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Is your plastic surgeon board certified? That's the first of many questions to ask

Patient education forums often recommend checking your doctor's board certification prior to the consultation. If you notice, this question is typically recommended for patients seeking out doctors for cosmetic services. Is it not important to determine if your heart doctor or kidney doctor have appropriate board certification?

It is important that your cardiologist or gastroenterologist is board certified. But this isn't much of an issue for the following reason: you were referred to that doctor by your primary care doctor or the emergency room.

And for those doctors to be in your insurance network or have access to work within that health system, they first must be approved. That approval process is conducted by the medical staff office at the hospital, or the insurance company, to ensure that doctor is board certified within the field they're practicing.

Who has board certification?

The issue whether your doctor is board certified is critical when you're going outside of the traditional health system. By that, I mean outside of the hospital approval process or outside of the insurance system altogether.

The scenario wherein you receive care outside of the typical hospital or insurance setting occurs every time you seek out a cosmetic procedure. Since all cosmetic procedures are cash-pay and therefore not covered by insurance, the insurance company isn't in the loop and therefore not checking that doctor's credentials.

Additionally, the doctors offering cosmetic services don't typically work within a hospital system. Usually, they perform all of their services in their office or office-based operating room.

For these reasons, the buyer must beware. You must seek out a doctor that is board certified within the field in which they are practicing. In other words, if you are undergoing a cosmetic plastic surgery procedure, you need to find a doctor that is board certified by American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). This may sound obvious, but it isn't always clear.

Questions to ask your doctor in addition to board certification

The credentialing some doctors undergo after medical school is confusing. They may present themselves as board certified, but are they board certified in the services they're offering? And is the board in which they're certified recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS)?

Being certified by a board that is a member of the ABMS is associated with several important distinctions. First, the ABMS only includes boards for which the physician underwent a rigorous, multi-year training process.

It also means the physician studied for and passed a written and oral examination. Lastly, it means the physician continues to participate in annual continuing education and testing within the field for which they are treating you.

Hospital privileges

Another great question for your doctor: if you have a surgical complication that requires admission to a hospital, do they have privileges at that hospital to continue treating you? If the doctor that performed your breast augmentation is a general practitioner and not a plastic surgeon, they won't be allowed to treat your complication when admitted to the hospital. Why?

The hospital grants privileges to practice medicine only in the field you're board certified in. This refers back to the vetting process mentioned above. A general practitioner doesn't have privileges to treat or perform breast procedures. So if you get admitted to a hospital for a complication associated with a previously-performed breast procedure, that general practitioner will not be allowed to treat you once admitted. That sets up a strange dynamic wherein your doctor can no longer be your doctor because the hospital doesn't recognize their certification.

Once that happens, you start to wonder, "why wasn't I aware of those details before surgery?" Shockingly, there are no laws against a doctor treating someone outside of their board certification. So while they broke no laws, maybe they broke a moral code when they weren't forthcoming about their board certification.

Want help researching your doctor? Check out this video to learn what you should be looking for on a doctor's website!

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.


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