Nip/Tuck in Latin America

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On site in Brazil, you have such companies as Cosmetic Vacations, which advises that “all plastic surgeons with whom it works are board-certified and members of the Brazilian Society of Plastic Surgery—the national equivalent of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.”

Rio-based Cosmetic Vacations’ main market is from North America, accounting for about 90 percent of its clientele. Most of those come for surgical procedures that fall under the heading of cosmetic surgery, which is elective and meant to enhance one’s appearance. Plastic surgery is different, with procedures that are necessary and reconstructive in nature. At Cosmetic Vacations (in the order of popularity) are breast augmentation, liposuction, nose reshaping, eyelid surgery and tummy tucks. According to a company spokesperson, most of the company’s patients from abroad come through the Internet where they are able to research participating doctors and their clients and communicate via e-mail before a formal personal consultation. The company is associated with the Fluminense Clinic, whose owners are members of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; and in the U.S., works with Florida-based, Brazil-travel specialist Must Travel to arrange accommodations (a choice of four hotels in Rio), airport transfers and pre-operative consultation.

costa rica For those client/patients who don’t want to head that far south, the capital area of San Jose is home to several professional hospitals that aggressively cater to foreign visitors. Many of the doctors were trained in North America and Europe, and while Spanish is certainly the main language, most doctors and staff also speak English. Cosmetic surgery is the biggest draw, and everything from facelifts to breast enhancements are regularly performed for less than half of U.S. rates at similar facilities.

Major dental work is the other lure for the uninsured Americans, and other complicated procedures can be done for an average of 60 percent less than in the United States. There are even medical retreats—basically hotels with nurses, medical amenities and 24-hour care—to help patients recuperate from surgery.

Richard Feldman, the U.S.-born managing director of Medical Tourism of Costa Rica, has over 25 years experience in hospital administration, including operations manager of Hospital CIMA San Jose, the only private hospital in Costa Rica accredited in quality processes by the Ministry of Health.

“We may be called Medical Tourism of Costa Rica, but our primary task is not tourism but providing the best medical treatment and recuperation supervision. I lead a management team focused on administrating and integrating our network of U.S.-trained physicians, surgeons and dentists with the medical requirements of our incoming foreign patients. Additionally, we provide a 24/7 concierge desk to provide assistance with travel, hotel, tours, spa facility and other arrangements.”

The Health Escape is another company offering cosmetic and dental procedures predominantly to foreigners. A team of doctors largely trained in the U.S. and Central America, perform a number of procedures at significantly lower costs than one pays at home. After the procedure, clients stay at the Las Cumbres retreat, located 15 minutes outside San Jose and offering a private and intimate way to recover from plastic surgery, cosmetic dentistry and eye surgery. All surgical procedure packages include transfers, accommodations, meals and post-operative care.

And where does the U.S. travel industry fit into the boom in international medical travel, even if or maybe particularly if, a recession and insufficient healthcare coverage are a reality for a lot of people?

Leigh Ann Cloutier, president of Rico Tours—a repeat winner of the “Conde Nast Traveler Award” for expertise on Costa Rica—says, “Medical tourism is of great interest to me. I have not gone into it yet only because of the liability issue, but I am looking seriously at all possibilities. This should be a great niche market for us all. Certainly Costa Rica has wonderful places to combine with medical treatments.”

She also points out that Costa Rica has wonderful lodgings that combine easily with pre- and post-medical treatment stays. Coming to mind, for instance, is the Asclepios Wellness & Healing Retreat, which skirts the Poas Volcano and offers 12 rooms, an ionized swimming pool, a fitness center, an exercise pavilion, a sauna, a hammam, nature paths, eight treatment lodges and a relaxation room. “This is a place to rest and recuperate, or to come for a different kind of body renewal and wellness in taking programs focusing on a spa experience, revitalization and rejuvenation, an anti-stress escape, and weight management,” Cloutier adds. Week-long stays include not only accommodations and meals, but all treatments and activities.