Are Medical Tourists Jumping the Queue?

Dr. Chris de Gara, Professor , University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

Dr. Chris de Gara, Professor , University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

One of the new features this year will be essays and opinion pieces that I invite from colleagues (inquiries welcome). They can be quirky, opinionated, one-sided, provocative – anything that will stimulate discussion – perhaps even heated debate.

The following is an “essay” sent in by my friend and colleague Chris de Gara, Professor of Surgery, University of Alberta and Director of the Bariatric Surgery Revision and Medical Tourist Clinic, Alberta Health Services, here in Edmonton. This clinic sees an increasing number of patients who have run into trouble after rushing off to receive bariatric surgery outside the province.

As a Medical Tourist am I a Queue Jumper?

You’ve been on the weight gain/weight loss roller coaster almost all your life. The number on the scales is more like time in the afternoon. Your clothes’ size is the age you would still like to be. You’ve had enough of stares on public transport. Your lace up shoes have all their knots along one side. You can’t even remember when you last crossed your legs.

Enough is enough!

All your GP wants to focus on is your sleep, sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure problems. Surgical weight lists are interminable and you might not even be a candidate.

Time to take matters into your own hands. Friends have done it. The website is attractive, the centre is accredited, the costs are a lot but not outrageous, and you even get a holiday out of it.

But hold, on is it safe? I don’t even drink the water in Mexico! But these Mexican surgeons have been trained in the USA, so that’s good. What are they going to do – a laparoscopic adjustable gastric band – in and out in the same day, only three or four little cuts. And it can always be removed later on. Afterwards few little injections are needed every few weeks to fill the band, which gets done back home. But didn’t you hear that quite a few of these bands need to be removed, although that wouldn’t happen to you. What about the other operations – sleeves and bypasses? Aren’t they complicated, even dangerous, they have to do lots of cutting and sewing; and things are never the same afterwards.

So what about it? I could be normal. Hardly have to take any time off work.

But hold on, what if things do go wrong. After all, any surgery can have complications. Even if the risks are very low, if something happens, it’s happening to me… Who would look after me? Our hospitals work well, if slowly. I pay my taxes. Aren’t I saving the system by going privately, making space for someone else?

But is it really that simple? Why does it take so long to get weight loss surgery? Is it because there aren’t enough surgeons? Or is it that maybe, they don’t want to rush in? Maybe, obesity is really a lifelong problem and long term strategies need to be in place? Maybe, one of the more the more complicated operations would be better for me?

I guess medical tourism isn’t for me, even if I’m not jumping the queue…


Chris de Gara, MD
Edmonton, AB