The Hair Transplant Industry is Changing: Medical Tourism Risks
Medical tourism is an ongoing trend that continues to entice patients. Often at a disadvantage compared to established clinics, clinics in popular tourist destinations such as Turkey may use a number of strategies to be competitive. From pricing to vacation packages, though, clinics that attract patients through medical tourism do always, or even that often, deliver the results patients desire. In fact, the worst of all cases often require multiple corrective procedures by a more reputable clinic. This follow up article to Issue 2 of FUE Magazine will explore the ins and outs of medical tourism; its opportunities, hazards, and alternatives.
The Hair Transplant Industry is Changing
Elective medicine typically adjusts when the necessary skills of a procedure are easily obtainable. Procedures that require greater skill training, meanwhile, almost always receive pushback; even if the results are superior. The hair transplant industry is no different.
FUE, currently the most effective form of hair transplantation, required over a decade after its introduction to become widely available. It only became more practiced than FUT, an earlier method that requires less training, in less than the past five years. With the increase in demand for FUE, however, many clinics that are offering the procedure lack the specialty but seek to be competitive. Finding patients is integral for surgeons to both build and maintain their skill set. However, clinics may also be misinformed or disingenuous about hair transplantation in general. Such practices might as be engaging in malpractice to hair transplant specialists.
Unfortunately, the amount of clinics offering hair transplantation but lack the specialty is growing. The trend is also universal: select clinics of every locality are offering subpar or bad hair transplantation. Further, clinics that have the specialty to perform FUT are often misrepresenting their FUT patients’ results to remain competitive, and ditto for any FUE hair transplant procedures they attempt without proper training or practices.
Anyone considering a hair transplant must be diligent with their research. Bad clinics may charge more or less than the average hair transplantation cost, and may present themselves as luxuriant or as a small service to gain trust. Patients must be aware of a clinic’s techniques, practices, actual results, and standing within the hair transplantation community.
Medical Tourism in Today’s Hair Transplant Industry
Leveraging the demand for medical tourism is not indicative of a clinic’s capability. Prestigious clinics, in fact, often help patients arrange lodging and suggest local attractions. Capable surgeons, meanwhile, may even decide to set up clinics in tourist hotspots. All the same, clinics that have the best taste in hotels or restaurants may not offer the best results.
Medical tourism unto itself is a bit of misnomer: patients often travel long distances for a reputable clinic. The negative attribution most patients and surgeons apply to medical tourism, therefore, is when less established or unscrupulous clinics leverage the promise of travel to unsuspecting patients.
The second tip for patients that find medical tourism alluring? Always choose the most reputable clinics before deciding on a locale. As mentioned, clinics that prey on patients’ ignorance or desperation are in every nation anyway. It is their tactics that distinguish them; those that offer vacation packages or discounts are merely courting patients who want to travel. Bad practices are bad practices, though, and they may affect patients for a lifetime.
The Risks of Medical Tourism
There are many risks involving any type of medical tourism. Most patients who leap before they look presume countries have the same laws guiding medicine. However, this is not exactly the case. Worldwide, physicians typically oblige the Hippocratic Oath or some variance of such. That does not mean, however, that laws, or “red tape,” exist in each sovereignty. Physicians in each country are only held accountable to domestic and international law. This means patients visiting another country for a hair transplantation may presume accountability, or laws, that the clinic does not hold itself towards.
Think of Predatory Clinics as Fronts for Cons
No matter the quality of hair transplant, therefore, or how it is performed and where, patients will have next to no recourse. They can try to hurt a clinic’s reputation, sure, but patients are best of considering such clinics conpeople’s fronts. Results from a hair transplantation, without specialized treatments, requires around a year to fully activate and grow out. Even with specialized treatments, growth activation still requires a minimum of four or five months. Hair transplants can seem subpar or disastrous before full activation, but there is no guarantee it will not improve until after full activation and some growth. This schedule of recovery often keeps patients’ hopes up, leading them to not outright condemn their clinic of choice until it is obvious their hair transplant is a failure. This gives an efficient “hair transplant clinic” at least a year to set itself up and profit off at least 300 unsuspecting patients.
