Is medical tourism putting a dent in the US plastic surgery market?

Could medical tourism be cutting into the income of US plastic surgeons? I think the answer may be yes. On Saturday the Wall Street Journal had a front page article about the possibility of a recession in the US (Evidence Grows That Consumers Are Pulling Back. Latest Industry to Feel Pinch: Plastic Surgery; Debating a Recession).

The latest sign that growth in consumer spending, the mainstay of the U.S. economy, is slowing? A nip and tuck in spending on cosmetic surgery.

The slowdown was a hot topic at the meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in Baltimore this fall. One breast-implant maker sees hints of a slowdown in demand. The number of vision-correction surgeries appears to be falling as well. “This whole mortgage credit crisis is making people think twice,” said J. Peter Rubin, a Pittsburgh plastic surgeon. “It’s something I’ve noticed and some colleagues have noticed as well.”

The Journal cites the tightened spending as evidence of a possible recession, and it could be. However, another explanation could be that more patients are substituting surgery overseas for surgery in the US. If so, the problem for the plastic surgeons is a lot more serious than a temporary slowdown, and the Journal will have to find another folksy recession indicator. How about haircuts?

If it turns out that medical tourism is a significant contributor to the slowdown in the US plastic surgery market, it will be interesting to see how the surgeons respond. Will they cast aspersions on foreign providers or argue for legislation to restrict the flow of patients? Will they cut prices or work to improve customer service? Plastic surgeons may pave the way for how US providers respond to medical tourism. Dentists are likely to be only a few steps behind. Orthopedic and cardiac surgeons may also take notice at some point.

December 10, 2007

One thought on “Is medical tourism putting a dent in the US plastic surgery market?”

  1. It would be good to see some recent figures on the numbers of US residents travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery. Personally, I don’t think that the number is big enough right now to have the effect you’re suggesting, although it may well play a part in it. The comment by the breast-implant maker is a bit of a giveaway. As a supplier they wouldn’t see a fall off in demand for their product unless they only supply US clinics (or were talking specifically about their US sales). Either way, it will probably be some time before medical and dental tourism really have an impact on the earnings of individual doctors, dentists and surgeons in the US.

    Philip Boyle

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