Plastic surgeons often rely on their “brands” as a primary form of advertisement, sharing particular procedures they have specialized in or treatments they have pioneered on their social media pages. Although on the surface this seems like a harmless marketing technique, there are several ethical considerations that surround using a personal “brand” to advertise to prospective patients.
A study published in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics examined this issue. According to researchers, deceptive advertising restrictions in medicine can be ambiguous, allowing for advertising of the type often seen across social media channels in the plastic surgery specialty. This ambiguity can lead to deceptive ads that compel or sway patients in a way that questions the ethics of such ads. Although social media can be a beneficial tool to connect patients with medical practitioners, there are risks to patients who are exposed to this type of advertising.
Plastic surgery is one discipline that often uses social media as a form of communication, in part because of the visual aspects of the work. Posting pictures online allows prospective patients to see for themselves what a particular physician can do. These may include reviews from patients who are satisfied with the treatments they received. A potential problem with relying on reviews as advertisement is that reviews are often curated to show the physician, treatment, or practice only in a positive light, not allowing prospective patients to see a full picture of the treatment they are considering.
Another issue that arises from social media advertising of plastic surgery services is the false sense of exclusivity. Although ethical imperatives for physicians to share medical advancements exist, many plastic surgeons bill their treatments as “exclusive” to their practice or “brand,” or as using the “latest technology,” thus communicating to patients that they can only receive particular services from certain doctors. Some plastic surgeons also build their “brands” around celebrities, using those figures as part of their advertising efforts. This again creates an air of exclusivity and desirableness that may sway a prospective patient.
Because of the ambiguity of advertising restrictions in practices like plastic surgery, patients should exercise caution when using social media as a way to find and share information about healthcare professionals.
Smith CP, George D. When is advertising a plastic surgeon’s individual “brand” unethical? AMA J Ethics. 2018;20(4):372-378.