Cosmetic tourism has become increasingly popular despite many associated risks. The economic impact of atypical mycobacterial infections in cosmetic tourism is poorly defined in the literature. We sought to investigate the costs and clinical course of patients with these infections.
A retrospective review of all patients managed by the Plastic Surgery Division at Columbia University Medical Center from 2013 to 2014 with atypical mycobacterial surgical site infections after cosmetic surgery outside the United States was performed. Data including patient demographics, procedure costs, clinical course, impact on daily life, and costs associated with complications were collected using hospital billing information, patient questionnaires, telephone interviews, and clinical charts. Cost analysis was done to identify the personal and societal costs of these complications.
Data from 10 patients were collected and analyzed. Management of mycobacterial infections cost an average of $98,835.09 in medical charges. The indirect cost of these infections was $24,401 with a mean return to work time of 6.7 months. Total patient savings from cosmetic tourism was $3419. The total cost of a mycobacterial infection was greater than $123,236.47. Although the incidence of mycobacterial infection abroad is unknown, the potential cost of an infection alone outweighs the financial benefits of cosmetic tourism if the risk exceeds 2.77%.
Atypical mycobacterial infections as a result of cosmetic tourism come at considerable cost to patients and the health care system. When our results are taken into consideration with other risks of cosmetic tourism, the financial risks likely far outweigh the benefits.