The President may have been onto something when he made popular the phrase, “fake news.” Clearly the moniker in his realm refers to political news, but the idea behind fake news stretches beyond that world into others. One of major importance to consumers is how the validity of marketing information is positioned on social media. With slick media tools and marketing, offers and services can be made available to consumers scrolling their social feeds without the frivolities of technical information – the kind of information that is absolutely critical to some products, plastic surgery procedures being one example.
Younger generations are primed to enter this market, especially with the growth of non-surgical procedures that offer more maintenance plans to age gracefully rather than major alterations. What isn’t apparent to these potential consumers is the check list of items that any would-be patient needs to run through to verify their surgeon and surgical experience are where they need to be to attain safe and effective results.
Board certified plastic surgeons Dr. Stephan Finical and Dr. Shaun Parson are no strangers to modern marketing and the importance of a strong social presence as surgeons. Even so, they – like many of their equally renowned colleagues – struggle to find a balance between piquing interest and also waging the battle against fake news in plastic surgery: practitioners who aren’t qualified to perform the procedures they offer. The two surgeons muse on the issue and offer real news to would-be patients about how to find a great, trustworthy surgeon who will deliver spectacular results.
80% of Plastic Surgery Posts are Not from Board Certified Surgeons
A recent study was performed on plastic surgery marketing posts that found around 80% of all posts are made by unqualified surgeons. Statistically speaking, this is a worrying figure for surgeons who are trying desperately to educate would-be patients. Plastic surgeons are, after all, physicians whose #1 priority is always patient safety.
Part of this issue seems to be the difference between “cosmetic surgeon” and a board certified plastic surgeon. “It really speaks to the fact that there’s a difference between a cosmetic surgeon and a board certified plastic surgeon,” shares Dr. Parson. The difference may seem quaint – especially cosmetic vs. plastic, because many plastic surgeons are indeed performing procedures aimed at aesthetic (cosmetic) improvement – but it’s of extreme importance. To be consider a plastic surgeon, a lengthy timeline of experience and training needs to be met, and that’s before even getting to board certification.
This information doesn’t fit nicely into an Instagram post. What does fit nicely? “Botox special, half price! – Dr. Somebody” paired with a picture of a beautiful woman. There’s no mention of credentials or experience, just the item, the price-point, and that convincing “Dr.” in front of a name. “This has been going on forever; people have been selling snake oil forever,” continues Parson. “But now there’s this new thing called the internet and social media, and it’s given this whole new venue for people to market themselves. They can really fundamentally hurt people now because they don’t have the training, they don’t have the experience, but people still want to buy it because it sounds great.”
Referrals over Ads
Part of the issue with ads on social media is how much they reduce the concept of plastic surgery procedures. They tend to make procedures sound easy, relatively inexpensive, and more like running into a store to buy a pair of shoes rather than an experience with an expert surgeon. Consider any other medical issue where one might schedule an appointment to solve it. If it were serious, you might look around intently and ask others for their opinions in an attempt to find the best person. Once found, you’d go in and fill out paperwork detailing your medical history, information the physician would review prior to your consultation. Upon finally meeting, you and your physician will detail the issue and come up with a plan to solve it, based on your medical history and the conversation. That all makes sense to most who’ve dealt with health issues; the process when searching plastic surgery procedures is no different.
Lengthy consult times – depending on the intensity of the requested procedure – is critical for many reasons. Obviously discovering medical past is important, as well as if the patient has had this same procedure previously (Was it botched? Does it need redone? Is there an issue that needs revision?). Beyond that, it’s critical to have a deep conversation about goals. Not only do board certified plastic surgeons want to offer great results, they want to verify that the procedure and results are both what the patient wants and what will work best. When a patient goes through this process and has a successful surgery and post-op experience, their word is going to matter far more than a quick ad seen on an Instagram scroll
“We’re never going to see the end of this. There’s always going to be people trying to creep into our specialty,” says Dr. Finical. “We have an Amazon-proof job. If we do a good job for people, they will come to us. There’s always going to be this nonsense – I don’t think we’re going to possibly eliminate it.”
Where to Always Begin: Board Certification
Beyond the difference between the elusive cosmetic surgeon and a plastic surgeon exists yet another: board certified plastic surgeon. This is the ultimate credential patients need to understand as it “completes” the journey for expert plastic surgeons. Once the decade of schooling, training and experience are accounted for, surgeons put it all to the test when they take their boards. Upon completion, they achieve a well-rounded credential that says they’re technically sound, but, perhaps more importantly, also leaders in education and research to further the field.
Clearly, this is the surgeon patient’s want to find if they want the best results based on the best advice under the safest conditions. Compared to a family doctor or dentist who spent one weekend learning how to inject Botox, is there really a debate?
“When I went through residency, it was 8 years. I don’t think someone can learn in a weekend what it took me 8 years to master,” explains Dr. Finical. “When you look at the American Board of Plastic Surgery as the gold standard, you’re looking at somebody who has passed rigorous exams and continues to be monitored with the maintenance of certification. None of this other stuff even compares.”
Beyond board certification, hospital privileges is a critical aspect patients need to understand. “Even locally, your hospitals typically won’t let people practice in the hospital unless they’re board certified in whatever specialty they’re trying to practice,” says Dr. Parson. Learning that your potential surgeon has privileges at the local hospital is crucial as it is yet another testament – done by the hospital – that the surgeon is experienced and qualified.
At the end of the day, it’s hard for consumers to think deeply about products. There is a vastly larger amount of available information, but that situation doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be utilized. Would-be patients need to understand that surgery is surgery; even if it’s elective, it’s no less dangerous. And even something as simple as a Botox injection – would you rather the practitioner have had a weekend course? Or a surgeon who spent years in operating rooms learning deeply, hands-on, about human anatomy? Trust the process, find and trust your surgeon, trust their experience and when all is said and done the rewards will be gold.