In a way, you have to feel a little sorry for physicians who practice elective medicine: they’re facing the double whammy of a highly competitive marketplace and a down economy. Many aesthetic plastic surgeons, in particular, may be feeling the squeeze as patients postpone or abandon plans for more expensive procedures and visit low-cost clinics and medical spas for non-invasive treatments.
It’s no surprise, then, that marketing is a hot topic in aesthetic medicine today. Cosmetic surgeons are learning that they must market their practices or get left behind by others who do.
But marketing plastic surgery is tricky business for a few reasons. First, there’s the fact that—at least for surgical procedures—the worst that can happen is death. Although the risk of dying due to complications is quite small, it is not zero.
Next, no matter how careful you may be with your messages, when you market cosmetic procedures you are, at some level, encouraging people to feel that they should consider improving their looks. That they’re not okay just the way they are. These two points alone should give every plastic surgeon reason to pause and think through each move they make.
But, how is cosmetic surgery marketing regulated? What do you need to be aware of as you research plastic surgeons?
As you might guess, regulation is, to put it politely, a bit uneven. While agencies at the federal level oversee part of the picture—such as the Federal Trade Commission’s dominion over advertising practices (FTC 1)—the states are in charge of what’s ethical within their borders.
Here are some examples. The California medical board has enacted various regulations to protect consumers from deceptive marketing. Some relate to photography and how it is used. Others cover deceitful pricing. The state also bans the use of patient testimonials, as do Texas, New York and Illinois.
Some states are quite rigorous when it comes to punishing those who run afoul of the rules. Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginal view violations or their regulations as medical misconduct.