The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is reminding Rhode Islanders to be mindful of the potential risks associated with traveling to another country for medical care.

Rhode Island hospitals have seen an increase in the number of Rhode Islanders who have traveled to other countries for medical procedures and returned with serious, antibiotic-resistant infections that require months to years of treatment. These infections have been associated with wounds that are painful, slow to heal, and often require draining. Such infections can also lead to permanent disfigurement.

Although people travel to many countries to receive medical care, several patients with recent complications had procedures done in the Dominican Republic. Common procedures associated with traveling for healthcare include breast augmentation, abdominoplasty (tummy tucks), liposuction, eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty (nose jobs), oral surgery, and heart procedures.

Some people opt to have procedures done abroad because they are less expensive in other parts of the world, or because they prefer to have procedures done in their home countries.

“There are talented doctors who provide quality care in every country. However, various factors can sometimes make traveling for a procedure risky,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH). “When it comes to procedures that are done for the sake of appearance, instead of to treat health needs, it’s often not worth the risk. But if someone does need to have a procedure done in another country, they should first have a conversation with a local healthcare provider to understand the issues that could arise.”

The challenges associated with medical tourism could include:

  • Varied standards of care in different countries;
  • Healthcare providers abroad not having your complete medical records;
  • Medications being counterfeit or of poorer quality;
  • Risk of blood clots related to flying after surgery;
  • Varied standards regarding the sterility of equipment used for medical procedures;
  • Antibiotic resistance, which is higher in many other countries; and
  • Communication issues. (Receiving care at a facility where you do not speak the language fluently increases the chances that misunderstandings will arise about your care.)

Although the RIDOH discourages Rhode Islanders from traveling to other countries for elective medical procedures, people who are still considering getting medical procedures abroad should:

  • Consult a local healthcare provider at least four to six weeks before the trip to discuss general information for healthy travel and to learn about specific risks related to the procedure.
  • Ask a local healthcare provider to check the qualifications of the providers who will be doing the procedure and the credentials of the facility where the procedure will be done.
  • Have a written agreement with the healthcare facility defining what treatments, supplies, and care are covered by the costs of the trip.
  • Determine ahead of time how you will communicate with your doctor and other people who are caring for you (if you are not a native speaker).
  • Bring copies of your medical records that include the lab and other studies done related to the condition for which you are obtaining care and any allergies you may have.
  • Bring copies of all your prescriptions and a list of all the medicines you take, including their brand names, generic names, manufacturers, and dosages.
  • Arrange for follow-up care with your local healthcare provider before you leave.
  • Before planning vacation activities, such as sunbathing, drinking alcohol, swimming, or taking long tours, find out if those activities are permitted after surgery.
  • Get copies of all your medical records before you return home.

More information is available online from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).