Debunking myths about cosmetic surgery in Turkey

Every year, around 500,000 people from all over the world travel to Turkey for medical treatment or cosmetic procedures. The number of patients continues to climb, but questions also arise about the quality of treatment, the rigor of regulations and patient satisfaction. Longevita, one of the UK’s leading medical tourism companies, investigated the veracity of some of the claims made in the UK tabloids.

Over the past decade, Turkey has become one of the top destinations for medical travel. But with this huge success comes a huge responsibility. Longevita has reviewed some of the claims made in the UK media and found serious misinformation.

One of the misconceptions that have been voiced in the tabloids is that it is legal to perform operations in Turkey in facilities that are not intended for medical use. In an article published in one of the UK’s most widely read tabloids, it was claimed that “Turkish surgeons can operate in a garage if they wish”. It’s easy to find out with a simple Google search that this is wrong. Despite everything, we still wanted to hear from an experienced professional in the field of clinical research, the director of Mira Projects, Sayeste Bibin. Bibin says, “In Turkey, operating room conditions and surgical practices comply with patient health safety and the universal protocol determined by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Health Services Branch has the power to authorize and license health facilities and organizations, and to revoke such permits and licenses temporarily or indefinitely if necessary. Therefore, private hospitals can only operate with the authorization/license they receive from the administration in accordance with Article 355 of the Presidential Decree. In addition to this, the requirements of private hospitals have also been taken under control with the Private Hospital Regulation legislation, there is a specific article on operating theaters in this regulation. Hospitals are frequently inspected by the Board of Inspectors of the Ministry of Health.

Turkey has strict regulations when it comes to licensing premises for medical use. But it also has strict malpractice insurance regulations. One of the claims in the British press was that Turkish surgeons did not need insurance to practice their profession. It is entirely false. By law, all doctors must have insurance in Turkey. This is called “compulsory financial liability insurance” for medical malpractice cases and it provides pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages while covering the legal costs of doctors, dentists and specialist chambers working in institutions and private or public health organizations.

It is not always easy to find real information about medical treatments in the media, because very often competitors give biased opinions or the tabloids fuel prejudice. Any medical treatment decision should be made by a knowledgeable patient, so each individual should do their homework very thoroughly, focusing on respectable sources.

Word-of-mouth success is what draws people to Turkey to get the cosmetic treatment they need. But there is also a considerable amount of recent statistics available on medical care in Turkey. With its medical schools joining the club of top 500 universities in the world, Turkey has no shortage of well-trained medical personnel. Highly qualified surgeons and fully-fledged hospitals are some of the reasons why medical travelers prefer Turkey. Nearly 50 medical institutions in Turkey are accredited by the Joint Commission International, of which more than 90% are hospitals. It ranks third among Junior Chamber International (JCI) accredited hospitals in the world. Over the past two decades, the number of accredited hospitals specializing in cardiology, transplantation, plastic surgery and advanced oncotherapy has increased exponentially. JCI is a United States-based nonprofit health accrediting organization. This is the first criterion for medical travellers.

Turkey is investing heavily in its healthcare system. Statista has estimated that total health care expenditure in Turkey will reach TL 233 billion ($14.23 billion) by 2020. Health care expenditure has increased exponentially from 2000 to 2020, especially in over the past five years, where they have more than doubled since 2015. Turkish hospitals, especially private hospitals, have experienced one of the highest growth rates among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries ( OECD) over the past decade. All hospitals are regulated and controlled by the Ministry of Health, whether public or private.

Another essential parameter for evaluating the quality of health care is patient satisfaction. Research firm Ipsos reported in a 2021 survey that “32% of Turks rated the quality of their healthcare as very good or good. Among high-income countries such as Germany, France and the UK, this figure is 39%, 47% and 52%, respectively. According to the results of a previous survey by Ipsos, the percentage of Turkish citizens who trust their country’s healthcare system to provide them with the best treatment is 43%. This percentage is also 43% in the United States and 45% in Germany.

The responsibility to make an informed decision rests with the patient. Finding the best surgeon, clinic, and hospital for your specific needs requires you to do your research before making a decision, just like in your home country. There are issues with regulations in the UK when it comes to cosmetic procedures. In the UK there are no regulations regarding Botox and filler treatments, meaning the actual treatment can be performed by anyone with or without training. The British government is considering tightening the regulations, but nothing has been done yet. In Turkey, there are stricter regulations regarding non-surgical cosmetic treatments. Only cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists and medical specialists can administer Botox and dermafillers.

For more invasive surgeries in the UK, patients need to be extra vigilant as regulations are dysfunctional. A very worrying report by the National Confidential Inquiry into Patient Outcome and Death found that almost three-quarters of sector clinics in the UK actually operate without regulation, adding that eight out of 10 providers who offer complex surgeries such as breast reductions “don’t perform these are close enough to maintain an appropriate skill set and that a third party doesn’t even give patients a ‘cool down’ period when booking procedures.” The report adds that less than half of operating theaters are properly equipped to perform surgery and that one in 10 clinics actually ceased to exist between its identification and its approach.

Neither at home nor abroad, patients cannot simply make decisions about their health. Here is a list of things to check before proceeding with any procedure anywhere:

  • Medical training and the surgeon’s diploma
  • Professional titles, including licenses
  • Specialization diploma, license and certifications
  • Scholarships or post-graduate training they have received
  • Special training courses they have taken related to the procedures they offer
  • Past and current history of hospital or clinical employment

Everyone has the right to ask necessary questions and request information regarding their medical needs, and no qualified surgeon or physician would be offended to be asked these questions.

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Sharon P. Juarez