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Offshore nip and tuck a risky cut: AMA

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The AMA has raised concerns about a plan by one of the nation’s largest health insurers to offer packages for patients to have cosmetic surgery and other medical procedures performed overseas.

The Australian newspaper has revealed that health fund NIB has developed plans to cash in on the medical tourism market, providing packages for customers who want medical work done at a cheaper price offshore, particularly Asia.

NIB Managing Director Mark Fitzgibbon told the newspaper that, from next year, customers would be able to buy packages for cosmetic surgery and dental work to be performed by doctors in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian countries.

“We’re building a medical travel business here,” Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian. “We don’t like the word ‘tourism’ – we think that has the wrong connotations. We will provide you with the opportunity to relax and recuperate at a nice resort, maybe, but it’s not a holiday.”

According to the paper, NIB will offer packages that include flights, accommodation, treatment and a concierge to make arrangements. The packages will not be restricted to NIB members.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the packages would include assurances regarding safety and quality.

But AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said there were significant concerns about the standard of care patients would receive.

Dr Hambleton said that medical training and accreditation standards in Australia were among the most stringent in the world, and although there were some excellent surgeons in Asia, there were not the same system-wide assurances of the quality of care.

The AMA President said those considering going offshore for medical treatment should take into account more than just the price.

“It’s not just the price. It’s really the follow-up, it’s really the quality, and it’s really all of those other things that wrap around [it],” Dr Hambleton told ABC radio. “It’s probably a truism, that you do get what you pay for.”

He said there were multiple requirements and standards that meant the quality of care provided in Australia was world-class, including post-operative care in the event of complications.

“You can get treatment right here and be pretty confident that you’re going to get high standards of medical practitioners,” Dr Hambleton said. “Our training is very, very high in terms of world standards. You know that the hospital you go to is accredited, and that it has good infection control systems, and those are at a world standard.”

The AMA President said it was also important to look at why people wanted to have cosmetic surgery, whether it be in Australia or overseas.

He said there was a preoccupation, including among young men and women, with having the “perfect” face or figure, and “we need to think about their body image issues. Maybe the right answer is to say, ‘You don’t need the surgery at all. This isn’t going to solve your problem’.”

Adrian Rollins