Plastic surgery is not a commodity
By Eric Swanson, MD, of Leawood, KS
Today the traditional practice of plastic surgery is challenged by corporations that treat plastic surgery as a commercial product and market directly to consumers. The corporate marketing strategy may include hiring sales consultants to match patients, now called “clients,” with the procedure. Infomercials and full-page national advertisements promise stunning results, even telling people they can “recapture youth” (subtly leaving out “the appearance of”) and look 20 years younger. Websites may claim that a face lift alternative is minimally-invasive and can be done in about an hour on a lunch break, with full recovery in a few days or less. Corporate websites often boast innovation, improved safety, superior physicians, more natural and lasting results, and a reduced recovery time, without any supportive evidence. Complication rates are seldom discussed and are often understated. In difficult economic times, doctors may choose to become professionally aligned with a corporation and accept highly discounted fees.
Corporate models tend to promote office procedures under local anesthesia, characterizing general anesthesia as unnecessary and even dangerous. Corporations put an altruistic spin on this limitation, claiming to help people by making cosmetic surgery affordable. It is reasonable to consider whether avoiding a licensed ambulatory surgery center or hospital is really for the patient’s benefit or rather a way to reduce expenses, maximize profit, and sidestep safety guidelines. Operating without anesthesia personnel and monitoring in an office setting can put patients in jeopardy. Serious problems have been encountered by corporate plastic surgery patients in southern Florida. Too often the emphasis is on profit over quality and safety.
Plastic surgeons for years have been emphasizing realistic patient expectations, truthful advertising, informing patients about complications, presenting alternatives, and insisting on proper training and accredited facilities. Many of these patient protections are not just good practice, but are mandated by law and by our professional societies like the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). Plastic surgeons need to know that by affiliating with a corporation they are also endorsing its business practices. As physicians and members of professional societies, they need to be sure that these practices remain consistent with ethical medical care.
Plastic surgery is not a commodity simply because, unlike most commercial products, the service is not interchangeable. Patients are dissimilar, surgeons are unique in their capabilities, and techniques are individualized. Plastic surgeons are fortunate to have tools today that are transcendent in their powers of patient satisfaction. Trademarked labels and gadgets will come and go; only a few will prove to be genuine advancements, and seldom more important than the surgeon’s expertise.