Four Risks for Weight Loss Surgery in Mexico and Abroad

October 19, 2016

In recent years, the promise of discounted and inexpensive weight loss surgery in Mexico and other nations abroad has gained America’s attention. As airfares remain relatively cheap, and bargain medical services abroad promise easy solutions, this troubling new trend of “Medical Tourism” is gaining in popularity. While some procedures may be suited to such a brief, long-distance patient-physician relationship, weight loss surgery is not one of them. Here are four reasons why:

1. Inconsistent Standards of Care

To comprehend just how varied a patient’s medical experience abroad can be, you first need to understand the legal interpretation of standard of care:

  • The type and level of care an ordinary, prudent, health care professional, with the same training and experience, would provide under similar circumstances in the same community.

Within the United States, all healthcare providers must comply with federal health, safety and quality standards, and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery sets forth additional specialty guidelines. In contrast, standards of care abroad are relative to the country, specific region or community where that care is provided. Cultural, societal, economic and even religious factors may come into play. Surgeons may not have access to emergency facilities that are modern by U.S. standards, and technological equipment may be older, substandard or lacking. What qualifies as excellent care in a less developed country might equate to a mediocre or poor rating within the United States.

2. Ill-Advised or Ill-Timed Surgeries

Not everyone needs surgery to lose weight. Within the United States, specific, accepted guidelines identify who is a suitable candidate for surgical procedures to aid weight loss. In general, if you fall within either of two general categories, you most likely would also be considered a good candidate for a procedure:

  • A body mass index of 40 or greater, or more than 100 pounds overweight.
  • A body mass index of 35 or greater, with at least two chronic obesity-related conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, for example.

Opportunistic facilities eager to collect American dollars may have much more lax criteria and a less exacting approach. In some cases, scheduling from afar opens the door to one-size-fits-all surgery, regardless of need, possible complications or future concerns. It can put you at increased risk for having a medically ill-timed procedure that you aren’t physically or mentally ready for.

3. Heightened Risk for Complications

Obesity often brings with it chronic diseases and conditions that require careful monitoring and precautions. Diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, breathing disorders and osteoarthritis are but a few of them. However, the very nature of travel adds challenges:

  • Americans typically lack immunity to many commonplace pathogens – bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms – found in other countries. Those causing gastrointestinal illnesses can present especially serious, immediate concerns for bariatric patients.
  • Prolonged travel following bariatric surgery also increases the risk for deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms, both possible complications from any surgery.

Despite medical advancements, even minimally invasive bariatric procedures are still major surgery. If you experience complications, you’ll have few to no options for compensation or treatment.

4. Incompatible Continuity of Care

Perhaps the greatest challenge of all to out-of-country weight loss surgery is continuity of care. Unfortunately, excess weight is not a lens that can be dropped into place with instantaneous results. The fact that it requires preoperative counseling and preparation as well as long-term post-operative care, counseling, behavior modification and support leads to two major problems:

  • Many patients discover that surgeons at home cannot or will not assume responsibility – that is, liability – for a procedure performed by another surgeon abroad. Even barring complications or the need for counseling, this can prove especially problematic for gastric banding patients, who need periodic adjustments.
  • Patients have difficulty establishing access to the network of medical professionals who specialize in the actual weight loss part of the process – the dietitians and nutritionists, exercise and behavior modification counselors, mental health professionals, and nurses and doctors who support a patient.

Opting for Quality Care at Home

Successful weight loss surgery may require more than one procedure. You deserve the full attention of a surgical staff who will provide all the resources and support you’ll need. If you would like more information on the steps you can take to safely leave obesity behind you, call us at 337-233-9900, or visit our website.