If you need heart surgery, you call a cardiologist. If you need an eye exam, you visit an ophthalmologist.
Simple enough. But would you go to an ER doc for liposuction? How about letting your gynecologist perform your breast augmentation?
Today, patients have more options than ever when choosing a doctor to perform both surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures, since a growing number of non-specialists are looking for ways to cash in on one of the few areas of medicine that continues to see steady growth.
According to new numbers from the International Master Course on ageing Skin (IMCAS), the worldwide cosmetic industry grew 10.1 per cent from 2010 to 2011 to between $4.1 to $4.9 billion. Experts expect this number to grow another 11.12 per cent in 2012. This growth is especially important at a time when health care spending declined at a near record rate in 2010, as Americans continue to struggle with unemployment, higher insurance bills and lack of disposable income.
So what exactly does it take for an ER doc to expand his business to include liposuction? Or for a gynecologist to offer breast augmentation to patients? If you guessed years of classes, training, and certifications, you’d be wrong. Despite the complexities and complications associated with these procedures, it is shockingly easy to break into the field. Today, there are very few rules. This has led to a lot of doctors offering services they simply aren’t qualified to perform.
Untrained doctors are only part of the problem. It has become common practice in our society to treat cosmetic surgery in a dangerously casual manner. When liposuction is offered on a daily deals site alongside a haircut and a manicure, it’s easy to see why so many take plastic surgery too casually. These misconceptions can increase the risk of serious complications.
Plastic surgery has taken a beating in the media in recent months, from the European breast implant scandal to the scary number of ‘plastic surgery gone bad’ stories. You don’t have to look too hard to see a connection between untrained professionals performing cosmetic surgery to the number of botched procedures. Surveys reveal that reputable plastic surgeons across the United States are seeing an increase in “redos” for dissatisfied patients.
We must remember that these are real surgeries that carry real risks. A Miami woman died last year after suffering complications following a routine outpatient liposuction treatment, and another went into cardiac arrest as a result of the procedure. And how can we forget the woman who died in November after having cement, super glue and tire sealant injected into her buttocks?
The sad reality is that the current plastic surgery climate is quickly becoming the ‘Wild West’ of medicine. And patients beware: there is no sheriff in town to prevent doctors from doing what they shouldn’t. Because, believe it or not, there are no laws that prohibit doctors from practicing outside their field of training.
So how do you choose a plastic surgeon?
Ask around to determine your doctor’s word-of-mouth. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during your consultation and closely examine the surgeon’s before and after photos. The time a doctor spends with you in a consultation is often directly proportional to the time he or she will take to do your surgery. If the doctor is rushed, overly eager, or pressures you to have procedures you don’t want, consider another doctor.
Proper board certification is the final and most important key. Make sure your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Just being “board-certified” isn’t enough. Your doctor could be board-certified in a completely unrelated area of medicine.
You wouldn’t visit my office if you had a toothache, or a stomachache, and if you did, I’d refer you to someone who was properly trained to address your problem. The same discretion should be used when seeking a plastic surgeon.
Anthony Youn, M.D., FACS, is a board-certified plastic surgeon, member of ASPS and ASAPS, and a frequent contributor on women’s health and beauty on national news programs and magazines. His memoir about becoming a plastic surgeon, In Stitches, is available now. You can learn more about him at www.institchesbook.com.
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