Shopping for Surgeons

How to Save and Compare Prices for Elective Surgery

Shopping for Surgeons
September 24, 2014

When it comes to having surgical procedures performed that are medically necessary, most Americans with decent health insurance don’t think much about the cost, as their policy will cover most of it.

However, people usually have a different mindset when it comes to elective surgery that is not covered by insurance. Since the cost of elective surgery is paid out of your own pocket, it is usually smart to comparison shop for the surgeons and facilities that offer the best value.

Most Common Elective Procedures

Cosmetic surgical procedures like facelifts, tummy tucks and Botox injections are among the most common elective surgeries, along with corrective eye procedures like Lasik surgery. Few health insurance policies include coverage for these kinds of procedures, which means patients have to pay for them without any help from insurance.

The good news is that since these and other elective surgical procedures are usually paid for in full by patients, their prices have not risen nearly as fast as the cost of healthcare in general. For example, the price of medical care in the U.S. has risen an average of 118 percent since 1992, and the price of physician services has risen an average of 92 percent. But the price of cosmetic surgery has only risen about 30 percent during this time, despite huge increases in demand and innovation in many cosmetic surgery procedures.

The price of conventional Lasik surgery has actually fallen by about 25 percent since doctors first started performing the procedure in 1999, due in part to technological advances and part to market forces. Meanwhile, the average price for the more technologically advanced Custom Wavefront Lasik surgery is now about the same as conventional Lasik was in 1999, but with much higher quality.

The reason for all of this is simple: competition among doctors. When healthcare consumers do not pay for their surgery, or only pay a small amount, most of them don’t much care what it costs. However, when they pay for elective surgery themselves, many people take the time to shop around for the best deal — just like they would if they were buying any other big-ticket item.

Shopping for Surgery

So what is the best way to shop for an elective surgery? Like most things nowadays, the Internet is probably the best place to start. Perform a keyword search for your specific type of elective surgical procedure and the geographic area where you would like to have it performed. If price is your most important consideration, you can narrow your search by expanding your search phrase to something like “deals on Lasik surgery in (your hometown).”

Another way to save on elective surgery is to sign up for deal-of-the-day emails like Groupon and LivingSocial. These often offer a wide range of elective surgeries at greatly reduced prices — everything from Botox and Lasik to teeth whitening and laser hair and varicose vein removal.

But price isn’t the only consideration when deciding where to have an elective surgery performed and who will perform it. You should also consider quality and convenience when choosing a surgeon and facility.

When you search the Internet for elective surgery, you’ll also find links to patient reviews of many surgeons and facilities on review sites like Yelp!, Healthgrades.com, ZocDoc.com and RateMDs.com. Take the time to read the reviews of any surgeons or facilities you’re considering before making a final choice. Also, ask your friends, coworkers and others if they would recommend a particular surgeon or facility for your elective procedure.

In addition to shopping online for doctors in the US, you can shop internationally for accredited foreign doctors who perform elective surgeries. An entire industry — known as medical tourism — has emerged to meet this growing demand for low cost surgeries abroad. From brow lifts and tummy tucks in Mexico to dental implants in India, it is possible to save significantly on these procedures abroad, even after subtracting your travel costs. This approach is not without risk, however, so make sure to perform elaborate due diligence on any foreign doctor and surgical facility you are considering visiting.

Generally speaking, if you are considering having elective surgery performed, you will need to adopt a different financial mindset than with medically necessary surgery. Do careful research into both the cost and quality of surgeons and facilities, wherever they are located, before choosing the right ones for you.

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