Ok, so I have been meaning to write this post for a long time. I get asked a lot of questions by people new to wls, and I often find that they all ask very similar questions, so I figure that I can write it out in a post, and maybe it will help others that have those question, or are looking for advice.
A little bit about me and my experience, I was sleeved Oct. 5th 2012, I had my surgery through the Santa Fe Medical Group, and my surgeon was Dr. Sergio Quinones in Tijuana, MX. I did not choose to have surgery in Mexico because of financial constrictions, I could have had surgery anywhere, paying for the surgery was not an issue for me personally. I research over a year before I had surgery, and believe me when I say, I research every aspect of this surgery possible. I consulted with many surgeons both in the US and in Mexico, and broke apart every aspect of the process to find the best surgeon for me. My husband and I own a number of technology development companies, so I have an extensive back ground in technology, web development, and internet marketing that gave me a huge advantage when researching. For a while after surgery, I stayed so busy with work that I was really not active on the forums, it wasn't until I hit a long stall
I would like to put out there that I am not writing this post to start a battle on where a person should have surgery, or whom they should have surgery with. I only wish to provide those that are considering surgery in another country with information that I found to help me when I was deciding on my own surgery. So respectfully, I am very aware that many people would never consider going out of the US for bariatric surgery, and by all means, you are entitled to your opinions, but please do not post negative, or condescending comments on this thread, as this is meant to be informative for others and help them achieve better research to make their own informed decisions.
I would like for those of you that read this to feel free to ask questions. I am well aware that I have worked in my career field for so long that I sometimes talk in techy lingo that many people may not understand. So, if something needs clarification, just write it down, and I will try to word it better. Ok, onto the info!
First and foremost, research is SO SO important, so you need to make sure that you have covered everything you possibly can, until you are blue in the face...and then research some more! With that in mind, there are some things that you should consider, and I am betting that many people do not. I am rather OCD when it comes to research, so I know this goes overboard, but really...can you ever be TOO educated when it come to your health.
1. When researching a surgeon, please please, do not see the flashy banner ads running across Google, Bing, Yahoo, various wls forums, and pretty much everywhere in between, and make the wrongful assumption that because one surgeon is highly advertised, he/she MUST be the best. I know this is a simple concept, but I see many people make this mistake all the time. Now, I am not implying that the surgeons that are well advertised are bad surgeons, they may very well be great surgeons. I am just saying don't let the spiffy advertising be your only research. There is a reason that marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry, it is specifically designed to be appealing, and sometimes down right deceiving. Another common misconception that I see, is people assuming that a highly advertised surgeon must have the most surgical experience. This is not always true, a lot of individuals and companies invest in the medical field, especially in medical tourism...and it is very possible that a relatively new surgeon would team up with an investor, to help build his/her surgical business. On an opposite note, you should also never assume that a surgeon that doesn't advertise isn't as skilled. It is not uncommon that highly intelligent and skilled professionals, know virtually nothing on how to properly market themselves or their business, and even more common that they know nothing about advertising on the web. The moral of the story is that advertising or lack of advertising really tells you next to nothing about the actual quality and skill set of the surgeon and/or Hospital. There are tons of reasons why someone may or may not have great advertising, so don't let that be a major factor in your decision.
2.The Ads are there for a reason. Don't be misguided into thinking that because you see the same doctors face in multiple locations, that that surgeon must be highly regarded by the search engines, blog posters, ranking sites or more importantly the forums...those surgeons pay to be on all of those places. Now, I am certainly not bashing any of those places for selling ad space...let's face it, they are businesses, and businesses must make money to survive, make improvements, pay employees etc. Just realize that there are only a handful of reasons that those guys are plastered all over the web, they are either paying cash to be there (Most likely thousands), they are working in a mutually beneficial partnership with a particular website(s), or they could be the owner(s) of the website all together. So again, be aware of these things as you do your research.
3. Accreditation, Center of Excellence, and ESPECIALLY anything that's implying USA endorsement. Have you ever been on a surgeon or hospital's website and seen those highly emphasized stamps of approval by this or that super important sounding association, organization, or particular establishment. Man, oh man, THESE guys are my favorite. Back when I was researching my surgery, I came across a post from a person that was blatantly bashing everyone who didn't go to her surgeon, and then made a rather snarky comment on how she "Would NEVER use a surgeon that that was not yada yada yada certified" Ok, ***big spoiler alert*** yes, there are a number of agencies out there that provide international endorsements, special certifications, seals of approval and all that jazz...however, a good portion of those are pretty much set up to do nothing more than look good, and sound impressive. If you actually research those companies a lot of times you will find that they require very little experience, some cash, and maybe a letter of recommendation. The particular one that was referred to in the member's post that I mentioned only required a surgeon to have done 25 bariatric surgeries in a 2 year time frame, pay a little over 300 bucks, and send in a letter of recommendation...that was it. Sorry, but in my opinion only requiring 25 surgeries in a 2 year time frame seems a little low for such a prestigious organization, for an endorsement that undoubtedly is an influencing factor in the average wls researcher that doesn't know any better. These types of companies are essentially what we refer to in my industry as an impressive hustle. I cannot stress enough how important it is to really analyze every aspect of of the research process, when you do, you will have a great advantage to weed through all the meaningless pomp and circumstance of the industry and be more able to base your decision on factual, meaningful considerations. Now, to be fair, there are some of these companies that do have high standards that must be met to gain membership, their are legit endorsements out there, just make sure that if those things matter to you, that you look into them so that you can separate the valid from the utterly useless.
