American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Medical Professionals

Information overload: Tips for researching plastic surgery procedures online

tips for researching plastic surgery procedures online

Navigating the maze of online information about plastic surgery can undoubtedly be a daunting task. And while starting your research online is an acceptable first step, it should always be followed by a consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon who can provide clarity, expertise and genuine guidance.

In the age of information, researching plastic surgery procedures has never been more accessible. However, as ASPS President-Elect Steven Williams, MD, and ASPS Member Surgeon Anureet Bajaj, MD, rightly point out, accessibility does not always guarantee credibility.

The goal for all plastic surgeons is for patients to effectively research plastic surgery procedures, discerning credible online sources, preparing for consultations and assessing the qualifications and experience of potential surgeons.

Start online, but don't stay there

In the digital age, it's only natural to start your plastic surgery journey online. However, that should only be the start of your journey.

"Everyone starts online," said Williams. "It's really important that patients at some point go talk to a qualified individual, and that's a plastic surgeon."

The internet provides a plethora of information, but it can also be overwhelming in nature. This is where plastic surgeons come in. Plastic surgeons are there to break down information in a way that is easy to understand, so trust your surgeon for the facts when it comes to any surgical procedure.

"I think you should find a surgeon you're comfortable with," said Bajaj. "And once you have selected that surgeon, rely on them to provide you with the information regarding your surgery."

While the internet is a convenient and vast source of information, it's essential to approach it with caution. Many practitioners in the plastic surgery space resort to direct marketing to patients, making it even more critical for individuals to be careful when evaluating online content.

"Every practitioner who tries to be in the plastic surgery space realizes they have to market directly to the patient," said Williams.

This direct marketing can sometimes lead to misleading or deceptive information if the individual promoting the procedure isn't a qualified surgeon.

Check the credibility of online sources

With the ease of accessibility to information on the internet, it becomes even more crucial to differentiate between credible and misleading content.

"One of the issues is that there's constantly information that is accessible," said Williams. "We direct patients to check out their state boards."

It's not just about the sheer volume of data but ensuring that what you're reading and consuming is coming from a trustworthy place.

Additionally, while starting your research online can be beneficial, it's essential to not just look at digital platforms. Engaging in face-to-face consultations and discussions with professionals can offer personalized insights that you might not find online.

This is particularly significant when it comes to understanding the specific risks of a surgical procedure and learning what procedure will be right for each individual.

"I think when patients get their information from the internet or their friends or social media, they think, 'This worked for her and look how fantastic she looks, so that's what I want,' and it's like, 'Wait a minute, you're not the right patient,' or 'That procedure is not the right option for you,'" said Bajaj.

Consultation questions are essential

While speaking with potential surgeons, it can be helpful to come prepared with questions. Williams suggested the following as a starting point:

  • Is this the right operation for me?
  • Why are you the right surgeon to do this?
  • What risks am I looking at?

Additionally, Bajaj asserted the importance of having a written list of questions to facilitate the consultation process.

"I think when they come with a written list, sometimes it can be a little bit intimidating to the surgeon," said Bajaj. "I actually think that writing them down is an important aspect of the consultation."

This ensures that no query goes unanswered, guaranteeing you leave the consultation feeling informed and confident in your decision-making process.

Bajaj offered her own suggestions for questions that patients should ask a plastic surgeon during a consultation:

  • What are the risks and complications of this procedure?
  • Are my goals realistic?
  • Am I a good candidate for surgery?

Assess the qualifications and experience of the surgeon

The first step when vetting any plastic surgeon is making sure they're board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).

"Make sure that you're dealing with a board-certified plastic surgeon," said Williams, emphasizing the importance of choosing a surgeon who understands the anatomy and has adequate experience.

"You definitely want to look at their qualifications and board certification," said Bajaj. "The certification process is a way of vetting doctors."

Diving deeper into the importance of board certification, Williams stressed that such surgeons not only undergo rigorous training but also pass multiple exams. This signifies their commitment to maintaining high standards in the ever-evolving field of plastic surgery.

"A board-certified plastic surgeon not only has trained in plastic surgery, but they have passed a rigorous three-year process that involves multiple exams," said Williams. "That includes continuing medical education. That includes a safe space operating in an accredited facility."

