“Thanks to the internet, today’s cosmetic medicine and surgery consumers are better informed than consumers of previous generations.”

The Risk of Google-Diagnosis

Most people are aware of the many options that can address their aesthetics concerns, and most doctors are happy to work with informed and engaged consumers. There can be instances, however, where what you know and what you want may not be what is best for you.

Posted: 9 April 13

No amount of your own research can substitute the professional opinion of an expert, based on a physical examination, supported by appropriate tests and imaging technology. Are you listening carefully enough to what your surgeon is saying, or would you prefer a doctor who will give you the exact treatment you want?

Thanks to the internet, today’s cosmetic medicine and surgery consumers are better informed than consumers of previous generations. They have nearly unlimited access to even less limited information. Information, however, especially as found on the internet, can be a double-edged sword. Not everything found online is accurate, and not all information, especially as it relates to cosmetic procedures, is relevant to your individual situation.

The trick is to separate the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, and the solely agenda-driven from the fact-based. This is not always easy when it comes to medical procedures you know little about.

Because it’s so easy to get information on any procedure, finding the many alternative ways of solving a cosmetic or aesthetic concern is just a few clicks away. Investing a little time searching, reading and participating in forums will give you a glut of information on any topic you want to research. You can even present a question and have multiple experts provide their opinions and answers. Many consumers pay attention and absorb a vast amount of information through such channels, but they don’t always work in their own best interest.

It often happens that a consumer consults with a cosmetic doctor or surgeon with a fixed idea of what he or she wants done. When the consumer’s idea is not the same as the doctor’s, problems can arise. The idea for this article came from a specialist orthodontist, but if you visit any internet forum where potential cosmetic surgery and medicine candidates ask questions and discuss their intended procedures, you will see that the issue is a common one.

Here are a few examples:

  • Wire braces vs. Invisalign: A patient visits an orthodontist for corrections to the bite and teeth. The orthodontist examines the mouth and jaw and takes X-rays and other images in order to ascertain the extent of corrections needed. The next step is drawing up a suitable treatment plan. The treatment plan the orthodontist recommends includes wearing wire braces.

The patient has other ideas. He or she has researched all options available and has decided that Invisalign clear braces are a better choice than wire braces. But clear braces like Invisalign can only correct certain problems. Wire braces make a wider range of tooth movements possible. In the opinion of the orthodontist, the correction needed by the patient far exceeds what is achievable with Invisalign braces.

The orthodontist can go along with the patient’s choice, knowing very well that Invisalign will not solve the problem. Or the orthodontist explains clearly why wire braces are what is right for you. Which orthodontist would you choose?

  • Facelift vs. injectables:  Injectables and facelifts are tools physicians and surgeons use to make their patients’ faces look better. Both these tools have advantages, disadvantages and limitations. The limitations exist because whatever changes they can effect can only occur within the natural framework of that person’s face.

While both facial rejuvenation procedures have a role to play, they are not fully interchangeable. Injectables can postpone facial surgery, but only for a while. At some point facial muscles, folds and wrinkles move beyond the capacity of injectables to rejuvenate. What is needed at that point is a facelift. It is difficult to know when you reach this threshold. For that you need the guidance of an expert.

Facial surgery, on the other hand, cannot always achieve the fine-tuning possible with injectables. If a minor correction needed after surgery can be treated with injectables, that is a better and less costly alternative to revision surgery.

What do you want a surgeon to say when you insist on continuing injectable treatments when what will solve your problem is a facelift? The truth? Would you prefer to have injectables from a service provider who knows the treatment can do little to improve your appearance?

  • Nose, chin and jaw surgery: We have heard this story many times. Someone presents herself—or himself—at the surgeon’s office asking for nose surgery to make their faces more proportional. The surgeon takes a look and sees that rhinoplasty alone cannot do a complete and thorough job of improving the profile. One person might need orthodontic treatments, followed by jaw surgery as well as nose surgery. Another might need both jaw and nose surgery. In these cases rhinoplasty alone will not deliver the results they expect.

But nose jobs are popular, and you want one. Should your surgeon agree to the rhinoplasty without explaining that you need other surgeries to achieve the outcome you seek? If your surgeon recommends what he or she thinks is the best course of action, will you listen?

  • Veneers, whitening, orthodontic treatments and gum surgery: Veneers are popular. They make your teeth look white, shiny and beautiful. Who wouldn’t want that?

Although veneers are an easy option, placing veneers on your teeth requires making some changes to your natural teeth. If your teeth are discoloured but otherwise acceptable, if you have an uneven gumline, crooked teeth or tooth gaps, veneers may not be the right—or only—solution for you.

Here are a few options, depending on the case:

  • Darkened teeth – Professional tooth whitening or bleaching is a far less costly option than veneers.
  • Crooked or rotated teeth and tooth gaps – For a lot of people, these problems can be improved by orthodonture. Veneers cover up the problems without solving them.
  • Uneven gum line, too much gum showing when you smile – Gum surgery and recontouring can even out the gum line and remove at least some of the excess gum. You don’t need veneers to solve this problem.

While bleaching and gum recontouring produce results immediately, orthodontic treatments can take a long time. If you explain your real concerns to your dentist or specialist dentist, the chances are high that you will get an honest opinion about what is right for you.

Who Are You Gonna Trust?

In all of these instances, there are two points of view. The patient comes to the preliminary consultation with a particular procedure in mind. The genuine and proper assessment made by the surgeon, specialist doctor or orthodontist leads to a different conclusion. This often happens because the information available online is not tailored to the patient’s specific needs. That is the job of the surgeon or specialist.

You might want to step back in such instances and listen carefully. Could it be that the information you have is too general for your situation? Marketers’ descriptions are often wide-ranging and universally attractive. The limitations and conditions are often relegated to the small print, which does not appear in advertisements and mass media messaging.

It is vital to listen to your doctor or surgeon and ask questions to clarify and understand the finer points of the proposed treatments. If you refuse to listen to a specialist with years of training and experience who is looking at you and assessing your needs, who will you listen to? A marketer?

Choose your service provider carefully

Choose a provider who knows the ins and outs of the proposed procedure, someone who has the requisite professional training, expertise and experience to do what is best for you. In Australia and some other counties, a doctor does not have to be specially qualified to call him/herself a cosmetic surgeon or cosmetic doctor. Choosing the right doctor or surgeon can be a tricky thing, but it is very important.

Shopping around and getting more than one opinion

Most professionals will encourage you to get a second opinion. They are unlikely to pressure you into a treatment, offer discounts or ask for advances at the first consultation. In fact, the Australian Medical Association Code of Ethics has forbidden medical practitioners and service providers to do any of the above. They can actually be fined and disciplined for doing so.

And if anyone encourages you to commit to a procedure immediately, allowing no cooling off time for the decision, treat that as a danger sign. Discouraging your seeking a second opinion is also a red flag.

In the end, the final decision is up to you. Most well reputed medical professionals will refuse to give treatments that go against their better judgment. If you and your doctor have differing opinions about the right procedure for you, it’s a good idea to step back and listen to what the doctor has to say. As always, the decision is yours to make.

Join the Conversation