Consumer Beware – The Risks of Medical Tourism for Hair Transplants

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Consumer Beware – The Risks of Medical Tourism for Hair Transplants

If you’re considering a hair transplant, you have probably conducted online searches for hair clinics. In the process, you’ve also probably found websites for overseas clinics – usually in Turkey – offering transplants at bargain rates, included as a package deal with airfare, luxury hotel accommodations and transportation. But the lure of combining an exotic vacation with hair transplant surgery should raise a major red flag, as black market hair restoration practices are proliferating unchecked – leaving patients with disastrous results and no recourse.

So serious is this problem that the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) – the world’s leading medical authority on hair loss treatment and restoration – has initiated a worldwide patient awareness campaign designed to help people recognize fraudulent hair restoration clinics and misleading advertising claims. The ISHRS has encouraged its members to raise awareness of the risks of medical tourism for hair transplants.

Dr. Marco Barusco – Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Tempus Hair Restoration – is a Fellow of the ISHRS. This is a distinction that is only given to those who achieve certain landmarks on teaching and leadership. Currently, fewer than 10% of the ISHRS members are Fellows. As such, Dr. Barusco and the Tempus Hair Restoration team are proud to help the ISHRS in this important mission.

Launched in March 2019, the campaign, Beware of the Hair Transplant Black Market, provides valuable resources to help patients evaluate a surgeon’s credentials, and patient photos illustrating the disfiguring – and many times irreversible – outcomes of botched surgeries by untrained, unqualified staff members.

To define the issue, “medical tourism” can be a confusing term. Patients often travel long distances for a surgeon with an excellent reputation and credentials. Dr. Barusco treats international patients at Tempus’ surgical center in Port Orange, Florida, providing a convenient, complimentary two-night stay at a nearby hotel. However, all travel, additional transportation and other expenses are the patient’s responsibility.

The negative aspect that the medical profession attributes to medical tourism is when unscrupulous clinics leverage the promise of travel to unsuspecting patients, then subject them to treatments performed under substandard conditions by nurses or non-medical technicians.

Why Turkey is the world’s black market hair transplant capital

Popular destinations for hair transplants include Mexico, India and Sweden, but Turkey is where the most aggressive marketing is conducted. Although Turkish law prohibits hair transplant surgery from being performed outside of a hospital setting, black market practitioners get around the restrictions by illegally setting up shop in private hospitals or clinics. Bribery of officials is commonplace, allowing such clinics to operate without consequences. The TURSAB (a committee working with the Turkish Health Ministry) reports that Turkey’s income from medical tourism topped $4.5 billion in 2015.

In addition to lining the pockets of those entrusted to protect the public, black market clinics use the internet to draw in patients. Slick clinic websites making false claims about their legitimacy, staff experience and positive patient outcomes do effective groundwork in misleading potential patients. Their doctors are given a veneer of respectability by paid writers who represent themselves as journalists filing objective reports about the clinics and the successful results they achieve.

According to the ISHRS, “Many of the illegal clinics have sophisticated websites ranking high with Google paid ads to attract the consumer into a clinic that appears on the surface very professional. The marketing tactics are deceptive as it appears like a team of professional doctors with excellent testimonials. However, the reality is your surgery may be done by someone with no medical training. The demand is so high, reports are that Taxi cab drivers and Syrian refugees do the surgery in some overseas countries.”

What is the real cost of a hair transplant?

Consumers who lack knowledge about ethical medical practices and conduct in the hair restoration field are particularly susceptible. But their greatest vulnerability is the pursuit of a bargain. The cost of a hair transplant in the United States varies widely, depending upon many factors – such as the type of procedure, extent of hair loss, amount of donor hair available, etc. The patient can expect to pay several thousand dollars, however.

As the ISHRS emphasizes, hair transplant surgery is still surgery, with all the risks of surgery performed on any other area of the body. Unethical overseas clinics offer procedures at the same price for all patients, ranging from just $600 to $2,000 USD.

What do patients get for their hair transplant package? Poor growth, improper graft preparation (which means a higher number of grafts become non-viable), misangled graft placement, unnatural hairlines, a pluggy doll’s hair appearance and complete donor decimation are often reported. Severe scarring and disfigurement are also common. Add to that the risk for such infections as hepatitis or HIV. This is because the emphasis for the clinic is volume – performing as many hair transplants as possible each day for maximum profit.

Why don’t victimized patients report black market hair transplant clinics?

Why hasn’t word gotten out? Ironically, many patients are satisfied with their experience – at first. Results from a hair transplant typically require a year to fully activate and grow out. Patients who don’t know what a good transplant looks like during each stage assume that what they see is normal, and that the appearance of their scalp and hair will improve over time.

When they finally realize their surgery has been botched, they have no recourse. Dr. Barusco treated one such patient who traveled back to the Turkish clinic that performed his transplant to have complications corrected, and found the clinic had gone out of business. Actually, the clinic may well have moved to a different location under a new name, continuing to run its illegal assembly line surgeries – as is common practice.

As noted by one observer of Turkey’s booming medical tourism scene, “The market is plagued by corruption, fake clinics and gullible customers looking for a bargain. And the market is only expanding.”

Knowledge is power

Human nature being what it is, we want to believe what we want to be true. But if something sounds too good to be true, it is. This includes a bargain hair transplant performed during an all-expenses-included exotic vacation. Educating yourself about hair transplants and the questions you need to ask any surgeon before consenting to treatment are essential to avoiding unscrupulous clinics and ensuring the best possible outcome. Our July 8, 2019 blog post – “Undoing the Damage of a Bad Hair Transplant” – includes the following questions:

  • Who will evaluate my hair loss and recommend a course of treatment? What is their education, training, licensure, and experience in treating hair loss? Only physicians, Physician’s Assistants and Nurse Practitioners are legally allowed to diagnose a patient and to recommend medical treatments. Otherwise, the person recommending procedures and/or treatments is practicing medicine without a license, a Felony crime in Florida and many states.
  • 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?
  • Will anyone not allowed by the State Medical Board 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.
  • Is everyone involved in my surgery covered by malpractice insurance?

Once you are at the consultation, make sure all of your questions are answered to your satisfaction and DEMAND TO SEE A PHYSICIAN. At Tempus Hair Restoration, every prospective patient meets with Dr. Barusco – whether the consultation is in-office, or by video conference.

Investigate other trusted resources

We hope we have provided information that will prevent you from making a serious mistake that can negatively impact the quality of your life and general health. To further educate yourself, we recommend visiting the links we’ve provided in this blog post to the ISHRS website. This organization is an unbiased source of information, and holds its members to the highest ethical standards – as well as establishing and enforcing industry standards.

Ultimately, choose your surgeon based on experience, results and integrity. Dr. Barusco’s long list of accomplishments, his notable artistic ability and his successful surgical team make Tempus Hair Restoration a renowned practice.

Dr. Barusco also conducts virtual consultations for those who can’t travel to one of our 14 Florida locations, and our office will arrange travel and accommodations for out-of-area patients. We invite you to learn more about our procedures, then contact us to schedule your free consultation with Dr. Barusco. We look forward to meeting you and discussing your options.