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Importance of patient safety in plastic surgery


Increasingly in the news cycle, we hear about deaths occurring in people who have undergone plastic surgery procedures. With the growing popularity of fat injections to the buttocks in the United States, many of these reports focus on deaths occurring after this procedure, or the injection of other illicit materials such as silicone. Just last month, a 29-year-old mother of two died after undergoing a Brazilian butt lift at a clinic in Miami. While any type of elective surgery carries risks with it, the sad reality is that many of these deaths could probably have been prevented. The pursuit of the perfect derriere has caused many individuals seeking such enhancement to seek out providers who often do not have the requisite credentials or training to perform such procedures. In the case of the aforementioned woman, the clinic she went to claimed that their doctors were "board-certified."

Herein lies the danger to the unsuspecting patient. It is not illegal for any physician in the United States to say that they are a cosmetic doctor or to perform cosmetic procedures. Many physicians in fact claim that they are "board-certified cosmetic surgeons." However, only a relatively small number of doctors can say that they are "board-certified plastic surgeons." In order to substantiate this claim of being a board-certified plastic surgeon, a physician must have completed an accredited multi-year training program in plastic surgery, and then have passed rigorous written and oral examinations. Further, board-certified plastic surgeons are held to the utmost level of accountability in regards to patient safety and ethics. That is not to imply that board-certified plastic surgeons don't have complications or that any procedure is risk-free. Certainly, there is a risk of complications with any surgery no matter how big or minor the procedure is. However, because of the training that plastic surgeons undergo, they know how to minimize the risks prior to surgery by carefully selecting their patients by making sure they are appropriate candidates for surgery. Additionally, they are also well-equipped to handle any complications that may arise after surgery.

Too often, patients are lured by the promise of inexpensive procedures being offered by unqualified practitioners. The case of the 29-year-old woman in Miami, her death still under investigation, brings to light once more the dangerous yet lucrative business of bargain-priced cosmetic surgery done in offices and facilities that are ill-equipped to handle emergencies with doctors not qualified to perform the procedures. Despite being charged by state medical boards and departments of health, these assembly line facilities continue to lure patients from all over the country with emotionally charged infomercials featuring testimonies of success. Unfortunately, the uneducated and the unaware will choose whatever is the most affordable. In certain states, such as Florida, the Board of Medicine cannot take emergency action to shut down these unscrupulous facilities since they are typically not wholly owned by a physician. Further, these facilities are not vetted by the state's healthcare regulatory department since they do not submit claims for payment from third parties. Loopholes like this allow these clinics to continue to operate and perform these procedures, even after claims of negligence or malpractice. With no rigorous regulation from the state, consumers are forced to fend for themselves. Often, consumer choices are driven by financial or societal pressures, and not healthy outcomes. Until there is more oversight and regulation on who can perform these procedures, it is important that the consumer thoroughly researches the credentials of not only the physician performing the procedure, but also to make sure that the facility is fully accredited. Please do your homework and find out if your surgeon is a board-certified plastic surgeon by visiting the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or the American Board of Plastic Surgery websites.

For more information, including a list of ASPS plastic surgeons in your community, please use our Find a Plastic Surgeon tool.

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