11 Questions to Ask Your Plastic Surgeon

Essential Questions to Discuss with Your Plastic Surgeon

Cosmetic surgery. Consultant examining the face of a young woman contemplating cosmetic surgery.
What questions should you ask your plastic surgeon before surgery?. Adam Gault/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

As you begin your research to determine who you will choose as your plastic surgeon, you will probably already have many questions. Or perhaps you have no idea of where to start, or what exactly you should ask. Many people are intimidated by the prospect of questioning authority, and who is more of an authority figure than a plastic surgeon? After all, your surgeon is the person who could potentially hold your life (not to mention your looks) in his or her hands.

There are many things to consider when making such an important decision. You want to know as much as possible about your prospective surgeon’s skills, experience, and credentials. So, without further ado, here is our list of the top ten questions you must ask a prospective plastic surgeon before deciding if he or she is the right physician to perform your procedure:

1. Are you Board Certified?

You may ask, what exactly does it mean to be a board certified plastic surgeon? The truth is, there are several certifying boards for plastic surgeons, as well as surgical societies of which any given surgeon may be a member. However, there is a gold standard in the field: The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). Certification by this organization indicates that a surgeon has completed extensive specialized training that not only shows his superior knowledge and experience, but also speaks of his commitment to excellence in the field.

Ask the question. Then verify the answer by checking with the ABPS online at www.abplsurg.org. Please keep in mind, though, that there other certifying boards and medical societies, and many other factors to consider.

2. How Many Times Have You Done This Procedure?

It may seem obvious that nobody would want to be any surgeon’s first nose job.

Beyond that, most people probably wouldn’t even want to be one of the first fifty patients Dr. X uses to perfect his technique. Ideally, you would like to have a surgeon who has worked out all the kinks in his previous 200 times performing the procedure (although this is not always possible with less common surgeries). Yet so many people don’t think to ask this question, either because they are embarrassed, don’t want to be rude, or are simply uncomfortable at the very thought of questioning a doctor about his experience. Better rude, embarrassed, and uncomfortable than disfigured…or worse. And, if you are still feeling hesitant, keep in mind that your surgeon would likely also ask a potential surgeon this question if she were contemplating surgery herself. Learn more about ​how to determine if a surgeon is experienced in a particular procedure.

3. What Other Medical Staff Will Assist With the Procedure?

It is important to know who is a part of the surgeon’s surgical support team, and what their qualifications are. Who will be assisting? Who will be administering and monitoring anesthesia? Is there emergency staff available in case of a problem? If the procedure is being performed at a teaching hospital, will there be any medical students or interns involved in your care?

Keep in mind that having medical students or medical residents around does not mean that you will be getting substandard care. Instead, since it is more difficult to teach something than perform something, you may actually get better care. Two brains are usually better than one, and medical students and residents have to be on top of their game, or face humiliation on rounds.

4. Where will the procedure be performed?

Some procedures are performed in a hospital, others in an outpatient ambulatory center, and still others are routinely performed as in-office procedures. The complexity of your procedure, as well as any health issues specific to your case (your age, overall health, etc.), should always be considered when determining where it would be best for your surgery to take place.

Hospitals are usually more expensive venues for any surgery, but can you really put a price on your safety? That said, your risk of infection is often lower at an outpatient surgery center. No matter where you have your procedure, it's important to be aware of the risk of infections. Check out these tips on how to avoid hospital acquired infections.

5. Do You Have Hospital Privileges to Perform This Procedure? (And at Which Hospitals?)

Even if your procedure is typically done outside of a hospital, it is worth it to ask your surgeon if he or she has hospital privileges to perform the procedure. Hospitals usually have stringent requirements regarding surgeon training and safety records before they will grant operating privileges. Plus, this could become very important if anything unexpected should occur during your procedure, and you were to need to be transported to a hospital.

6. What Type of Anesthesia Will be Used During the Procedure?

It's very important to discuss the risks of anesthesia with your surgeon, in addition to the particular procedure you will have performed.

The greatest risk is from general anesthesia, and this type of anesthesia requires highly trained specialists to administer and monitor its effects on the patient, although for some surgeries this is by far the best option.

