The Inside Scoop on How Social Media Is Changing Plastic Surgery
- 28 March 2017
- Dr. Nidal (Nick) Masri
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – who doesn’t know these ubiquitous social media platforms? Some would even go far as saying that if you don’t have an account in these channels, you might as well be non-existent.
Indeed, to say that social media had a huge impact on society is an understatement. Once regarded as a simple networking tool, social media has evolved to become an all-encompassing instrument for marketing, collaboration, information sharing, and even activism.
Needless to say, social media has become valuable to many sectors – including healthcare and more specifically, plastic surgery. Social media trends influence both patients and plastic surgeons.
The “Selfie” Culture
Gone are the days when teenage girls would be satisfied copying Britney Spears’ dance moves or Jennifer Aniston’s bob. These days, it’s not enough to follow their fashion choices. They also have to look like them.
But instead of celebrities, plastic surgery patients now carry photos of Instagram models as inspiration for their desired procedure. Women would go to plastic surgery clinics and ask how they can achieve Kim Kardashian’s butt or Emily Ratajkowski’s thigh gap.
Plastic surgeons even admitted in an interview with The Independent that lip filler inquiries dramatically increased by as much as 70% when social media personality Kylie Jenner admitted undergoing this procedure.
But aside from copying the bodies of social media stars, people have also become more self-aware because of social networking. The “selfie” culture has led them to aspire for a better appearance, with plastic surgery serving as one of their main pathways toward this goal.
In fact, according to a poll conducted by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, there was more than a 30% increase in the number of patients interested in plastic surgery because they want to improve their image on social media channels Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Another poll by online information-sharing community RealSelf also validated this idea, with almost half of 527 respondents confirming that social media has somehow influenced their decision to go for plastic surgery.
Doctors on Social Media
But the influence of social media is not limited to patients alone. Even plastic surgeons use social media, but in a completely different way – to reach out to potential clients.
A survey published in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal revealed that 52.1% of plastic surgeons use social media as an effective marketing tool, while 49% see it as a forum for patient education. Around 56.7% also believe that the incorporation of social media into their practice is inevitable.
Of those doctors who use social media, 33.8% reported positive results, while only 1.5% said that it had a negative impact on their practice.
A good example is the famous Dr. Snapchat, whose real name is Michael Salzhauer. He grew his practice by filming his surgeries and uploading them on Snapchat – with patient consent, of course.
Dr. Jason Emer, another plastic surgeon, also claimed that around 60% of his patients came from social media, web postings, and online advertising. Being a regular contributor on RealSelf also helped him a lot in connecting with future clients.
“Patients today are highly influenced by what others say. They look to partner with you in the decisions about their procedure or treatment,” he said. “In aesthetics, we’ve seen that half of consumers researched a treatment for more than one year. In this information gathering, people trust opinions of their peers, mainly reviews, and information posted by medical experts, such as answers to questions.”
A Pricewaterhouse Cooper survey showed that patients trust online resources posted by doctors, nurses, and hospitals. In fact, the trust ratings for these resources breached 50%.
Another report by Pew Research Center also revealed that one out of three American adults had used the Internet to figure out a medical problem. Just looking at the sheer amount of plastic surgery questions on RealSelf is enough testament to this.
For physicians, the appeal of social media is that it makes healthcare more accessible to patients. Aside from providing relevant health news and tips, doctors use this opportunity to answer general concerns and direct them to their website or contact number.
The Flip Side of Social Media
While there is nothing wrong with doctors using social media to reach out to patients, these networking channels have their downsides.
Perhaps the biggest danger of social media is the potential for misinformation. There is so much information available over the web that it has become difficult to sort out which is true and which is not. It is not uncommon to find contrasting answers to a single question in a plastic surgery forum.
The worst part is people love taking matters into their own hands. The findings from Pew Research Center’s report showed that a large percentage of people think that looking for medical answers online is enough to beat any disease – despite the possibility of underestimating a medical condition or encountering erroneous data.
Even doctors giving their medical opinions online can give inaccurate diagnoses. Plastic surgeons often instruct their patients to get a physical consultation as they cannot offer specific advice without assessing the patient personally.
Social relationships between patients and doctors can also be tricky. Many health institutions have discouraged their staff from adding patients as friends on various social media platforms as this might jeopardize the patient’s treatment and the doctor’s reputation.
According to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, as much as 35% of surveyed physicians revealed that they had received friend requests from patients on their personal social media accounts. More than half of them reject those requests outright.
Ruining a plastic surgeon’s reputation is also easy on social media. Patients can give a one-star rating to any doctor on RealSelf or Yelp just because of the lack of insurance coverage or the long waiting time before the surgery – things that have nothing to do with the plastic surgeon’s experience and expertise. Patients should always be discerning of these online reviews and testimonials.
Despite the dangers of social media, patients who use it as a source of information tend to have a better plastic surgery experience because they are more informed about their procedure. It also helps that they talk about their experiences online so that others may learn as well. The more educated a patient is, the better it is for the surgeon.
In the field of plastic surgery, social media is more of a marketing and communication vehicle rather than a replacement for consultations and medical applications. An in-person check-up and physical assessment will trump any answer on RealSelf.