WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) —Medical tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Nearly 1.9 million Americans were expected to travel abroad for cheaper medical care in 2019, to popular destinations like Mexico, India, or Costa Rica. Some of the most common procedures performed are bariatric or weight loss surgeries.
According to a study by medicaltourism.com, the average cost of a gastric sleeve in the U.S. without insurance comes in at around $19,000, whereas the price in Mexico roughly begins just under $4,000.
United Regional’s bariatric surgeon, Dr. Chris Finnell says cost is just one of the reasons many why patients take part in medical tourism.
“When they make the decision that they want to have this done, the waiting period is very stressful,” says Dr. Finnell. “If you go overseas and mostly that involves going to mexico, it’s a cash-pay-price and that cuts through a lot of the red tape and they just go and they can have it done.“
Every surgery can have its complications though: communication, hidden costs and infections are among the biggest risk factors in medical tourism.
“You can get everything from just mild dehydration to all the way up to death, it is major gastrointestinal surgery. You can have blood clots, you can have bleeding…severe pain that’s above and beyond what you had been experiencing, elevated temperature, chills, breathing trouble, these types of things are all serious stuff that could happen after surgery.”
Bariatric surgery is not just getting a tummy tuck or liposuction; patients must qualify for weight loss surgery. As Dr. Finnell explains, prospective patients must have a BMI of 35 or higher, fall into the morbidly obese or obese range, have diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, or other health problems related to weight gain.
Any accredited hospital will tell you whether or not you qualify for a legitimate weight loss surgery, and depending on a patient’s insurance, it can take up to 6 months of pre-medical work before even getting the actual surgery.
“You have to have a dietician evaluation, we have them get a mental health evaluation to screen for any eating disorders, substance abuse problems, we have to make sure that the patient have the coping skills to adjust to the changes that occur after weight loss surgery.”
As someone who’s grown up and performed hundreds of bariatric surgeries in Texoma, Dr. Finnell stresses you don’t need a passport for quality treatment.
“Wichita Falls and United Regional had one of the first Centers for Excellence for weight loss surgery in the whole country…It’s been a common thing that’s done at the hospital for decades at this point.”
United Regional is also certified by The American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.
For those traveling abroad, it’s recommended to set up an appointment with a local physician to discuss when and where you’re traveling to and what to expect after getting a life-changing surgery.
For more information on United Regional’s accredited bariatric program, click here.
If you’re skeptical of getting surgery in general, United Regional also offers a non-surgical weight loss program called MediLoss Solutions. Since 2018, participants have lost nearly 6,200 pounds. Last year, it was a combined 3,229 pounds. For a link to our previous MediLoss story, click here.