The Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey draws some startling conclusions

One in five cosmetic surgery patients who became medical tourists were dissatisfied. For non-travelling cosmetic surgery patients, clinical studies suggest that satisfaction levels of 90% or higher are the norm.

So…what does this say about the quality of service provision in cosmetic surgery tourism and should we be concerned?
When we dig deeper, we find that the differences aren’t just about the patient’s satisfaction with the outcome. Cosmetic surgery patients rated all of the following aspects of their treatment and care lower than any other type of patient:

  • Responsiveness to your questions
  • Professionalism of the staff
  • Their understanding of your needs
  • The overall treatment experience
  • The after care (in the country where you were treated)
  • Quality of care
  • The outcome/result of your treatment

As a result, cosmetic surgery tourists are much less likely to recommend going for cosmetic surgery abroad to a friend and one in five would not repeat the experience.
What can we conclude from this? Is the sample skewed by a particularly poor cosmetic surgery provider? The answer is “no”… the patients went to 38 different countries for surgery. That’s a pretty good spread of patient experience.
Various studies have been undertaken on patient satisfaction levels in cosmetic surgery patients.

The difficulties in drawing a conclusion….

  • Comparing cosmetic surgery patient satisfaction levels with studies looking at other areas of surgery. e.g. how does the satisfaction level of a cosmetic surgery patient compare with that of an orthopaedic surgery patient?
  • Comparing cosmetic surgery patient satisfaction levels for different types of operation. e.g. satisfaction with a breast augmentation compared with satisfaction with a facelift.
  • Comparing different studies that use different measures of patient “satisfaction”. e.g. what is the patient actually telling you about…. satisfaction with the aesthetic outcome of satisfaction with the patient experience?
  • Comparing measurements taken at different points in time. A patient’s view a few days after surgery may be very different to their view a few months after surgery.

My gut feeling is that there are two conclusions that we can draw from the data in the 2012 Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey.

Cosmetic surgery patients are harder to please

Some cosmetic surgeons will say that because of the high expectations of patients, there will always be lower patient satisfaction levels in cosmetic surgery. There are patients that just won’t be happy with the outcome however good the surgery has been. Take these comments from our survey for example:

  • “Cosmetic surgery did not turn out like the doctor said it would”
  • “I am left with breasts double the size and saggier than ever”
  • “Ultimately, I now have the saggy face look that I started with”

And there are patients where it appears that the surgery was at fault:

  • “I was left with a major scar”
  • “Because of infections, I had to have the implant removed in my country.”
  • “The results left me with an uneven stomach and thighs and lots of keloid scars”.

But many of the areas of dissatisfaction are not about the aesthetic outcome or the clinical outcome of the surgery. Here’s what made a few patients unhappy:

  • “Poor consultation and terrible aftercare. I was dumped in hotel room alone immediately after the operation. I didn’t see anyone until next day.”
  • “The clinic charged more than they quoted me….. I would warn about being deceived about actual cost.”
  • “Lack of English speaking medical personnel. Customer care was almost non-existent. It was very much a case of handing over the cash, no receipt and then wait for the surgery.”

And these are things that are not that difficult to fix.

Facilitators, clinics and doctors need to do better

If these patients are harder to please, then facilitators, clinics and doctors are going to have to work harder to keep these patients happy. Cosmetic surgery patients may have higher expectations. They are not sick patients looking for a cure. They may be more critical of the outcome.
Remember that the patient experience is not just about the surgery; it’s about everything that happens along the patient journey. And at the moment, it is evident that the medical tourism sector is going to have to work much harder to meet patient expectations, and not just for those undergoing cosmetic treatment.

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As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.