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Photos? Pricing? Years in practice?

Article-Photos? Pricing? Years in practice?

What do people look for when searching for an aesthetic surgeon? Researchers studying surgeon attributes from years in practice to testimonials, photos, pricing and reputation discovered what might surprise the most experienced and least expensive of surgeons: testimonials are most important, years in practice the least.

Dr. WuAuthors from the recently published study in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal sent a mass electronic survey to anonymous university members, who were asked to pick a surgeon for three procedures, breast augmentation, breast augmentation plus tummy tuck and facelift, based on five attributes — testimonials, photos, reputation, pricing and practice years. They then tested the conjoint analysis using an internet crowdsourcing service (Amazon Mechanical Turk [MTurk]).

The study’s lead author Cindy Wu, M.D., assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, tells Cosmetic Surgery Times that this research is innovative in revealing what patients truly value when looking for a surgeon.

“To determine which surgeon traits these patients valued the most, we used conjoint analysis, a marketing research tool that identifies consumers’ true preferences. This method is different from traditional multiple choice survey questions because it requires the consumer to ‘trade off’ traits when making choices,” Dr. Wu says. “By analyzing the ‘trade-offs,’ patients make, one can determine which trait is most important to them.”

Dr. Wu gives this example of a conjoint analysis scenario: “’Would you rather choose a red car that costs $20,000 and gets 30 mpg or a blue car that costs $40,000 and gets 20 mpg?’” she says. “By answering several of these scenarios, the researcher can determine if car color, price or gas mileage is the most important trait to that particular consumer. We used the same concept to identify the most important aesthetic surgeon traits to potential aesthetic surgery patients.”

Another innovation is that the study is the first to use crowdsourcing in plastic surgery research, according to Dr. Wu.

“Crowdsourcing is a means of eliciting input from a large group of people, in particular, from online communities, rather than traditional in-person recruitment methods. It is essentially an international ‘open call’ for people to participate in research studies,” she says. “The unique benefits of crowdsourcing include its broad, diverse and anonymous participant pools; low cost; rapid and efficient data collection; and high completion rate. In addition, as researchers, we have the ability to specify the type of participant we want taking our survey (for example: by region, education level, smoking status, marital status, car ownership, etc.).”

Researchers will find it hard to beat crowdsourcing for its efficiency and low cost, according to Dr. Wu.

“… we were able to accrue 1000 participants in 10 days at a wage of $1 per survey, which took an average of 7 minutes for participants to complete,” she says.

NEXT: Study Results


Study Results

According to the study’s crowdsourcing results for the three procedures, this is how attribute importance ranked among survey responders:

Breast Augmentation

  • Photos: 35.3%
  • Testimonials: 33.9%
  • Reputation: 15.7%
  • Pricing: 12.2%
  • Years in practice: 3%

Mommy Makeover

  • Testimonials: 38.3%
  • Photos: 27.9%
  • Reputation: 17.5%
  • Pricing: 13.9%
  • Years in practice: 2.4%


  • Testimonials: 38.1%
  • Photos: 29.4%
  • Reputation: 15.8% 
  • Pricing: 13.9%
  • Years in practice: 2.8%

The researchers drilled down into some of the results. For example, participants responding to the facelift survey were 78% female. The researchers wanted to know if attribute importance differed in men, so they administered a post-hoc facelift conjoint survey to 250 men and found results were similar.

The relative lack of value of procedure price and years in practice surprised even the researchers, according to Dr. Wu.

“We had initially hypothesized that the breast augmentation group, who are typically younger, would place higher importance on pricing, but this was not the case,” she says. “This indicates to us that patients — no matter what procedure they are interested in — care more about seeing results (photos) and hearing other patients’ experiences (testimonials), than the price of the procedure. Furthermore, we also did not expect that years in practice would end up being the least important trait. This could mean that as long as patients can see and hear about good results, that the years of experience or age of the surgeon does not matter as much.”

NEXT: What This Means to Your Practice


What This Means to Your Practice

Colleagues can use these results to tailor their marketing campaigns, according to Dr. Wu.

“… we are concentrating our marketing efforts to show more photos and testimonials on our website,” she says.

Dr. Wu encourages plastic surgery researchers to try crowdsourcing for their next projects.

“Gone are the days of replacing paper flyers that get torn down, resending mass emails (and reminder emails) that go directly to the Spam folder, or waiting for months to years for eligible patients to walk into your clinic to enroll in your study,” she says. “We can now increase the power of our studies with efficient enrollment of a larger, international group of people, thus giving more statistically significant data. This automated process can occur all while you are fulfilling your other full-time clinical duties.” 

Disclosures: Dr. Wu reports no relevant disclosures

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