Buyer Beware: Medical Tourism For Hair Transplants Can Have Costly Consequences

International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery warns of technicians spawning black market to perform hair transplants

GENEVA, Illinois, May 26, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — While medical tourism for cosmetic surgery is a growing trend, the lure of scenic landscapes and less expensive surgeries can prove to be a one-way trip to unsuccessful and unsafe procedures when performed illegally by technicians rather than trained, qualified physicians.

2015 ISHRS Practice Census: New Survey Finds Growing Demand For Proven Hair Loss Treatments.

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Echoing the 2014 consumer alert issued by the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) on the growing trend of technicians performing hair restoration surgery and the serious consequences this practice poses for patients, the ISHRS is urging consumers who may consider traveling to another country for hair restoration surgery to thoroughly research their hair restoration physician and medical facility amid increasing reports of patients receiving shoddy hair transplants by technicians abroad, and not realizing this practice is illegal.

“No one should think that even a minor cosmetic surgery isn’t surgery, as medical decisions need to be made constantly during cosmetic procedures and some type of medication is administered to the patient that needs to be monitored, and in some cases adjusted, during surgery,” said Sharon A. Keene, MD, FISHRS (Tucson, Ariz.), member of the ISHRS Executive Committee. “We’re finding that some patients seeking hair transplants abroad are being lured by a doctor’s credentials, but then there’s a classic ‘bait and switch’ model happening where the actual surgery is being performed by a technician who is not licensed to perform surgery. This is a dangerous practice that places patients at serious risk.”

In Turkey, for example, recent restrictions by the Turkish Health Ministry on where surgeries could be performed prohibited hair transplant surgery from being performed outside of a hospital setting — making hospitals the only place where hair transplants could be performed legally. These restrictions led to black market surgeries, with technicians illegally performing hair transplants in private hospitals or clinics. This resulted in lower-priced surgeries that are very appealing to unknowing patients from other countries seeking hair transplants, which has made Turkey a medical tourism hotspot. In fact, the TURSAB (a committee working with the Turkish Health Ministry) reports that Turkey’s income from health tourism in 2015 topped $4.5 billion (USD).

Despite the lower price oftentimes offered for hair transplants illegally performed by technicians, it can come at a high price by placing patients at risk of misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose hair disorders and related systemic diseases, and the performance of unnecessary or ill-advised surgery. The ISHRS strongly believes that these potential risks jeopardize patient safety and treatment outcomes.

“Black market hair transplant clinics in Turkey prey on medical tourists who are not aware of this growing practice and attracted by the cheaper surgery — especially patients from Arabic countries who are not doing their homework by researching these practices,” said Tayfun Oguzoglu, MD, (Istanbul, Turkey), member of the ISHRS. “Patients must take extreme precaution and thoroughly research whether their hair restoration surgeon is actually an experienced doctor and that all aspects of the surgery, from start to finish, are being performed by the doctor and not a fake doctor. This problem is not unique to Turkey. It is growing and infecting Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S. There are reports of clinics in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium in which illegal Turkish technician groups perform surgery under the auspices of licensed Turkish doctors.”

Hair restoration surgery is at an all-time high, with the ISHRS reporting in its 2015 Practice Census that 397,048 surgical hair restoration procedures were performed in 2014 — a 76 percent jump from 2006. The largest gains were reported in the Middle East, Mexico/Central and South America, and Asia.

To help patients make educated decisions about hair restoration surgery, the ISHRS advises potential patients to ask the following questions, as well as questions regarding costs, risks, and short- and long-term benefits and planning:

  1. Who will evaluate my hair loss and recommend a course of treatment? What is their education, training, licensure, and experience in treating hair loss?
  2. Who will be involved in performing my surgery, what role will they play, and what is their education, training, licensure, and experience performing hair restoration surgery?
  3. Will anyone not licensed by the state be making incisions or harvesting grafts during my surgery? If so, please identify this person, explain their specific role and why they are legally permitted to perform it.
  4. Is everyone involved in my surgery covered by malpractice insurance?

When performed by the right physician, today’s hair restoration surgery safely and effectively creates natural-looking, permanent results that are virtually undetectable. For more information about hair loss and hair restoration surgery, or to find an ISHRS member physician by state or country, visit the ISHRS website at www.ishrs.org. For a full reprint of the ISHRS 2015 Practice Census Report, visit Hair Restoration Statistics.