Even Reputable Clinics May Not Deliver the Best Results
Hair transplantation, like any cosmetic procedure, depends on the surgeon and his or her teams’ mastery of relevant skills. This is as true for FUT as for FUE. However, everything about a clinic matters far as results are concerned. This includes their instruments, devices, training, experience, and exposure to the most recent techniques. Clinics that cannot keep up with the industry lose competitiveness, sometimes leading once esteemed clinics, or promising startups, to blur the lines regarding their practices and results.
FUT clinics, currently, are orienting to medical tourism in reaction to the growing demand for FUE. A predecessor of FUE, FUT is no longer most patients’ best option. It leaves an unpredictable, but always noticeable, scar that stands out with even a buzzcut. FUT also requires a longer recuperation, greater patient involvement in said recuperation, and can lead to any number of complications. This includes a “plugy” look, akin to doll’s hair, or off hair growth angles as a result of the scar. Only patients that have done a supreme amount of research and know what they are in for should decide on a FUT surgery; and only after consulting with a reputable FUE surgeon too.
As mentioned, plenty of reputable FUE clinics also facilitate medical tourism. They help arrange travel, lodgings, and recommend attractions or other activities. However, this is also a way for less reputable clinics, or predatory clinics, to masque their incapability and/or intentions. Subpar clinics offering FUE, as mentioned, is a growing trend. FUE clinics conscious of their lack of capability or skill may use travel packages to entice patients while predatory clinics, often, will focus on the glamor of travel and having a fuller head of hair. Regardless, bad FUE procedures can lead to noticeable scarring, though less severe than FUT, as well any number of other complications: infection, loss of donor hair, very low graft success rate, etc.
The First Step to Picking a Clinic: Current Patient Examples
Before anything, patients should at least select a clinic with current patient photos. In fact, the more patient examples, the better; this establishes a record of a clinics’ output and results. Of course, such photos can be doctored, if not outright fake, so patients must be thorough. Inquire about patient references and, if possible, ask to, at least, video chat with said references. Such video chats should also be high pixel, just in case the clinic uses a lookalike. Many references are also activistic; ask, and then confirm, if any patient references were also posting online and when. While such precautions can be a good start, there are many signs that a clinic may be dishonest. Keep reading for pointers on how to narrow a good clinic, if it offers medical tourism or no.
Bad Signs from Clinics, Including Those Offering Medical Tourism
There are any number of ways for patients to evaluate their clinic. None are more intrinsically a sign of a bad clinic. Some are better at representing their capabilities while some merely need a readjustment of their marketing. Patients should also be aware of language gaps. Perfectly decent clinics may present valid facts in a way that is hard to understand or read. Predatory clinics, meanwhile, may have all the communicative polish in the world. Review our list of signs to see if a clinic is worthwhile and honest, regardless if it facilitates medical tourism.
Highlighting Costly Devices
Costly devices are a big selling point within the industry. Neograft has particularly cornered the market through marketing tactics that showcase FUE and a marketing strategy that even offers specially-trained technicians who can turn up at a clinic with each appointment. However, these techs are not trained physicians, let alone hair restoration experts, and their work can be very shoddy. ARTAS or other robotic devices are far less common, but clinics who highlight them often fail to explain said devices’ limitations and results: ARTAS is faster but typically leads to worse quality results than mechanical or manual options.
Refusing to Disclose the Brand or Use of Instruments
Some clinics may refuse to disclose the brand of their instruments or their use. FUE specialists worth their salt are well aware that punches must be incredibly sharp. Further, they also know that punches are so fine that they are impossible to manually re-sharpen, if at all. Responsible FUE specialists typically dispose or return any punch after 1000 extractions. Transection rates and scarring always increase after this milestone. Further, some brands of punches are better quality and some punches are worse quality. Clinics that refuse to disclose the origins of their punches typically are using bad quality versions. Disingenuous clinics, meanwhile, may outright lie about the punches they use. Patients who feel like a clinic’s representative is being disingenuous should not feel awkward asking to see pictures of a clinic representative holding the instruments or devices they advertise. For the most part, it is impossible to track which clinics are reusing punches. However, the quality of a hair transplant never lies.
