Dangerous medical trips: traveling for surgery faster

Many Quebec patients discouraged by the wait in the public network and the hefty bill in the private sector have surgery for a fraction of the price in another country, at their own risk and peril, and often without postoperative follow-up.

Dangerous medical trips: traveling for surgery faster

Many Quebec patients discouraged by the wait in the public network and the hefty bill in the private sector have surgery for a fraction of the price in another country, at their own risk and peril, and often without postoperative follow-up.

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Bariatric surgery, vision correction, orthopedic surgery, aesthetic care: Quebecers are willing to travel thousands of kilometers to be treated quickly and at a lower cost.

“We have a super good system in Quebec, but we don’t have access to it. […] I did not have the patience to wait five years, ”says Marie-Eve Lejour, who underwent bariatric surgery in Mexico last year.

While many Quebecers return with a positive experience, the risks of complications (infections, bleeding, etc.) are real and there are many horror stories. Doctors warn patients against these tempting but risky offers (see text opposite).

Discouraging delay

Since March 28, a 38-year-old Quebecer who underwent bariatric surgery in Turkey has been in a coma.

After two years of the pandemic, the wait for bariatric or orthopedic surgery in the public network has stretched and can take years, which discourages many.

Patients make their arrangements directly with clinics abroad, but Quebec travel agencies also organize medical tourism in countries where the costs are lower than those in Canada (Turkey, Cuba, Tunisia).

The trip is even sometimes enhanced by days of preoperative tourism, and clients fly back after surgery. Many patients do not purchase specific travel insurance for medical care, Le Journal found, a risky choice that can be expensive.

The Quebec agency Nomades Médical sends 40 Quebecers a month to Turkey in a private hospital for all kinds of operations (50% are bariatric surgeries). In the vast majority of cases, we assure that everything went well.

"It's turnkey from A to Z," says Philippe Gervais, who lives in Turkey and accompanies patients during their stay. We had a few cases of infections, and we kept the patients longer at our expense. »

"We choose our patients, we don't say yes to just anyone," he says, ensuring that he works with doctors who are experts in their field.

One third of the price

Obviously, the price is a factor that convinces to go abroad. Bariatric surgery in Turkey costs less than $9,000 (including travel), and more than $20,000 here.

Called to react, the president of the Association of Travel Agents of Quebec, Moscow Côté, replied that “the medical part has nothing to do with the travel agent license”. However, the agencies sell surgeries with such a permit.

He does not know how many members use this parallel practice, and refuses to comment on it.

– With Hugo Duchaine

EXAMPLES OF SURGERIES OFFERED ABROAD BY QUEBEC TRAVEL AGENCIES

Source: travel agency websites

Postoperative complications are frequent after surgery abroad and patients must then be treated in the public network of Quebec, deplore doctors.

"People need to realize that they don't know who they are dealing with. Who will assume the complications if there are any? They will need the network they wanted to “bypass””, underlines Dr. Jean-François Joncas, president of the Association des orthopédistes du Québec.

"You can't have the equivalent at a discount elsewhere," he says.

According to a surgeon specializing in bariatric surgery, patients' despair causes them to make bad decisions.

“People are unhappy, they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. All they see is surgery, and someone dangled them that regardless of the criteria, they were offering them surgery,” says Dr. Annie Lafortune, of the University Institute of Cardiology and Pulmonology. of Quebec.

The latter emphasizes the importance of postoperative follow-up, which is not offered with medical tourism.

The dangerous plane

On the side of the Association des microbiologistes infectiologues du Québec, we see several horror stories of infections or bleeding following surgeries abroad.

Sterilization is also often deficient.

"It's a huge risk that people run," says its president, Dr. Karl Weiss. When you have to remove implants, it creates a lot of problems. We don't really know how it was done. »

In addition, these specialists point out that flying a few days after surgery is dangerous, especially for phlebitis.

"It's reckless and reckless on the part of the surgeon, protests Dr. Lafortune, pointing out that complications generally occur 7 to 10 days later. Here, people are told not to go on a trip within three months. »

Doctors also point out that the quality of Canadian medical standards is not equaled in countries that offer medical tourism.

"People don't realize the quality we have here. The problem is the wait. But, once you're taken care of, it's top notch, ”says Dr. Joncas.

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