Social media have become a “circus” for some plastic and cosmetic surgeons to clown around in unprofessional ways, including: videos in which one doctor has cradled fat removed from a tummy-tuck like an infant and put a baby face on it using a Snapchat filter. Other costumed surgeons have posted visual displays of themselves dancing before surgery and showing off on camera procedures or with tissues they have removed.
The abuses have become so bad that faculty and students from Northwestern University’s medical school, after researching incidents online, have published a prospective social media code of ethics for plastic surgeons, calling for its adoption by specialists at their next major meeting.
Robert Dorfman, one of the Northwestern students and an author of the draft ethics proposal, has described plastic surgery’s social media landscape “like the Wild West out there, with no guidelines or rules.” Clark Schierle, senior author of the guidelines, a plastic surgeon, and a medical school faculty member, has observed that practitioners in the field are “uniquely drawn to social media because we tend to do more marketing and we are a visual specialty.”
Whatever the underlying reasons, it has become all too common for all manner of plastic surgery procedures to be recorded and broadcast on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Practitioners have become more and more outrageous in their antics in these visuals, shooting them by themselves while juggling breast implants, donning costumes, and addressing audiences of potential patients with outrageous promotions, including invitations made during a surgery, to attend a DJ dance party-marketing session.
Surgeons may be imitating the online successes of Michael Salzhauer, aka “Dr. Miami,” a South Florida practitioner who began posting procedures online several years ago and has gained 661,000 followers on Instagram. He posts his prices during his online showings ($9,945 for a “Brazilian Buttlift”), and argues for procedures’ public broadcast, saying they help patients better understand elective surgeries they are choosing to undergo. He also supports an ethics code for plastic surgeons.
In my practice, I certainly see the giant harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services and the major ethical lapses of doctors who treat them. These include gross violations of the fundamental patient right of “informed consent.” Our firm’s website contains a detailed discussion of this right. It is the duty of anyone who provides any kind of medical treatment to provide us the full, appropriate information so all of us can decide what happens to our own bodies.
Patients waiting to go under the knife with a surgeon they like may all too readily agree to have their procedure recorded and broadcast on social media, not realizing these highly confidential surgeries may reach huge audiences and breach their privacy in ways they did not fully consider. They may receive promises that their identities will be shielded, say, because they will be draped and covered. They may not realize their bodies and unique markings on them may identify them still.
They also may not grasp the permanence of online materials, as well as how these can be spread and maliciously altered once they fly out into cyberspace.
Nursing homes, where the firm and I certainly see plenty of abuse and neglect of residents already, have struggled with staff members abusing seniors by using their smart phones to shoot lewd, compromising pictures of them and posting them widely on social media.
The pursuit of beauty through medical means already has more than enough of an ugly, unsavory side to it, so some heightened plastic surgeon ethics would be a good thing. Hyping procedures, seeking patients like a carney barker, and clowning around about serious surgeries—these ought to be, on their face, matters that medical providers treat professionally not as cheap fodder for mass, online entertainments. Let’s leave the scary clowning for summer hit movies like Stephen King’s It with star Bill Skarsgard.