Clumsy Disclosures or Outright Falsities
Disingenuous clinics confuse facts far more often. This is because an dishonest clinic’s priorities are different than an honest one’s. Honest clinics equivocate their ability to accrue business with results. Dishonest clinics, meanwhile equivocate their ability to gain patients with anything that sells; and that means bloating positive truths, if not outright lying about results. Clinics might not be hospitals but they are structurally as cohesive. Marketers typically direct their beliefs through a template set by their client, which means that most clinic representatives, in fact, share less about their clinic than they should. This is merely because they mostly focus on understandability over any value. Patients must always remain aware and willing to research details that a representative claims to check consistency. Once again, near all patients have no way to tell if a representative is telling the truth. Instead, always, even if the surgeon has major credentials, they should default to the bottom pointer.
No Surgeon of Note or with Credentials
All hair transplant surgeons have a trail of influence and training. FUE is only two decades old; every reputable surgeon, at this point in time, has a reputable trainer. One of the most intrinsic elements of a good clinic is the head surgeon’s training. There are plenty of examples of an independent surgeon proving their mettle in FUE without years of formal training. However, these examples pale in comparison to the surgeons who built social capital, as innovators, throughout the industry. FUE and FUT surgeons are particularly combative right now, but this is a result of how demanding FUE is to learn in comparison with FUT. All worthwhile clinics, unless the surgeon consists of less than a dozen standouts during the founding of FUE, will cite surgeons who trained them in FUE.
Mixed or Inconsistent Details on the Procedure
All hair transplant surgeries depend on a routine course. Clinics that excel at a given procedure typically emphasize training, though such training also depends on the professionalism of the training physician or tech. One of the most intrinsic elements of selecting a clinic, however, is if the clinic’s representatives accurately explain their clinic, its values, and the procedures it offers. The latter is particularly important. Hair transplantation results depend on the procedure technique, first and foremost, and such techniques range a great deal. Bad clinics will always misrepresent their capability while disingenuous clinics will outright lie about their procedure.
Unclear Pre-op and Post-op Instructions
Reputable clinics will always have clear and consistent instructions. A successful procedure requires the patient to make several adjustments, and in several steps. This includes the recession of blood thinners, alcohol, caffeine, etc. Following these instructions are vital for the success of the procedure. Instructions for post-procedure recovery are also vital for both the patient’s safety and results. Those looking for a clinic should ask to view the pre and post procedure instructions to judge their competence. If they are unclear or otherwise inconsistent compared to general information online then there is less of a chance that the clinic is actually capable, if honest at all.
Bad Reviews on Valid Sites
Some websites are valid, and others are not. As mentioned, FUEE and IAHRS are all reliable resources that patients can trust. However, hair transplantation is a growing industry, and many sites exist on a purely promotional basis. Such sites are typically over-descriptive, poorly written, and do not include current or factual data. Less capable surgeons usually use them as a means to find less informed patients. This is not to say that all surgeons mentioned on these sites are unscrupulous or incapable. Instead, such sites will also suggest favorite surgeons for the SEO while also including any surgeon that requests it or even pays said website. Valid websites, meanwhile, only recommend surgeons who have proven their capability and skill. However, this is also becoming convoluted. Some organizations are defending surgeons who use questionable marketing techniques or refuse to adjust towards current hair transplant standards.
Fabricated Patient References or Reviews
Very common in the industry, and a growing problem as well, are fabricated patient references or reviews. Such references and can work one of two ways. First, surgeons or a disreputable site will pay marketers, and typically not very good ones, to post about a specific surgeon or region. Such reviews can be hard to interpret, however, as most will be casual in nature. Instead, patients should visit valid sites like the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons. Website references are less reliable. While reviews are helpful, many clinics request reviews before the result, which is often poor. Try to avoid reviewing a clinic until after your results are seen. Endorsements indicate that many surgeons or clinics may pay off former patients to validate questionable clinics or methods. The hair transplant industry also has a growing number of advocates and legitimate platforms, however, to help countervail such efforts.
Bad or Fabricated Reviews of Lodgings or Resorts
Most clinics, even disingenuous ones, will book patients at respectable establishments Some clinics highlighting medical tourism, though, may book patients at less than stellar establishments. The primary incentive for this is shared business interests. Sometimes the clinic and establishment are owned by the same family or surgeon or otherwise the clinic receives a kickback. Patients should be sure to look up whatever lodging or resort that comes with their package. Better yet, they should contact or otherwise hire a travel agent to ascertain if said hotel or resort is legitimate.
