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Ethical marketing


Ms. Woodcock
With so many advertising avenues open to cosmetic surgeons, from the Yellow Pages to print ads, from radio and television to the World Wide Web, how do cosmetic surgeons decide which practices are reasonable, and when does marketing cross a line into being misleading or totally unethical?

Unlike most other types of medical practice where insurance picks up some or all of the tab, "These procedures are out of pocket, totally," says Elizabeth Woodcock, a specialist in medical practice management at Woodcock and Associates in Atlanta, and a contributor to Cosmetic Surgery Times. "Competition is key, and doctors are competing for the patient's dollar."


Dr. Coleman
Traditional advertising vehicles, such as elaborate Yellow Pages or magazine ads, commercials, flyers and billboards, are the least effective use of any marketing dollars, according to Sydney R. Coleman, M.D., a faculty member in the department of plastic surgery at New York University School of Medicine, New York, and director of Tribeca Plastic Surgery in New York. "It must have worked at some point but, for the expense, the evidence is that it just doesn't work now," he says.

Internet plays a big role

"Patients used to stop at the Yellow Pages," he continues. "Now they go to a dozen Web sites. They do their shopping on the Internet instead of going door-to-door. Four years ago, less than 10 percent of my patients came from such sources. Now it's more like 30 percent and growing," he says.

Dr. Coleman is proud that he has had an active hand in developing his Web site. He takes this form of marketing very seriously and looks at his site as a way to educate prospective patients.


Dr. Singer
"We spend a fair amount of attention so patients can see the results and see the procedures, post-op care and possible complications."

As long as it's ethical

Practitioners say the type of advertising is less important than its ethical component. Beyond "bait-and-switch" techniques of using different or unrealistic photographic models or manipulating lights and poses in "before" and "after" pictures, some ads may go so far as to make claims that just aren't true.

"I think we're seeing an increase in what I could call excessive marketing with inappropriate promises," Robert Singer, M.D., says. Dr. Singer is past president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and a past chairman of the board of trustees of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). He lectures on ethics and marketing to professional plastic surgery groups, senior residents and fellows.


Ms. Zupko
"Patients are being misled," he says plainly. "They're being hyped on magic treatments — tighten the skin, get rid of stretch marks or cellulite. What they're not being told is that these procedures aren't proven or they have limited efficacy or that they're not being used anymore."

Dr. Coleman agrees.

"The minute someone is even somewhat misleading, that's a line. It's guaranteeing something or making claims that can't be verified."


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