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How to Choose a Plastic Surgeon
Over the Internet

“So….. You’ve decided you want to have plastic or cosmetic surgery abroad, and have been browsing the internet looking at the myriad of plastic surgery websites, and you are left wondering who to approach, what to ask, and just how are you going to decide which surgeon / company to proceed with?

It must be daunting – the prospect of traveling abroad to a country you may not have visited previously, and having surgery by an individual who you may not have met, and know little about, save what is written on a website! So how DOES one decide? Below are some “tips” that I think may be helpful in your research……

QUALIFICATIONS

It goes without saying that of paramount importance is to establish that the potential surgeon is adequately qualified. He / she should be a specialist plastic surgeon, and registered as such with the relevant medical governing body. (In South Africa, this is the Health Professions Council of South Africa or HPCSA). He / she should also be a member of a national and / or international plastic surgery society. (In South Africa, the national society would be the Association of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeons of South Africa or APRSSA, and an example of an international society would be the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, or ISAPS.)

Be aware that terms like “cosmetic surgeon” and “facial plastic surgeon” usually denote non-plastic surgeons who perform aesthetic surgery (they may be general practitioners, ENT specialists, dermatologists etc). This doe not imply that they are incapable, just that they are not plastic surgeons! You might also enquire about the number of years a given surgeon has been in practice, and whether or not the procedure you are seeking is regularly performed.

PERSONAL ATTENTION

This is more difficult to gauge over the internet, but here are a few guidelines that may be helpful. Having been doing this for some years, I am able to get a sense of the patient by reading their emails; the content and the way things are phrased. I think that most patients can do like wise by watching the response of the doctor, via email, to any questions and queries put to him / her. I think direct contact with the surgeon is vital; working through any intermediary has got to be a very distant second choice. Only by communicating directly with the surgeon, can you (as the prospective patient) get a sense of what he / she is like, as a doctor and as a person. It also gives both parties adequate time to discuss specific patient desires and expectations, and establish what may or may not be possible surgically. Here photos sent via email are invaluable.

It should follow then, that doctors who are “available” to answer questions via the internet (to your satisfaction) are likely to be available to look after you after the surgery, and will be attentive in the post op period.

REFERENCES

Ask to be put in touch with past patients who have had similar surgeries. In the “pre-internet” era, word-of-mouth was the best way to build a practice, and despite advances, this remains true today. Emailing past patients or speaking with them, gives you a direct, unsolicited opinion of the surgeon concerned –not only of surgical skill, but of manner. This is worth much more than wading through numerous “patient testimonials” placed on several websites.

Most people want to see ‘Before & After’ pictures. In South Africa, it is against local medical law to display these on websites or email these to prospective patients, but they can certainly be viewed in the office setting, and you would be encouraged to ask to see these during face-to-face consultations. That said, the reality is that most surgeons will show only their best results (despite what they may say!) and therefore it is difficult to glean any meaningful information from looking at before and after pictures, other than perhaps that the surgeon has performed the surgery in question previously!

PUBLICATIONS IN SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS

Check to see if the doctor concerned has published any articles in scientific, peer- reviewed international plastic surgery journals. By clicking on the link below, you can open a page and enter the doctor’s surname and initials (e.g. Skoll PJ) and a list of such articles will appear. Now this is not to say that having many publications makes one a better surgeon, but it does show an academic interest, and that the surgeon is likely to be well- read in the discipline of plastic surgery, and will likely be up-to-date with current techniques and developments.

PubMed

FACILITY

Many doctors have their own operating facilities – attractive because they do not have the “hospital feel”, and generally are visually more appealing than most hospitals. I operate from a major private hospital, the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town, owned by a large hospital group in South Africa – NETCARE. In addition, for certain day case surgeries, I make use of a fully licensed day surgery facility which is within walking distance of the main hospital, although unrelated to it. I have no financial interest in either the hospital or clinic, and merely use the facilities, which are world class. All patients are assured of excellent care both pre and post operatively in a private or semi-private suite. It may be comforting for a prospective patient coming from abroad to know that they will be operated on in a major private hospital and in the unlikely event of any complication, full medical back-up is immediately available.

COST

I have put this last, as I believe it is the least important (although prospective patients may differ on this point!!) Cost is obviously a factor, but remember that this is your face or body that is going to be permanently altered, and that penny wise may be pound foolish! Cost needs to be considered obviously, but should ideally not be a major deciding factor – I think the points alluded to above should first be carefully considered and only then should the costs be evaluated. Also, ask for total procedure (all-inclusive) costs (even if given as a range of possible costs). This is to ensure no nasty surprises after the fact!

FINAL WORD

Yes – it is a hard decision, but obviously one you are exploring as you read this! I hope these tips help guide you in your search. For me, it is most important that patients, once having done their homework, have faith and trust in me, for only then can one expect a good outcome! Good luck.

Member |  International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS)
Fellow  |  College of Surgeons of South Africa (Plastic Surgery)
Member |  International Member of THE American Society of Plastic Surgeons
Fellow  |  Royal College of Surgeons
Member |  Association of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeons of SA