No Request of Detailed Medical History or Physician Recommendation
This is a huge sign the clinic is disingenuous. Hair transplantation is now less invasive than ever. However, there a number of medical conditions that can make hair loss dangerous or unsuccessful. Further, hair transplantation is not effective for certain types of hair loss. One thing patients must understand, further, is that near all clinics require a physician recommendation. This is to ensure no recent health issues have developed and that, to said physician the patient sees more regularly, they seem like a decent candidate for the procedure.
No Suggestion to Receive Consultation from a Local Expert
Some reputable clinics marketing through medical tourism may dodge this one. Accurate consultation, at this point, only requires a 720p web stream. However, some patients may require a thorough review at a clinic. This is because skilled surgeons can easily guess the stage of hair loss but, depending on its severity, may not know the actual hair count of donor areas. This is essential to know how much donor hair is available for the transplant. Unscrupulous or less capable clinics, due to not knowing the patient’s hair count, may over-harvest, leading to a sparse appearance on the back or sides of the head. As medical tourism is a decent expenditure, and requires some planning, clinics that provide a faulty assessment will often continue with the procedure without informing the patient. Clinics looking to keep a worldwide recommendation, however, often recommend questionable cases first visit a local clinic for a consultation and hair count.
Rushed Discounts that Pressure a Decision
Very few, if any, clinics, offer discounts that pressure an immediate decision. Reputable clinics may offer a discount to fill a schedule, or for particularly large transplants, but they never pressure an immediate decision. Clinics that do offer discounts for a quick decision will often use one of two tracts. First, they may upfront offer a discount. This is particularly suspect, as without a consultation patients cannot know how many transplants they will require. More careful clinics, meanwhile, will almost always lead the patient on in some manner, typically after an online consultation, and then offer a discount for a quick decision. This is a tad less suspect, depending on the clinic’s scheduling, but patients should still because cautious.
Below are just a few examples, of many we possess, of hair transplant false advertising and medical tourism leading to bad outcomes:
Domestic Clinics May Use the Same Practices
Medical tourism is a growing trend. However, many of the patient’s domestic clinics may also be unscrupulous or incapable. They typically use the same tactics as above. Patients looking into domestic options will want to use the very same precautions as described above. Good results are a common expectation for patients who reside in areas with complex medical laws and quality medicine. However, many nations do not have regulations in place regarding hair transplantation. Any clinic can offer it, leading to an increase in availability but a lesser chance for a quality hair transplant procedure. Patients should never jump into a procedure before first reviewing a few clinics with a good reputation. Further, they should always inquire about hair restoration treatments, as these can improve or hasten results. Patients should just keep in mind to also question the given clinic about how they process their treatments, as this has a significant impact on the effect.
Conclusion: Prioritize Quality Clinics
Exploitive clinics will continue to use a number of marketing tactics, including medical tourism. Quality clinics, meanwhile, may also facilitate medical tourism to increase competitiveness. Patients should always prioritize the latter, regardless if said clinic is domestic or no. Not doing so can lead to a number of complications, some of them life-lasting.
The increase in subpar FUE procedures, and continuance of FUT, has led to an ongoing, and increasing, demand for hair transplant repair. Such procedures demand both experience and creativity from the surgeon, as repair cases often have unique features. Further, such repair cases can require a number of procedures, sometimes leading to years of repairing what was originally a disastrous transplant from a bad clinic.
Staying informed is essential for patients. The Bald Truth covers a number of topics relevant on how to receive the best hair transplant you can. Check out this video on never selecting a surgeon from a hair transplant device maker’s site . Even more relevant, check out this video on medical tourism.
Near every region have quality clinics. However, if disingenuous clinics can operate, and how, depends on local laws. The combination of lenient regulations and the appeal of an exotic-seeming locale has led to the expansion of subpar or dishonest clinics in some parts of the world. Through proper research and awareness, though, patients can combine the pleasure of tourism with the fulfillment of a quality hair transplant result. The truth is that globally renowned clinics particularly cater to patients flying long distances anyhow. The first step is finding clinics with the capabilities and treatments that promote the best results possible.
Last modified: October 21, 2018
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