A History of Hair Transplant Cost
Hair transplant costs have varied widely for the past few decades. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the cost of a single “plug” graft would cost anywhere from $20.00 to $50.00 each. When the doctor would perform surgeries of 200 grafts on four or five different patients every day the money would pile up quickly.
With time, and the technological refinements of mini-micro grafting, the cost of each “graft” dropped dramatically but the number of grafts that were available in a single surgery rose just as dramatically. In the 1990’s the average cost per graft would be in the $5.00 to $10.00 range but the number of grafts possible rose to 1000 to 1500 grafts. When follicular unit grafting was introduced the pricing stayed much the same but the number of grafts available in a single session continued to climb. Eventually, competition brought about by the internet forced the average cost per graft to drop to being between $4.00 per graft and $6.00 per graft. This is where the average cost per graft has stabilized for the FUSS market.
How FUE Impacted Hair Transplant Cost
In the early 2000’s the trend of lower pricing was temporarily halted and even reversed with the introduction of follicular unit extraction (FUE). The advertised benefits of the procedure, coupled with the strenuous work required by the doctor over a period of many hours, was the justification for hair transplant surgery costs returning to the the $10.00 to $15.00 per graft range but the number of grafts available were limited to being between 500 and 1500 grafts. The argument was that the doctor was giving more attention to the patient with little to no technician involvement outside of the standard placement of grafts into doctor created recipient site incisions. As with follicular unit strip surgery (FUSS) pricing started to drop due to competition.
FUE hair transplant pricing has become an unusual phenomenon. The advantages of FUE in the past were that there is no linear scar but that the doctor dedicates back breaking labor for each and every patient. This was the justification for pricing that, in the earlier days of the procedure, commanded a 50% to 100% premium over the cost of a similarly sized FUSS procedure. However, with time, many clinics began to realize that the doctor would not necessarily have to be so involved if technicians could be trained to perform the surgical extraction of follicular units via FUE. This has represented a paradigm shift in how hair restoration clinics operate along with the level of care a patient can expect to receive.
The overhead necessary to open a clinic that performs FUSS is steep. The doctor has to learn and master the surgical art of strip excision. They then must invest in expensive microscopes and a fairly large team of technicians that must be trained in the dissection and placement of grafts into recipient sites created by the doctor. The facilities for a FUSS clinic must be large enough to comfortably hold the team, the doctor, the patient and the support staff. Many FUSS clinics have a staff of five or even eight or more technicians to handle all of the duties involved in a modern follicular unit strip surgery. The financial outlay to start and maintain this type of clinic is considerable and it can be argued that the FUSS clinic is the least profitable business model in the industry.
Current Trends in FUE Hair Transplant Cost
FUE however has changed the landscape dramatically. FUE does not require a large staff of technicians that sit at their microscopes all day to sliver and dissect follicular units. FUE does not require a doctor to undergo extensive training and fellowship with other doctors more experienced than they to simply learn the basics of how a procedure should be performed. FUE only needs one person to perform extractions and another person to sort the grafts based on the number of hairs in each unit. Both individuals can then place the grafts into the recipient sites and complete a moderately sized procedure in the same time span required for a larger staff performing a single FUSS procedure. This procedure is mainly being performed by technicians so more patients can be treated in one day. This business model is easy to follow with a lower threshold of entry both professionally and financially. However, the cost off the average FUE graft in North America and Europe is still higher than the cost of the average FUSS graft even with less qualified individuals performing the procedure and more procedures being performed concurrently. There are exceptions to this issue where some clinics do still limit their number of surgeries to one patient a day and the doctor is highly involved in the procedure with moderate use of technicians. The trend however is for multiple patients to be operated on each day by two, three or even four “teams” of technicians with one or two doctors making recipient site incisions for eventual graft placement. In North America doctor only FUE ranges from $5.00 per graft on the low end to $10.00 on the high end. The average is $7.00 to $8.00 per graft. In Europe the prices range from €3.00 per graft to €7.00 per graft with the average being €4.00 to €5.00 per graft. FUSS pricing has remained fairly stable throughout North America with prices ranging from $3.00 per graft to $10.00 per graft with the average price being $4.00 to $5.00 per graft. FUSS in Europe is not performed nearly as often as in North America but the pricing is similarly reduced compared to local FUE pricing.
Hair Transplant Cost in Foreign Countries
The explosive growth seen by FUE worldwide has been due to the previously mentioned low financial and technical threshold required to open and operate a clinic. FUE clinics are opening around the world at an alarming rate with one estimate in 2013 at two clinics per week. In countries such as India and Turkey the low cost of living has allowed clinics to market themselves to Western patients seeking affordable alternatives to Western surgical offerings and almost all of these options employ the “technician model” of surgical hair restoration. Turkey in particular has led the growth with an incredible marketing machine designed to entice patients to come to Turkey for “medical tourism” opportunities. These clinics offer high end hotel accommodations, a personal chauffeur, the surgery itself and a tour of popular destinations for one all inclusive, very low price. The clinics have multiple teams of technicians that perform the entire surgery themselves with absolutely no participation from a doctor. Some of these clinics work on ten to twenty patients every day charging €1500.00 for each patient. The Turkish technician model of surgical hair restoration has created so much interest by patients from all over the world that an estimated one billion dollars a year is generated by these hair transplant tourists for the Turkish economy. That is 25% of the entire world market. It has created such an impact in fact that this model of hair transplant clinic operations is permeating into Western markets where doctors can reduce their involvement in the surgery and take on more low paying technicians in order to work on multiple patients per day. In some cases, the pricing is not reduced as the technicians are advertised as being just as skilled as doctors when it comes to performing the actual surgery.
This type of clinical model is becoming more common so it is the opinion of the IAHRS that today, more than ever, patients should proceed with extreme caution when considering a clinic for their hair restoration goals.
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Membership in The IAHRS Is considered an elite credential afforded only to talented and ethical hair transplant surgeons. Carrying The IAHRS seal identifies surgeons to consumers, not only as true experts in the field, but as physicians of integrity who empower consumers through education and honest, ethical marketing practices.