The New ‘Social Media’ Surgery Patient Is Not Who You Would Expect

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There’s a new type of patient coming into the offices of Dover, OH, facial plastic surgeon David Hartman, MD—one that he describes as a “more informed client.” The source of their newfound education? A rather unlikely medium.

“Social media’s impact on our first-time visitors is giving way to the arrival of a more educated client,” he says. “The light of understanding in the eyes of first-timers is much more evident today, because nearly all of them have already seen videos, studied before-and-after photos, and read reviews before I ever meet them. I love this.”

While Dr. Hartman says he believes it is still important to cover the basics in the discussions of procedure options, he thinks the “pre-informed” clients are far more capable of asking personalized and relevant questions—mainly because they have already been contemplating details of a prospective procedure and been imagining themselves trying it out. Plus, there’s a pretty solid personal connection.

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“The other great advantage is that clients coming to our practice already know us before they actually meet us from what they have been able to learn online. They have already identified with us and that is why they have chosen to come in and visit. They are able to get a very balanced view of what to expect—the risks, the benefits, the alternatives and the limitations—from their online research efforts, which, in my opinion, makes them a better client.”

Regardless of what plastic surgeons are using social media for, Livingston, NJ, plastic surgeon John Paul Tutela, MD, says there’s no denying that the conversation is changing. “People, in general, are getting more open about plastic surgery—it’s a much more liberal conversation. The stigmas have dissipated and social media has a lot to do with it. People are witnessing and experiencing a lot of other people’s lives and they are more comfortable thinking about plastic surgery and discussing it. It’s not just limited to plastic surgery either; you see it in so many areas of beauty, including hair, makeup, injectables. It is in so many aspects of life.”

It’s a move that Dr. Tutela says helps the aesthetic industry as a whole—as long as it’s done well. “In general, you shouldn’t be able to see good plastic surgery, but you can see bad plastic surgery from across the room. On social media, if it’s a disaster, which unfortunately pops up more, that obviously doesn’t help the industry. However, I really think that, the more that people know about what’s available, the better off we are. Social media is fueling things—there’s no denying that.”

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It’s also a trend that’s hitting all angles of aesthetics, and not just the surgical ones. As New York dermatologist Sejal K. Shah, MD, says, the social media-meets-medicine-trend is “extremely” common. “Social media is a big part of many people’s lives and it strongly influences what people are aware of and want. Just as people purchase things—clothing, accessories, makeup, etc.— because they saw or heard about them on social media, they also request cosmetic treatments that they learned about on social media.”

Not convinced? Just do a quick search on social media. “Another way we know social media plays a role is that more and more cosmetic dermatologists and surgeons are utilizing it by posting treatment videos and before-and-after images,” Dr. Shah says.

And no area is the “comfort” level greater than when it comes to the more noninvasive anti-aging treatments.

“The stigma of having Botox, or wanting to have Botox, is fading,” says Greenwich, CT, dermatologist Kim Nichols, MD. “Women are more comfortable in having Botox treatments to treat unique solutions, such as having Botox to prevent signs of premature aging, treat migraines, and a solution to excessive sweating in their underarms, hands and feet. The stigma of being a person who ‘has had Botox’ is outdated because my clients realize how subtle and natural their look appears when they are treated with Botox. I’ve also seen more men talking about Bro-Tox, and feeling more comfortable in having it done, especially in their “eleven-lines” [the space in between the two eyebrows, directly above their nose]. This creates a more rested appearance without appearing like you’ve had work done.”

While open conversation is almost never a bad thing, not all doctors are convinced it’s a slam-dunk. “In my opinion, this [an open conversation on social media] is both good and bad,” Dr. Shah says. “The good part is that it informs the consumer about treatments available and their own comfort level with specific treatments. Also, when they come into the office they may at least have some baseline knowledge. The bad part is that patients often request treatments that are not appropriate for them and it can be difficult to change their opinion. Additionally, because anyone can post to social media patients often don’t know the difference between a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon and a non-certified provider. They may seek out a non-certified provider whose posts they saw on social media, but who may not be entirely capable of addressing and treating their concerns appropriately resulting in adverse effects.”

Richmond, VA, facial plastic surgeon Michael Godin, MD, sums it up pretty simply: “My impression is that social media is most important for building the FUTURE of a plastic surgery practice and, in that way, it is a very good thing. It is a conduit for younger patients to come into the practice. How well does it work? Check back with me in a year and I’ll let you know.”

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