Gone are the days where a business is required to invest thousands of dollars on advertising to reach its prospect. That having said, social media has since become the game changer in almost everything that surrounds us. As one of the greatest innovations of technology, it is able to communicate and to market directly to those we want to reach.

Similarly, social media has also become a popular ‘go-to’ platform when it comes to advertising healthcare products and services. Lately, Instagram has emerged as a huge favourite advertising platform for anything that has to do with healthcare – including cosmetic surgery procedures – and perhaps, who’s the ‘best’ surgeon in town one could opt for.

Eye-popping plastic surgery ads

Every tactic is used to make each advertisement look desirable and attractive to consumers. Instagram is fast becoming the favourite platform among plastic surgeons, when it comes to advertising their services.

The types of advertisement which plastic surgeons commonly use on Instagram include the regular newspaper-type of ads as well as the ‘before-after’ images of patients who have gone through different types of plastic surgery procedures.

So, what’s real and what’s not?

In a day, the top most viewed posts on Instagram were those that included plastic-surgery related hashtags, e.g. #abdominoplasty, #breastlift, and #plasticsurgery. Researchers decided to delve further into this social and medical visual phenomenon to find out more. They claimed that consumers will have difficulty in discriminating between reputable plastic surgeons and uncertified plastic surgery providers. This is due to the fact that most of these ads come from uncertified doctors from countries outside America.

In the US, it’s important for plastic surgeons to be certified either by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) in order to be eligible for a membership in the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS).

According to Dr Clark Schierle, a plastic surgeon affiliated with Northwestern Medicine, some of these popular Instagram posts are not about advertising a plastic surgery procedure. These posts just make use of the popular hashtags for different advertising procedures.

“It’s leading to a sort of bait and switch where a consumer is looking for face-lift information; but they’re getting Botox information—because this is a practitioner that can’t offer a face-lift,” explained Dr Schierle.

It has been reported that about 26% of top Instagram posts – when it comes to plastic surgery – are ads by doctors in gynaecology, dermatology, general surgeons, family doctors, ear-nose-throat doctors, and ER doctors. These non-board-certified plastic surgeons that advertise these types of plastic surgery procedures like to make use of related Instagram hashtags to advertise their procedures in their line of specialty.

Downsides of non-certified plastic surgeons

Negative consequences have been associated with non-certified doctors performing plastic surgery procedures. In Georgia, two patients died while the doctor was performing liposuction procedures on them.

In New York, a 31-year-old woman died after she had enhancement injections to her buttocks. Dr Clyde Ishii, president of ASAPS, expressed, “Consumers have to understand that cosmetic surgery is real surgery – with real complications.”

Since there are no strict guidelines when it comes to plastic surgery procedures and the appropriate doctors – an oral surgeon is actually allowed legally to perform breast implants. Researchers admit that it is not Instagram’s fault if the ads are misleading.

Instead, they think that there should be a better licensing landscape for plastic surgeons, since out of the 24 major medical specialty organisations that are connected with the American Board of Medical Specialties – only one that is in charge of overseeing plastic surgeons.

Dr Samuel Lin, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, lamented, “There are a lot of boards out there—you don’t know what’s real, what’s not.” Censorship issues are not the only problems – there’s also the question of the user’s credentials.

For now, it is a better possibility to have board-certified plastic surgeons communicating to the public the difference between certified plastic surgeons and ‘other’ doctors performing plastic surgery procedures.

According to researchers, board-certified plastic surgeons are equipped with more than six years of experience, when it comes to surgical training; including at least three years in plastic surgery. A practitioner from any medical specialty, who claims to be a cosmetic surgeon, has most likely received training or courses on liposuction, injectables or breast implants.

Service providers should also know the right hashtags to use when advertising their procedures on social media. Every party has a part to play in this to ensure that ads on social media platforms do not give convey the wrong perceptions to consumers.

“We want to conduct ourselves with an air of respect for patients and decorum; but, at least being aware of the language that’s being used and utilising that language to the degree that we feel comfortable will allow us to engage more with patients that we’re trying to reach,” added Dr Schierle. MIMS

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