Interesting article with reasonable viewpoint from editor. Not surprising though. As usual it underscores that advertising is for selling. It should be viewed as such. Seek recommendations from trusted sources when making your most important choice of who will be taking care of you.
-Rafael C. Cabrera, MD, FACS
Ethics and Advertising for Cosmetic Medicine. The Quality of Internet Advertising in Aesthetic Surgery: An In-Depth Analysis
Wong WW, Camp MC, Camp JS, Gupta SC Aesthet Surg
Summary Within a 120-mile radius that encompasses San Diego and Los Angeles, a list of medical providers who offer cosmetic procedures was compiled using sales lists from Allergan and Medicis, an Internet search engine, and various Internet sites, such as DocShop.com, Lipo.com, and PlasticSurgery.org. The Websites for these cosmetic providers were evaluated and objectively scored on the basis of ethical codes adopted by the American Medical Association, the American Society of Plastic Surgery (ASPS), and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). Websites for hospitals or large multispecialty groups were excluded because individual providers likely have little autonomy over advertising decisions for these Websites. Additionally, specialties that offer few cosmetic procedures and are therefore represented by fewer than 10 individual providers’ Websites were excluded from the study because it was felt that more than 10 Websites were needed to accurately represent the specialty. The resulting scores were analyzed, focusing on trends within training background (ie, certifying board) as well as geographic location.
Of 2001 cosmetic providers in the study region, 1307 had advertising Websites. Of the 22 medical specialties that involve cosmetic services, 18 had an available code of ethics and only 7 of them specifically addressed ethical advertising. The 4 core cosmetic specialties (ie, dermatology, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, and plastic surgery) all addressed ethical advertising and required that members do not use deceiving or misleading credentials, photographs, statements, or testimonials. The study authors stated that although 7 specialties made efforts to provide guidance for ethical advertising, none were as descriptive or thorough as those advocated by ASAPS and ASPS. Board-certified plastic surgeons had the highest ethical scores, followed by otolaryngologists, oromaxillofacial surgeons, and ophthalmologists.
Cosmetic medicine is a mixture of medicine, art, and business. Maintaining an appropriate balance between these factors is important for the benefit of both the patient and the industry. If too much emphasis is placed on the business aspect, then the focus becomes profitability rather than the patient’s well-being. Ethical advertising in cosmetic medicine is an extension of medical ethics. The Internet has become the main vehicle of advertising for most businesses, and medicine is no exception. If the goal of advertising is strictly to maximize return on investment, the simplest way to capture the attention of potential patients is to tell them what they want to hear (eg, that there is a new “miracle” injection, laser, or cream that restores the youthful elastic properties to skin). Although this is a very effective form of marketing, using unsubstantiated claims or false science is both deceptive and unethical. The public is much better served hearing the truth about what is possible and how it can be attained. It is safe to assume that fewer individuals will undertake a treatment course if given full disclosure. However, patients who fully understand the treatment, recovery, and expected outcomes will likely be more satisfied with their outcomes and treatment in general. For both long-term individual practice growth and the field of cosmetic medicine, providing honest information and delivering the expected results will result in a more satisfied patient base and long-term growth. If deceptive advertising is used, dissatisfied consumers will complain, negatively affecting cosmetic medicine as a whole. Although it is comforting to know that board-certified plastic surgeons conform to high ethical standards, cosmetic medicine falls within the scope of practice of other providers, and all participants should strive to improve the advertising ethics of the industry as a whole. In the interest of patient safety, ethical providers have a moral obligation to make efforts to eradicate deceptive advertising in cosmetic medicine.