Many bariatric patients have been happy with their decision to travel to Mexico for bariatric surgery, but it is important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages before making this choice.
Bariatric surgery is expensive, and without insurance, it can be financially out of reach for many people in the United States. In an attempt to find a more affordable option, many Americans are traveling to locations out of the country where the medical costs are much lower. While having surgery close to home is preferred, for some the cost difference makes traveling an acceptable alternative.
One of the most popular destinations for bariatric surgery is Mexico, where the cost of treatment is about half of what it costs in the United States. While the low costs are enticing, there are additional factors to consider when traveling away from home for surgery.
There is much more to the bariatric process than just the surgery itself, from pre-op tests and pre-op diets to lifetime follow-up care, lap band fills, unexpected difficulties, and the possibility of undesirable side effects.
Often, the bariatric surgeon has a travel coordinator that can help you with travel arrangements, hotel reservations, and transportation. It is important to find out what services are provided and what travel plans you will need to take care of on your own. A word of caution, this is not the appropriate time to schedule any sightseeing or vacation-type activities.
The pre-surgery tests are necessary for evaluating a person's overall health and establishing the need for bariatric surgery, even if the surgery is being performed in Mexico. Some of the common pre-surgery tests are: complete blood count, chemistry panel, urine test, electrocardiograph (EKG), chest X-ray, and screening for sleep apnea.
It is important to find out whether the pre-surgery tests are performed by the doctor in Mexico or if they need to be completed beforehand. Depending on who conducts the testing, this may or may not be an additional expense. The pre-surgery testing often totals about $1,000 if billed separately, but it may be included in a package price from the bariatric surgeon.
There are many skilled and reputable surgeons that perform bariatric surgery in Mexico, but just like in the United States, it is important to verify the doctor's credentials and make sure that he or she is appropriately certified. Doing a background check and seeking personal testimonials into the reputation of a particular doctor and medical facility is very important. Ask about policies, eligibility, and pre-op requirements prior to scheduling surgery.
It will also be necessary to decide whether you will be traveling to Mexico to visit the same bariatric surgeon for your post-surgery appointments and follow-up care or choosing another doctor at home. Since follow-up care is crucial for monitoring overall health and nutritional levels, this needs to be taken care of before surgery is performed.
Also, since the surgery is being performed out of the country, there may be no legal recourse if something goes wrong. Make sure you understand what is included in the package price and what is not.
If you are having adjustable gastric band surgery, make sure the type of band being used is one that is approved for use in the United States, otherwise you will not be able to get band adjustments or appropriate medical care related to the device at home. Currently the only two gastric bands approved for use in the US are the LAP-BAND and REALIZE Band.
An additional consideration is scheduling lap band fill appointments. Unless you plan on traveling to Mexico for your band fills and adjustments, you will need to find a fill doctor near home before having surgery. Not all bariatric surgeons will take on patients from another doctor, so don't assume it will be easy to find a doctor to accept you as a patient after surgery or perform your fills if he or she did not perform the procedure.
The success of bariatric surgery is greatly determined by the level of care and support that a patient receives after surgery. Successful aftercare includes an exercise program, diet and nutritional counseling, behavioral therapy, support groups, follow-up exams, and nutritional testing. When you have surgery in the United States, it is common for the bariatric surgeon to include the necessary after-surgery care as part of a package. If you are choosing to have surgery in Mexico, you will need to make plans for appropriate long-term care after surgery. The importance of follow-up care cannot be emphasized enough and should not be ignored.