Nip/Tuck in Latin America

While India is probably the world leader in medical tourism of all sorts, Latin America has its own outposts where this new niche of international travel is booming. And why? Foreigners are discovering that the region offers good care, good hospitals and highly qualified doctors who not only tend to ills and illness, but deliver top-notch treatments far less expensively than in their home countries.

We can define medical tourism as the process of traveling abroad in order to obtain healthcare, inclusive of everything from routine laser eye procedures to complex surgeries. In Latin America, there is an especially large industry built up in cosmetic and dental surgery, and many of these medical tourists are able to combine their procedures with sightseeing or relaxing before treatments or during the recovery period.

Additionally, as an overseas area for U.S. travelers, Latin America has the advantage of offering close-by destinations, versus the extensive travel times required to reach equally qualified and popular centers in Asia. And in general, top-ranked hospitals are in country capitals or major cities with nonstop flights from the U.S.

Comfort, of course is a primary concern. Of interest in Central and South America is the new synergy between the healthcare and lodging industries, now working together to attract guests/patients. Actually, there are many projects currently in the pipeline that combine hospital and hotel facilities. With this development, we are going to see Latin American hotels acting as a liaison with local hospitals and doctors to provide cost-effective, accessible, quality care for the medical tourist as a patient, and a lodging environment that eases the recovery process and caters to his or her needs as a guest.

brazil Brazil is a major player on the medical tourism scene—it is, in fact, the self-proclaimed cosmetic surgery capital of the world. This body-conscious nation has almost as many licensed cosmetic surgeons as the U.S., and they are considered the best at plastic surgery in all of Latin America. And indeed, it’s all about cosmetic surgery here, where popular procedures range from breast augmentation, liposuction, facelifts, dental implants and hair transplants, to newer procedures such as jet peel skin rejuvenation and threadlifts—and all at prices that are about half of such surgeries in the United States.

Brazil’s Ivo Pitanguy is a world-famous name and one of plastic surgery’s founding fathers. The surgeon, now 80, studied reconstructive and plastic surgery at the Mayo Clinic in the U.S., as well as in Paris and London and has performed facelifts, breast enhancements and other operations on thousands of patients—many of them famous names in entertainment and society. Additionally, he has taught hundreds of cosmetic surgeons who are practicing in more than 40 countries, and is the inventor of procedures reproduced round the globe. You may have heard of the Brazilian butt-lift, a procedure in which flesh is added to a patient’s behind to make it rounder; that is a Pitanguy innovation.

As Bryan Mendelson, president of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) with 1,600 members in 90 countries, told Bloomberg Press, “Ivo Pitanguy created plastic surgery as we know it today, and most surely, he removed some of the taboos and popularized the practice. His legacy will live on through his students.”

The Pitanguy factor is certainly a major reason that the world is coming to Brazil to have its wrinkles stretched and its tummies tucked. The Brazil Ministry of Tourism estimates that more than 50,000 foreigners travel to Brazil each year for health treatments, with half of them arriving for plastic surgery in clinics in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and the northeastern cities of Recife and Fortaleza. In fact, after Rio, Recife, capital of the state of Pernambuco, has Brazil’s second largest concentration of medical facilities.

“Pernambuco is this year’s major destination focus for the Brazil Tour Operators Association,” says Adam Carter, president of both BTOA and Brazil Nuts. “Promoting its fine medical infrastructure is a top priority with the state, and while I can see the enormous potential of medical tourism to the region,” says Carter, “as a company, we would have to get our heads around how to manage such questions as liability in this niche market. At this time, the medical aspects are probably a direct consumer project for research and booking, although travel agent’s clients who are heading south for medical surgeries can certainly use help with air bookings and land arrangements such as pre- and post-operation lodgings and any touring for the client-patient and probably an accompanying companion.”