IV sedation (sometimes called “twilight sleep”) is a bit safer and usually less expensive option—one which can be utilized for many single-procedure surgeries.

Regional anesthesia is used to numb a region of the body. The epidurals used for labor are one example of regional anesthesia.

The safest option is usually a local anesthetic, and this may be recommended if the surgeon will have any reason to need to communicate with you during the surgery. However, many procedures are not possible or advisable with only local anesthetic.

The question about which type of anesthesia is advisable is best answered by a physician who knows your medical history well. This is the reason why a preoperative physical exam is important before most procedures.

7. What Are the Risks Associated With This Procedure?

Every surgery carries some risk, some of which are common to all surgery. The most serious complications of surgery usually have to do with excessive blood loss, infection, or adverse reactions to general anesthesia, and the result of any of these can be as serious as death. Other risks vary widely from patient to patient and from one procedure to another. There are some procedures that are riskier than others, although recent advances continue to make complications more and more unlikely. The truth is that since plastic surgery is elective, surgeons will usually refuse to operate on any patient for whom they feel the risk is too great. Therefore, serious complications with plastic surgery are actually relatively rare.

8. Can I See Examples of Before and After Pictures of Patients on Whom You Have Performed the Same or Similar Procedures?

Like professionals in many fields, plastic surgeons sometimes use “stock” photos in their promotional materials, or for illustrative purposes. Often the maker of a piece of surgical equipment, or the originators of a new technique will provide participating surgeons with photos showing results that have been achieved using their proprietary technique or equipment. The surgeon shows prospective patients these photos to illustrate possible outcomes. Usually, these photos are only permitted to be used by surgeons who have completed the patent holder’s requisite training to be certified in the use of the technique or equipment.

However, this is by no means a guarantee that this particular surgeon has operated on the patients in those pictures. Make sure to ask if the photos shown to you are pictures of actual patients of that particular surgeon.

9. What is Your Complication Rate With This Procedure?

Although a surgeon cannot violate the privacy of his or her patients, he or she should absolutely be able to tell you how many complications he has had with your particular surgery, and how many of them have been serious. This can be in the form of an actual count, or a percentage, but your surgeon should be willing to provide this information so that you feel comfortable about making the most informed choice for your own health and safety.

10. Can You Provide Me With Three or More References to Patients on Whom You Have Performed This Procedure?

Though confidentiality laws prohibit your doctor from sharing the names of satisfied patients, many surgeons ask former patients if they would be willing to speak to someone who is considering a similar procedure. It's very uncommon for a surgeon to turn down such as request, so don’t be the least bit afraid to ask. You surgeon will not view this as being "pushy" but rather as a reflection that you are being proactive in your health care. Your surgeon should want you to hear the glowing reports of his satisfied patients. Not only can these references provide you with a “review” of your surgeon’s care and skill, but they may also be able to give valuable insight about what you might expect to experience in regard to recovery, pain management, and downtime.

11. What is the Exact Breakdown of Fees for This Procedure?

Some people don’t realize that there’s a lot more to your total fee than just the surgeon’s fee. There are anesthesia fees, operating room fees, lab fees, and a number of other variables that can affect the bottom line. Ask for a written breakdown along with the total, so you’re not facing any ugly surprises when it’s all said and done.

Bottom Line on Asking Your Plastic Surgeons Questions

Many people are reluctant to ask all of these questions of their surgeon, fearing that they will aggravate or offend the surgeon. Yet, asking these questions is important in order for you to be your own advocate in your health care. If you still are hesitant, consider what your surgeon would do if your roles were reversed. She would be checking out surgeons to learn who has performed the most procedures and who appears to have more satisfied patients with fewer complications.

As a final note, online reviews can be somewhat helpful when evaluating a potential surgeon, but there is a caveat. Some people may be unhappy about how a surgery turned out through no fault of the surgeon and may leave a scathing review. An example would be someone who has poor healing after a procedure due to continued smoking, even if the surgeon has informed the patients that ​smoking can hamper healing and result in poor outcomes. Here are a few more tips on how to choose a good surgeon.

Sources:

American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. What to Ask a Cosmetic Surgeon: 5 Essential Questions to ask at your Cosmetic Surgery Consult.  http://www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org/5-essential-questions-for-cosmetic-surgery-consult/..

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