Trend: Patients going to Mexico to get bariatric surgery

Frustrated by limits imposed by U.S. health plans--which typically require patients to have a BMI of 40--patients are increasingly going to Mexico to get bariatric surgeries. They're doing this even though Mexican prices for bariatric surgical procedures are only slightly lower than those in the U.S.--and even though there are still some questions as to whether they'll get a safe, high-quality procedure. Patients say they simply can't get their procedures in this country.

Part of the reasons current guidelines are so restrictive is that they're somewhat dated. Current bariatric surgery guidelines were based on research from the 1970s and 1980s, before the introduction of gastric banding surgery. Unlike the more invasive, irreversible gastric bypass, gastric banding can be performed laparoscopically and can be reversed if need be.

Now, Mexican providers are making hay of the fact that it's hard to get procedures approved in the U.S. Scores of websites advertise Mexican bariatric surgery options, with many pitching their proximity to American airports. One clinic with a site in Cancun has an affiliation with a network of U.S. centers allowing patients to get refills of the solution required to inflate the gastric band and produce a feeling of fullness. The U.S. network, Fill Centers U.S.A., has served more than 3,100 patients since it opened less than two years ago. More than 95 percent of its patients had surgery outside the U.S., according to Fill Center executives.

While surgeons admit that most patients coming from Mexican operations haven't been butchered, there are problems with the procedures, and they sometimes end up getting bands that aren't approved in the U.S. Also, some patients end up getting sick simply because they haven't had adequate pre-op care and education, they say.

To learn more about this trend:
- read this piece from The Denver Post