Most people today start the process online. The Internet is a primary source for all things medical. However, it’s also loaded with a wealth of information and misinformation, often contradictory and not usually policed by any official source. There is a plethora of commercial web sites that offer referrals to doctors and financing programs, deals, coupons, and all sorts of gimmicks to lure you in. Individual doctors’ websites are a good place to learn about their training and hospital affiliations, and get a sense of whether you feel comfortable with the doctor. After all, this is a human relationship. You don’t have to fall in love with your surgeon (although some women develop a little crush…), or even become friends, but you should feel confident that he or she is right for you.
Bulletin boards and chat rooms are not always good sources of accurate tips and rock solid recommendations. These can breed seemingly endless chains of irrelevant comments from self-proclaimed “experts.” Anonymous postings offer zero credibility as to the IQ of their source. What makes you think that someone who calls herself “Lipqueen628” knows any more than you do?
Google™ ads that appear on the right column of your screen can also be misleading. Be wary of advertisements that promise lunchtime lipo, quick fix fillers, clever sounding “lifts,” and other hyped up names for procedures that use vague language to explain what they do and offer guaranteed results. There is never a 100% guarantee on any medical or quasi-medical procedure. It just doesn’t work that way.
Media coverage on its own offers no guarantee of a doctor’s qualifications. A doctor’s appearance on television or in magazines is neither an endorsement of his skills, nor a testament to his qualifications. The same cosmetic surgeons are often interviewed and quoted over and over again because they are more media friendly. Be careful not to pick a cosmetic surgeon on the basis of a glitzy website, slick advertising, or media appearances alone. Personal recommendations from other patients, referrals from other sources including physicians, and independent expert advice is more reliable.
MAKING THE ROUNDS
Before scheduling a consultation, request brochures describing the doctor’s practice, visit websites, and call to request materials about the procedures you are considering. Find out in advance about the range of fees so you can be prepared to stay within your budget. Most doctor’s offices will not quote exact fees over the phone but you can ask for approximate costs to avoid sticker shock. Once your list is narrowed down to a handful of suitable practitioners, schedule consultation visits. There may be a few weeks of lead time to get in to see a busy cosmetic surgeon, so plan accordingly. If you are keen to get in sooner, be flexible. Inform the office that if there is a last minute cancellation, you are willing to run in to see the doctor with very little notice. Sometimes it may take longer to schedule a consultation than to actually book the procedure.
Having a pre-consultation with a nurse, office manager, or assistant is commonly done. However, you will need to have a proper consultation and examination with the actual doctor or surgeon who will be performing the procedure. Never be afraid to get a second (or third or fourth) opinion. The general rule is that you should see at least two surgeons, preferably three or four, before scheduling a major surgical procedure. For non-surgical treatments, one or two consultations may be sufficient.
Never go with the first or only cosmetic surgeon you see. Even if you may love the first doctor you see in consultation, go to at least one or two others for confirmation and comparison. After the third, you may still find you want to go with the first one you saw, but only after you see others are you really ready to choose wisely. If it still doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, continue with the interview process.
The consultation is your chance to ask questions and take notes. Prepare a list of questions to bring to your consultation. It is easy to forget most of what he or she tells you during the initial visit, and writing it all down will come in handy later on. There is no such thing as a stupid question – or asking too many questions – although surgeons are not always eager to respond to the same questions over and over again. Save any concerns about the surgeon’s qualifications, training, experience, and the nitty gritty details such as fees, scheduling and payment, to talk through with nurses and managers who have more time, and usually more patience for you. Surgeons are typically big picture people; they don’t like to fuss with the small stuff.
Be wary of any doctor who strong arms you to have a number of procedures that are unrelated to the reason for your consultation. The surgeon should not be pressuring you into making any decisions on the spot either. For example, if you came in for a breastlift, and he or she offers, “I can take the bump off your nose at the same time,” that could be a red flag. However, if you came in for your eyelids, and your doctor suggests a browlift as well, he is simply doing his job. It is impossible to consult on one part of your face without at least mentioning an adjacent area that needs improvement as well. For example, if you have only your glabellar creases smoothed with BOTOX® or Dysport®, yet ignore your deepening nasolabial folds, the result may be that you face doesn’t look harmonious – or it will be obvious that you have had something done to your forehead.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
For a proper consultation with a cosmetic surgeon, you need to dig a bit deeper into his or her level of training, qualifications, and how he or she performs the treatment(s) recommended for you. Ask about the basics of the procedure and how they apply to you specifically. Understanding what the procedure can and cannot do, as well as the limitations, is critical to avoid any disappointments later on.
I never cease to be amazed by the communication disconnect between doctors and patients. It is usually the fault of both parties, rather than one or the other. If you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get the answers you need. For example, after a consultation for a facelift, you should know exactly where your incisions will be. If you don’t, either you weren’t listening carefully or he didn’t make it clear.
Your doctor should fully explain the risks of the procedure – this falls under the realm of what is called “informed consent.” If not the doctor, then his staff, should clearly explain exactly what is involved. If the only thing you were paying attention to is how much the operation will cost, you will have missed the point of the consultation entirely. A surgical consultation is basically a fact finding mission. You are there to get your questions answered and find out your options. The actual decision about how to proceed usually comes later.
These are the obvious issues to be covered:
- How many incisions will I have and where will they be?
- What kind of anesthesia will be given and who will be administering it?
- At which hospital or surgery center will my surgery be performed?
- How long will the procedure take?
- How long are the results expected to last? (Ask for a range of months to years)
- What is the extent of the recovery, overall healing, and time out of work?
- What are the potential risks and complications associated with the procedure?
- Ask to see pre- and post-op photographs of other people he has worked on to see his aesthetic skills and what you can expect. (All results are different and there is no guarantee your results will be the same – or that the doctor can show you photographs of patients with your exact issues.)
3 RED FLAGS
- Pressures you into adding extra procedures you didn’t ask about
- Offers to squeeze you in if you pay right away
- Refuses to show photographs of patients
Finally, ask yourself how you felt after the consultation. The level of communication with a physician and the staff, as well as the confidence and comfort they inspire, are vital to the success of your surgery. At the end of the day, you have to go with your gut feeling. Trust cannot be overrated. If you have a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach after your consultation, the doctor may not the one for you.