Study: Untrained “cosmetic surgeons” pose health hazards

Cosmetic procedures like Botox, facial fillers and liposuction are big money-makers for physicians. Not surprisingly, doctors other than plastic surgeons and dermatologists also offer cosmetic treatments. According to a new study, nearly 40% of doctors offering liposuction in Southern California had no specific surgical training.

The study, published in the April issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, examined 1,876 cosmetic practitioners from San Diego to Los Angeles. Only 495 of them were trained in plastic surgery. Primary care physicians made up the fourth-largest group of liposuction providers following plastic surgeons, dermatologists and otolaryngologists.

There is no law to prevent doctors from offering these services, especially in a doctor’s office (doctors need to apply for privileges to perform services in hospitals). Many non-surgeons take a course or participate in some form of limited training to perform liposuction or inject fillers. But such training is not required and is often inadequate, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Though providing Botox or facial fillers is unlikely to be dangerous, liposuction can result in serious complications, the authors state. “We feel that the provision of such a potentially hazardous treatment by physicians with no training in surgery poses a genuine threat to the safety of patients.”

Further, the authors state, aesthetic franchises have sprung up that have no association with one particular provider, making it more difficult for patients to know just who is responsible for their care.

“The practices are often named after a geographic location with a cachet of affluence,such as Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills or La Jolla. In these practices, the practitioners are employees of the owner of the clinical facility, and are pushed to produce revenue. The divorce of the practice from the name of the responsible physician has the potential to have a profound impact on the doctor-patient relationship and how patients select a provider,” the authors state.

Still, the authors say more legislation is not what’s needed, calling government meddling “a guest who may never leave.” They suggest more effort to educate the public on who is or isn’t qualified to perform various cosmetic procedures.

I vote for whichever method — education, legislation or perhaps both — will protect consumer health and safety regardless of professional turf wars. 

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