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."
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.
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.
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."