Moreover, it's not just about the qualifications but also about the hands-on experience that a surgeon accumulates over the years.

"I don't think there's a critical year at which you become 'experienced,'" said Bajaj. "I think it's a philosophical approach. I do think that a good surgeon who wants to grow will continue to improve with every procedure he or she does."

This highlights the significance of seeking a surgeon who possesses both the right certifications and a growth mindset, ensuring they stay updated with the latest techniques and practices in the field.

Understand the importance of board certification

When it comes to choosing a plastic surgeon, everything starts with board certification.

"If you are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, you have completed the requisite years of education and training," said Bajaj.

She further emphasized the value of the certification process as a reliable way of vetting doctors, ensuring they've achieved a high level of expertise in their field. Both ABPS and ASPS also require ongoing education and training to maintain certification and membership, respectively.

"Continuing medical education is a requirement of being a member of the ASPS," said Williams. "And that can also be another way for patients to figure out, 'Is this someone who's kind of pretending or someone who's real?'"

Thus, understanding and valuing the importance of board certification not only ensures a certain level of competency but also ethical behavior and continual learning from the surgeon's side.

Seek second opinions

"We really encourage our patients to get second opinions," said Williams. "Any time there's pressure to sign right now, forget it, or you don't need to see a second opinion, patients should be very suspicious."

Expanding on this, the push for a second opinion isn't solely about verifying the surgeon's competence or checking their recommendations. It is also about ensuring the patient feels comfortable and confident in their decision. The journey to plastic surgery is a deeply personal one, and ensuring you are making the best decision for yourself, both physically and emotionally, is paramount.

"I think it's important for physicians to recognize that sometimes," said Williams. "Patients have taken the time to write things down. We try to have multiple points of contact with the patient. We want patients to make sure that they have the appropriate time to really consider what their questions are and get good answers."

Seeking multiple opinions not only provides a broader perspective on the surgical options available but also allows patients to gauge their comfort level with potential surgeons. This thorough approach ensures that they are making the best decision tailored to their unique needs and desires.

Be wary of misleading content on social media

Williams warned that social media can be misleading, with some practitioners Photoshopping their images and fabricating reviews.

"Social media tends to thrive on things that are outrageous," said Williams. "As a board-certified plastic surgeon, I am ethically required not to Photoshop my images nor to make up reviews online."

Given the lack of regulation, it's not uncommon for practitioners to exaggerate outcomes, manipulate images or even produce fake testimonials.

"If a patient or somebody is getting reimbursed for a testimonial, they're supposed to say they got a discounted service," said Bajaj. "I think the issue with before and after photos is you have to be very critical of lighting, positioning and background."

This highlights the importance of critically assessing the authenticity of images and reviews online. Potential patients should be vigilant and discerning when gathering information, ensuring that they're getting a genuine insight into a surgeon's work rather than a misleading representation.

Take your time and make informed decisions

"Take your time, it's generally not a rush," said Williams. "Decisions that are made over a slightly longer period of time tend to be better decisions."

Inevitably, one of the biggest decisions for most patients is cost, but it's important not to choose your plastic surgeon based solely on cost. The investment in your body shouldn't be a bargain.

"Fundamentally, I'm going say you get what you pay for," said Bajaj. "Our bodies are going to be with us for a lot longer than any pair of shoes or handbags, and we really shouldn't be stingy with our bodies and our health."

In today's digital age, where instant gratification is often the norm, it becomes increasingly vital to remind ourselves of the importance of patience and diligent research, especially when it pertains to decisions about our health.

Williams stressed the significance of making informed decisions, emphasizing that "decisions made over a slightly longer period of time tend to be better." This highlights the fact that spending more time researching and evaluating options can lead to better outcomes.

By following these guidelines and leveraging expert opinions, you can make an informed decision about your plastic surgery journey. Remember, it's about finding the right fit for you and ensuring your safety and satisfaction.

Making a decision about plastic surgery is not just about aesthetics. It's about feeling confident in your choices and understanding the long-term impact they will have on your life.

To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.


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