With a tip of the hat to Shakespeare, to charge or not to charge, that’s the question plastic surgeons have to answer when they are setting up policies for their initial consultations for cosmetic procedures. Some surgeons are worried patients will waste their time if they do not charge a fee. Others hedge their bet by charging prospective patients a consultation fee they can later apply toward a procedure if the patient goes ahead with the surgery.
Is there a right answer? Board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Caroline Glicksman of New Jersey shares her thoughts.
There May Not be a Clear, or ‘Right’ Answer
It’s not unusual for patients to consult with multiple plastic surgeons before proceeding with cosmetic surgery. And, it’s important to realize the cost of these initial meetings vary significantly from plastic surgeon to plastic surgeon. In some cases, the consultation is complimentary and free, while in other cases, consultation charges may range from $100 to $200 or more.
“I personally do not agree with consultation fees. It’s kind of like paying a general contractor to bid on your home. You want to feel confident in the abilities of your surgeon and you also want someone you can relate to. The only way to know if you can relate to them is to meet them,” says Utah-based plastic surgeon Richard Fryer, MD.
“I believe in consultation fees, because I think that it eliminates wasted time for both the doctor and the patient. A serious patient will pay the consultation fee expecially to a doctor that they are interested in,” says New York plastic surgeon Steven Wallach, MD.
That Initial Consultation is Critical
Dr. Glicksman tells The Plastic Surgery Channel that the question about whether or not to charge or not charge for initial consultations is misguided.
“Did you ever wonder why some practices offer a free consultation and others don’t?” Dr. Glicksman rhetorically asks. “The real question is: should there be a price on the quality of the meeting with your surgeon, and getting a good education before your surgical procedure?”
Patient Education is Key
“Patient education comes in many forms. Some patients go online and read about a procedure and they’re ready to go,” Dr. Glicksman says. “Some patients may visit RealSelf, thinking they’ve asked 27 board certified plastic surgeons about a procedure, and then come in for a consultation. Other patients come in with a list of questions a mile long; they want to spend an hour with that surgeon, 45 minutes to an hour, they have many questions, they many have concerns.”
“Patients often have thought about having a procedure for many years. During their consultation they are concerned with two things. First they would like to understand the planned procedure, and number two, they need to like their surgeon. If patients feel comfortable and well informed, they are more likely to return for additional procedures over the course of a life-time. This is especially true if they felt that they were well educated and well prepared.
Does ‘Free’ Get You Everything You Need?
When physicians offer a free consultation, the actual face-to-face time with the surgeon can be minimal. Surgeons often feel that their time is very valuable, and their “free” consultation may actually be three-four minutes looking and measuring, then they pass the patient off to their patient coordinator who completes the consultation. Dr. Glicksman adds, “As far as I’m concerned, that is not what the patient deserves pre-operatively.”
If Doctors Do Charge, is There a ‘Refund?’
Dr. Glicksman doesn’t look at it as a ‘refund’ but as an investment.
“I do charge for a consultation, but I refund back the consultation fee if a patient books their surgery within three months of the consultation,” Dr. Glicksman says. “This helps pre-select patients that are seriously considering a surgical procedure. Those who are willing to pay a small amount of money up front for the consultation fee are going to see me for their entire consultation, through their surgical procedure, and at every post-operative visit. They get to see me for the rest of their life.”