Are Virtual Consultations The Next Big Thing in Plastic Surgery?
Not long ago, traveling for aesthetic plastic surgery looked something like heading to Guatemala for a cheaper facelift, or, on the other extreme, traveling to New York from a small town because you had the means, but not a qualified local surgeon in close proximity to your home base.
Nowadays, seeking the counsel of a plastic surgeon beyond your zip code is not relegated to the rich or financially strapped. The Internet has opened up exposure to businesses in a way that the local Yellow Pages never could. We can use all things digital to seek out world-renowned experts.
But between the research and actually booking a surgery is the initial consultation. And for long distance shoppers, that means a virtual consultation.
Talking with Miami’s Dr. Adam Rubinstein, a board-certified plastic surgeon who is sought by patients near and far, I learned how virtual consultations aid in establishing trusted relationships while also cutting some costs.
“Virtual consultations are often a first step with new patients who live far away. It’s a good way to get to know each other. We can have an initial discussion about the surgery and they get a sense of my bedside manner,” explains Dr. Rubinstein.
If the patient and plastic surgeon get along well, this establishes trust and a level of comfort to move to the next stage in planning the surgery. Virtual consultations are fairly widely practiced but don’t have a set format, as plastic surgeons and their patients approach them differently.
Dr. Rubinstein explains that in his practice, he starts off by having patients send photos ahead of time from different angles of the area they wish to change with surgery.
This consultation is a good first step in establishing trust and comfort; however, it does not replace an in-person consultation. After hearing the patient’s desires virtually, the plastic surgeon follows this with a physical exam in real life to see the 3D body- feeling and observing the skin and the musculature.
Dr. Rubinstein describes a virtual consultation – connecting over the phone or Skype – as getting introduced to someone at a cocktail party. It’s the initial conversation that leads to more. The surgeon and patient could also have a session the day before surgery to get to know each other better, and change the plan, if need be.
Even if the patient lives far away, it would be a poor idea to do a virtual consultation, then schedule surgery and only meet them the day of surgery cautions Dr. Rubinstein.
The surgeon may need to change gears or even eliminate different portions from what he or she originally estimated based on the photos.
Essentially due to the nature of a virtual consultation, the first conversation (and accompanying images) is focused on the area that the patient is most concerned about changing. But when a plastic surgeon and patient meet in-person, the entire scope of the surgery can change as the surgeon evaluates the body part planned for surgery and its relation to the patient’s body overall. The surgeon has to take a look in person to see how the face actually moves, at least a day before the scheduled surgery date.
Dr. Rubinstein shares there are times when lipo that was originally planned is nixed because the area may not be as large as it appeared in images. Or, facial jowls that appear more serious than they actually are due to the angle or shadows of the photo may be nixed as well. The brow and upper lid are also easily misrepresented in an image.
To help clients conserve on costs, Dr. Rubinstein requests his patients to get pre-op clearance--including a physical, EKG and other relevant tests—by a local doctor before they travel to seem him. This can catch pertinent health issues before a patient gets on a plane, books a hotel room, and assumes a lot of expenses prior to being properly cleared.
A virtual follow up is also conducted using email, text or Skype to check on someone who just had surgery to find out how they are healing. The patient should however be in touch with a local plastic surgeon in case complications develop throughout their healing.
Dr. Rubinstein, who is based in Miami, a plastic surgery hot spot, has considerable experience with virtual meetings because out-of-towners are willing to travel to him for various procedures. He explains that virtual consultations are popular in Miami because people look at this as a way to get a more affordable procedure and also a bit of a vacation at the same time. “In New York a breast augmentation could easily cost $9,000, while surgeons in Miami may perform them for $5,000- $7,000 even taking into consideration the cost of the hotel and airfare.”
While searching for deals near and far, Dr. Rubinstein cautions against the dangers of bargain-basement shopping for cosmetic procedures. For better or worse, a website can be seen far and wide. That goes for people finding a good, board-certified plastic surgeon in a less expensive market, as well as for unscrupulous “chop shops” offering procedures at rates that seem too good to be true.” (Hint: they are.) “Taking the example above, if someone in Miami is offering a breast augmentation for, say, $3,000, that’s not a deal, that’s a health risk." Overall, as Dr. Rubinstein advises, look for best value, not lowest price.
The benefits offered by new technologies provide patients with more options and flexibility in establishing a relationship with their ideal surgeon in spite of the distance.