Years ago, the now-defunct website bidforsurgery.com raised a minor uproar with its promise to match prospective patients seeking elective procedures (such as facelifts and tummy tucks) with a list of vetted, board-accredited surgeons.
After receiving their list of available surgeons, the patients were given a week to select 1 (or none) of the bidders on the basis of whatever criteria the patient preferred, although it seems that at least the people who named the website presumed that that choice would, more often than not, be made principally based on price. It was a little like Uber or TaskRabbit, but for plastic surgery. The plastic surgery community was having none of it. The then-president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons declared himself to be personally offended and argued that “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the cheapest doctors are the ones scrambling for business and are probably less qualified.”
But it’s not rocket science, it’s plastic surgery. And particularly for elective procedures such as the ones offered by bidforsurgery.com, there’s a lot to recommend about the transparency and breadth of choice promoted by the service. In our current system, the pricing system is needlessly convoluted and made intentionally opaque to patients, who struggle to ascertain and compare the qualifications of different surgeons.
A bidding platform would obviate those concerns while also providing a little downward pressure on the cost of elective procedures; the system didn’t, and shouldn’t, be applied to non-elective operations. And certainly encouraging physicians to compete on credentials, or even price, seems preferable to just choosing the surgeon who has the office closest to you or, increasingly commonly, the flashiest Instagram page.
Bidforsurgery.com died a quiet and mildly ignominious death, secondary to complications stemming from a poor business plan (as to their financial prospects, Forbes concluded “diagnosis: DOA”)1. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Bidding systems have been shown to work in a variety of contexts, and their success results from providing consumers with 2 things all consumers crave: transparency and choice.
Elective surgery candidates shouldn’t be treated any differently. If we’re not going to have a truly egalitarian system, where everyone has equal access to the healthcare they need and want, then shouldn’t we at least strive for one where patients have the opportunity to make the best choices for themselves?
Patsuris P. “Bid for Surgery Can’t Cut It.” Forbes. Updated March 10, 2000. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/2000/03/10/feat.html. Accessed July 12, 2017.