As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, nearly every day I meet with patients and families who have been seriously injured from all kinds of medical negligence.
Recently, I have noticed more and more calls and meetings for claims involving plastic and cosmetic surgery. Almost always, the patients had complications from an elective cosmetic procedure that the surgeon described as simple and routine. This often leads patients to believe that plastic surgery is risk-free, that is certainly not the case.
From the plastic and cosmetic surgery cases that I have handled, I have formed the opinion that this specialization is often like the Wild West. By that, I mean that while the associations for many other medical specialties have adopted uniform standards to guide care, plastic surgeons have shied away from that.
For example, I am handling the case now where a healthy woman in her 40s had three cosmetic procedures done in one lengthy operation. Within a few days, she had passed away from blood clots that formed in the deep veins of her legs that came loose and caused a deadly pulmonary embolism.
Informed consent is the process where a physician obtains permission from a patient before treatment begins. The doctor or surgeon is required to inform the patient about the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment, and the risks and benefits of not proceeding with the proposed treatment.
Texas law is clear that this is an exclusive duty of the physician that cannot be delegated to a nurse or other staff member. In reality, though, that is often exactly what happens.
When it comes to elective plastic or cosmetic surgery, many of my clients have told me that there was virtually no discussion of the risks of surgery. In each of those cases, careful examination of the informed consent paperwork revealed a discussion of these risks, although the patients said that the risks were not explained to them, they did not read all the forms, and felt rushed to sign the paperwork.
On the other hand, the same clients told me that there was an extensive conversation about the benefits of proceeding with plastic or cosmetic surgery. In a sense, I find this odd, in that patients seeking out a plastic surgeon for an elective procedure already have the benefits clear in their minds—they want a different appearance.
Many plastic and cosmetic surgeons have photos or videos of their past patients, which they use in a selling pitch online or in their office.
Recently, this practice has caught the attention of experts, who are proposing ethics guidelines for plastic surgery videos.
New ethics guidelines for plastic and cosmetic surgeons
The Journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery published an article this week noting that some plastic surgeons have generated large social media followings by posting theatrical videos of surgery, designed to entertain, rather than educate, potential patients.
The use of the word “theatrical” is in no way an exaggeration. Some plastic surgeons have broadcast live surgery videos on Snapchat and Instagram, while dressed in costumes, dancing, and flaunting removed tissue such as abdominoplasty specimens.
Experts believe that such plastic surgery videos cross an ethical line that exploits patients and baits future customers, sometimes even using “doctored” photos. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun).
The peer-reviewed journal recommends new guidelines to require plastic surgeons to obtain permission or consent from patients before filming them, and that patients must be given the right to refuse filming. In addition, the guidelines would suggest hiring a designated and trained videographer, to avoid possible increases in operative time. From my experience as a medical malpractice lawyer, I know that the longer an operation lasts, the higher the risk of formation of deep vein thrombosis and resultant pulmonary embolism.
The article noted that when surgeons cross the line from informative videos into theatrics, there are
“concerns of trivializing situations where patients are under anesthesia and are at risk of serious harm.”
The new proposed standards would be the first to address sharing of videos of plastic surgery on social media. They will be presented at the October 2017 annual meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgeonsin Orlando.
The guidelines will require any videos of plastic surgery procedures to focus on the procedure, rather than the glitz and glamour. A significant requirement is that anything in a surgical video that would make the patient identifiable, including faces and any marks or other identifying features, would have to be obscured.
I am pleased to see that the plastic surgery community is finally having this important discussion about patient safety and the risks of plastic or cosmetic procedures.
We are here to help
The medical negligence attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, are experienced in investigating and handling malpractice cases arising from plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery procedures. If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured as a result of the surgical procedure, call us at 281-580-8800, for free consultation about your potential case.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator and focuses his practice on representing patients and their families in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, surgeons, and doctors.