Special Issue on Risks of Cosmetic Surgery

By Rachel Walden — November 23, 2009

The current issue of the journal “Clinical Risk” has of a series of articles commenting on risk and cosmetic surgery, from reputation and regulatory risks to physicians to clinical outcome risks for patients.

Because the journal is based in the UK, much of the discussion of the regulatory environment is focused there, but the articles also address the trend of cosmetic surgery tourism between nations and general perceptions of and risks to patients seeking cosmetic surgery.

In the editorial for the issue, plastic surgeon Nigel Mercer writes that “We have reached a stage where public expectation, driven by media hype and, dare one say, professional greed, has brought us to a ‘perfect storm’ in the cosmetic surgical market.”

He also describes a “massive increase in ‘marketing’, including discount vouchers, 2-for-1 offers and holidays with surgery! In no other area of medicine is there such an unregulated mess. What is worse is that national governments would not allow it to happen in other areas of medicine. Imagine a ‘2-for-1’ advert for general surgery?”

Another author, Khoo, notes the “grey area between advice and advertising” when surgeons provide information to prospective customers (patients). Similarly, Bradbury writes that cosmetic surgeons should be prepared to decline to do procedures, to say “no” or “not now,” and should avoid pushing extra procedures on a client.

The idea that cosmetic surgery carries minimal risk is also criticized. Mercer writes that “the media and both published and broadcast ‘marketing’ have wittingly or unwittingly given the public the impression that cosmetic surgery procedures are quick fixes and carry no risk of downtime or complications. Nothing could be further from the truth and it defies common sense to think otherwise.”

The BBC has additional coverage of the issue. On a related note, The Guardian published a story last Friday on labiaplasty and the increase in the number of these procedures in the UK in recent years.

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