Prompted by the ease and relatively low costs of travel, more patients from these countries are travelling to the developing world to access less-costly medical and surgical procedures, researchers said. (Agencies)
Because cosmetic plastic surgery procedures aren't covered by insurance, they make up a major part of the burgeoning medical tourism market. India alone may have more than one million medical tourists per year, according to the study.
Other countries with growing medical tourism industries include Mexico, Dubai, South Africa, Thailand and Singapore.
Prices for cosmetic surgery in these countries are typically much lower than at home. For example, a breast augmentation procedure that would cost USD 6,000 in the US can be done for USD 2,200 in India, researchers said.
Even after the costs of airfare are factored in, having an operation in these countries can be much less expensive.
The trend is having an impact on the market for cosmetic plastic surgery, according to an article in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery-Global Open, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
"The rapid globalization of the industry also marks a fundamental shift in the world's perception of elective procedures: patients are becoming consumers and these medical services are being viewed as commodities," Dr Kevin C Chung and Lauren E Franzblau of the University of Michigan, said.
Travelling for medical care is nothing new - but in the past, people were more likely to travel from poor countries to obtain higher-quality care in wealthier countries, researchers said.
In many countries, governments are working actively to foster their medical tourism industry. Some destinations even market procedures performed in resort-like settings, encouraging patients to combine a vacation with cosmetic surgery, they said.
Travelling abroad also lets patients recuperate privately, without anyone at home knowing that they've had plastic surgery, researchers noted.
The growth of medical tourism may have a significant impact on the cosmetic surgery market in the US, but also raises concerns over physical safety and legal protection.
Although destination countries promote the quality and safety of their procedures and facilities, there is often little evidence to support these claims, researchers said.
"Because the practice of medical travel does not appear to be going away in the foreseeable future, plastic surgeons must understand the international market and learn to compete in it," Chung and Franzblau said.
Prompted by the ease and relatively low costs of travel, more patients from these countries are travelling to the developing world to access less-costly medical and surgical procedures, researchers said.