermining what is a legitimate cosmetic surgery alternative.

“There have been some terrible allegations about overseas and in particular Asian surgeons that are very, very wrong,” says Kruczaj.

“It’s not only unfair on us as an industry, but unfair to say those things about the surgeons in Asia that have the correct certifications and are every bit as qualified as Australian surgeons.

“What we are doing is facilitating a genuine surgery alternative for people who cannot afford cosmetic surgery in Australia. And we’ve helped out many people with some very sad stories.”

On average, the most common cosmetic surgery procedure in Australia, breast augmentation, can be done at half the cost in Thailand, even after factoring in airfares and two weeks holiday accommodation.

Since the company’s launch in late May, CosMediTour has locked in overseas surgery for around 20 clients at either Bangkok or Phuket major hospitals. Kruczaj says the initial response to the business is ‘as good as expected’ due to the lengthy consultation period involved with each client. While the significant reduction in both cost and waiting times are the major drivers behind the medical tourism product, Kruczaj says this does not come at the sacrifice of quality.

“Medical tourism first started overseas when people who were injured while travelling were surprised at how good the medical treatment and service was,” she says.

“There’s no such thing as a day surgery, despite another misconception that they throw you out hours later.

“Even for minor breast surgery you will stay overnight under observation and longer if need be.”

One of Australia’s pre-eminent plastic surgeons says he’s not in a position to judge whether an overseas surgeon is more qualified than an Australian surgeon.

Dr Peter Widdowson of the Lotus Institute, says the chief concern is the availability of follow-up care over the long term.

“Some colleagues and I were presented with an opportunity many years ago to have patients flown in from the States for cosmetic surgery, and we didn’t feel comfortable at all with the concept,” says Widdowson.

“Our concerns were if a complication arises, patients will either have to pay for another overseas trip or foot the bill to have the surgery redone locally anyway.

“These complications aren’t necessarily the surgeons’ fault, but simple complications such as scarring around a breast are common. My breast augmentation patients usually have a check up once a year.”

Widdowson admits that there may be some nervousness among Australian surgeons about the potential impact on the local industry, however it is not significant.

“On the Coast we are very busy anyway, and the majority of people travelling overseas are doing so purely on cost reasons. Our biggest concern is for the patients,” he says.

“People may also be undervaluing the seriousness of some of these procedures by likening them to getting a haircut, makeover or a new wardrobe while on an overseas

However Kruczaj recommends people ‘to go and do their own research because we’ve certainly done our homework’.

“We’ve undertaken 16 solid months of research that includes travelling to each hospital twice to assess the facilities. We’ve also seen each surgeon three times and checked their credentials,” she says.

“The medical tourism industry in Australia will move forward, but it will require more respect from local health professionals and a lot more education on just how good these overseas hospitals are.

“People will always use local surgeons because they may feel more comfortable about that. We just provide them with a cost-effective option that they can explore if they choose.”

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