Plastic Surgery Safety Subtleties
We don’t often comment on cosmetic surgery scandals—the media does a good enough job in creating hoopla about extreme procedures and doctors who, well, maybe aren’t the most admirable. But in the midst of the recent outcry about an Atlanta cosmetic surgeon facing multiple malpractice lawsuits, we did discover a few useful points we’d like to highlight for you.
Last month’s stories about this case help illustrate some important safety subtleties. Knowing about them just might save you from choosing to work with the wrong doctor.
Point #1: The doctor characterized herself as a cosmetic surgeon
Whether you’re seeking cosmetic surgery here in New York, in Atlanta or a smaller town, you want a cosmetic surgeon, right? And furthermore, this cosmetic surgeon touted her board certification in dermatology and “skin surgery,” and her professional memberships—that’s all to the good, yes?
Here’s the subtlety: Unless the cosmetic surgeon you select is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), you have no idea how much training he or she actually has in cosmetic surgery. Membership in the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and/or the American Society of Plastic Surgeons requires ABPS certification, but membership in other organizations does not.
The fact is that any medical doctor can claim to be a cosmetic surgeon, even with little formal training.
Point #2: The website details the surgeon’s specialties and advantages
When you browse cosmetic surgery websites, we hope you do it with a critical eye. There’s a fine line between promotion and puffery.
Here’s the subtlety: In this case, the doctor’s site is liberally sprinkled with words in all caps, exclamation points and dramatic adjectives. We know firsthand that it can be challenging to stand out in crowded markets for cosmetic surgery like New York and Atlanta, but resorting to hyperbole is a disservice to patients and frowned upon by the leading professional societies.
Keeping in mind that like all forms of surgery, cosmetic surgery carries a degree of risk and important responsibilities for doctor and patient. We believe websites should present content accordingly—heavy on the education and light on the persuasion.
Point #3: The doctor made videos in the operating room
Like most plastic surgeons, we have made instructional surgical videos with approval from our patients. We also listen to music in the operating room with patient consent, and we have been known to have a little fun with it. Read more about that here.
Here’s the subtlety: The Atlanta surgeon made videos of herself rapping and dancing in the OR, without mask or gloves, while patients were on the table under anesthesia. This kind of behavior shows a lack of respect for the seriousness of surgical procedures and a lack of regard for patient safety. The fact that at least some patients who were filmed did not consent is a violation of HIPAA’s Privacy Rule, not to mention unscrupulous.
Point #4: The doctor has a beautiful facility
A few of the testimonials on the doctor’s website mention how attractive the surgery and med spa facility is. Indeed, welcoming, gleaming offices can encourage patients to feel comfortable.
Here’s the subtlety: It’s essential to look beyond the surface when you evaluate a cosmetic surgery facility. A news report on a local television station explained that the doctor’s surgical suite is not licensed, as the Georgia Composite Medical Board recommends. That means it is not inspected and evaluated for safety—including the equipment, staff and credentials, cleaning procedures and more. In addition, the doctor did not have admitting privileges at an accredited hospital, which can cause delays in accessing emergency care.
The Bottom Line
Especially in large urban settings like Atlanta and New York, cosmetic surgery can seem expensive. That’s because setting up a safe, state-of-the art practice is expensive. Most plastic surgeons we know invest heavily in many areas: certification by the ABPS, continuing education, well-trained/credentialed staff, certified facilities, cutting edge technology, extensive patient follow up and more.
When patients select a cosmetic surgeon who does not invest like this, they may end up in trouble. For instance, a lack of training and experience can lead to extended operating times, and indeed one Atlanta area patient who suffered permanent brain damage was under anesthesia for a whopping eight hours. Other problems suffered by this doctor’s patients include a collapsed lung, infections and disfigurement.
Perhaps there’s no better example of the old saying “you get what you pay for” than cosmetic surgery.