4. Websites that rank hospitals and surgeons, here is another tricky aspect. For about 12 bucks, my 3 year old could purchase a domain, set up a website that sounds official and assign very bias rankings to any establishment that is in direct competition to his business. They are cheap, they are easy, they are effective at deceiving those who don't know any better, and thus can be very profitable. I know I know...how do you tell the real from the not real? There are a few ways, but you have to know what to look for, and even then it can be a craps shoot. You can start by looking for things like reviews posted by users...if a site has a ranking, but you can't tell how that ranking came to be, proceed with skepticism. My best advice there is find as many people as you can that had surgery with that surgeon, or at that hospital, both patients that were there a while back, and people who were there last week. Look for pictures, talk to patients, and use your own judgement, just make sure you get as much info as you can, from as many different sources as possible. A wide scope will give you a much better view of the whole picture.
5. If it makes no sense...there is a fair chance it is crap...so always check the facts. I can't tell you how many times both when I was researching my surgery, and still today, that I see a person that is either, not fond of surgery out of the US, a person/coordinator working for a particular doctor, irate ex-employee and/or patient that will go online and make a ton of terrifying, extremely bias, unfounded statements, or at times blatant lies, that inevitably start a heated debate between US vs. Out of US patients, and scare the crap out of many of the people new to wls. Please understand that this happens, and will continue to happen despite the best efforts of pretty much any website owner, especially the forums. Forums are huge, with thousands of post and threads made every day, it is impossible, even for the best of forums to be able to monitor everything, so your best bet while researching is to check the fact and form your own opinions. If you see a person that used to talk about how great so and so was, and the next day they have done a complete 180, I think it is worth while to check out why that may have happened. You have cases where said person may have worked for that doctor or company and now they are out for blood for whatever reason, or you will find sometimes that that person may have had a legitimate reason for their change in opinion...maybe they had a complication, and were not provided with doctor instructions, or follow up...maybe that person had a great surgical experience, but has recently learned about a questionable situation that has made them think differently. In either case, if you pay attention and follow the conversation, maybe even talk to that individual, in time you should be able to learn enough information to form an opinion. So don't read the first post made on a thread and automatically assume that surgery in another country isn't safe, or this doctor is a butcher, or that hospital is ill-equipped...there are two sides to every story, and I personally prefer to hear them both before jumping to conclusions.
Ok, enough harping on the many many things that you should consider while doing research, now I would like to offer some tips.
6. Before having surgery in another country, do some calling around and get your follow up care set up and in place for when you return home. I know that many people fear that finding post-op care might be difficult...I think this depends on your area, I personally had no problem finding my follow up care. A PCP can run all the follow up blood work...I personally never saw the need for me to consult a NUT or a Shrink, but if you need them they should be easy to find. Now, very important, when you are calling around setting up the post-op care make sure you ask if their is a fee for people had surgery out of the US...some doctors will try and sneak that in on ya to line their own pockets...but not all try to sneak in this policy. I suggest of you talk to a PCP or Bariatric doc that does, hang up the phone, flip open the yellow pages and call the next guy. Personally, I feel that there is no reason to pay a special fee because my surgery was not done in this country, and neither should you.
7.Speaking of follow up, I suggest to everyone that they ask about the follow capabilities of their surgeon should you develop a complication. Listen, it doesn't matter how awesome your surgeon is, how great his reputation is, how low is complication numbers are, or where you have this surgery...it is a statistical FACT that someone, somewhere is going to have a complication, and I believe that everyone should be prepared for that just in case. So don't feel guilty or reluctant to ask your surgeon what he/she does in that case. I personally questioned mine to death...and let me tell ya that man has the patients of a saint! He and his staff were very thorough and patient in making sure I got answers to all of my question. I didn't have a complication, but when I was 10 days out from surgery my son decided to jump on my stomach, and did bust open my largest incision. I was so worried about it getting infected or not healing correctly...but I can honestly say, that my surgeon had excellent follow up and helped in any way that he could. He called me, and told me how to take care of that incision, requested me to sent him pictures so that he could make sure it didn't get infected, and then personally called or emailed me for the following 2 weeks until it had healed. It was fantastic to have that support, and I think that knowing that your surgeon will go that extra distance after you are back in the US, really adds to your confidence when having this surgery.
8. Finally, records...I suggest to anyone and everyone to make sure you get a copy of your surgical records and surgery video if your surgeon does the videos. Doctors take a lot of precaution in insuring they do everything possible to make sure you have a complication free recovery, but as I mentioned surgery is a numbers game, and it will happen to someone. Now, something to consider is that in Mexico, and I would assume this applies to pretty much every country, is that the medical facilities and doctors are required to submit your medical records in the countries native language...so for my my records were written in Spanish. Before you have surgery, give your doctor, or their staff a call and inquire about getting a translated copy of those record for you to bring home with you. I say to call before because getting a document translated can take some time, or they might charge a fee for the service, so you will want to know those things before hand. The same thing with the videos, with my surgeon, if we wanted a copy of the video of our surgery, he requested that we bring a flash drive with us, because the video files are too big to send through email. You may never use any of the records or video, but it is always nice to have on hand, just in case your medical professionals at home may need them.
I apologize for the lengthy post, I could go on and on, but I believe that people seeking this surgery should be as well informed as possible. I am not sure if my ramblings will be of any value, but I do hope that they might help some the people starting this journey. I have tons of advice, and quirky little tid-bits that I stumbled upon during my research phase, so if anyone has in specific questions, or is in need of advice, just ask. I am an open book about my surgery. I do not care what surgery you are having, who you are having it with, or where you are having it at, I would be happy to help if I am able to. Best of luck to you all, this journey is simply amazing.