Every cosmetic procedure, whether surgical or non-surgical, carries an element of risk. Risks and complications can develop from numerous factors, including the surgeon’s skill and experience, the facilities and equipment used for the procedure, the medications given—including anaesthesia, the techniques used by your surgeon or doctor, as well as your health and the way your body responds to certain treatments, chemicals and procedures.
Choosing a qualified surgeon with a lot of experience in the type of procedure you choose significantly reduces your level of risk. Reputable surgeons and cosmetic physicians use accredited facilities, which further reduces your level of risk during the procedure and afterwards. Being honest with your surgeon about your health, lifestyle choices—such as smoking, drinking and drug use—and disclosing all the medication you take will help your surgeon plan for additional risk factors and potential problems. Sometimes a surgeon may even refuse to operate, if he or she deems that you are too much at risk.
Let us say that you and your surgeon do everything right. You’ve taken your decision to have surgery based on thorough research and have found a highly skilled surgeon. And after the procedure you still have issues. It can happen, and in fact has happened numerous times, because every procedure carries some level of risk. Even the simplest of procedures that thousands of people go through without incident can have post-surgical complications.
There are laws, regulations and agencies to protect you in the event of such an adverse outcome. The professional guidelines your doctor or surgeon should uphold are also meant to protect patients in such situations. They are there to ensure that all parties act fairly, safely and reasonably under the circumstances.
The Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia issued by the Medical Board of Australia spells out what doctors and surgeons in Australia are required to do in case of adverse events.
The section of the Code on Adverse events begins by saying that “When adverse events occur, you have a responsibility to be open and honest in your communication with your patient, to review what has occurred and to report appropriately.”
According to the Code, when something goes wrong, here’s what is considered good medical practice. Your surgeon should:
- Recognise what has happened.
- Act immediately to rectify the problem, if possible, seeking any necessary help and advice.
- Explain to you, the patient, as promptly and fully as possible, what has happened, as well as the anticipated short-term and long-term consequences.
- Acknowledge your distress, if any, and provide appropriate support.
- Comply with any relevant policies, procedures and reporting requirements, subject to advice from the doctor’s medical indemnity insurer.
- Review adverse events and implement changes to reduce the risk of recurrence.
- Report adverse events to the relevant authority, as necessary.
- Ensure that patients have access to information about the processes for making a complaint (for example, through the relevant health care complaints commission or medical board).
According to all of these standards and codes, your doctor or surgeon has to act in your best interest. Most doctors do this, but there are always exceptions.
If you have a complaint
If you are unhappy or dissatisfied about some aspect of your treatment or its outcome, your first step is to discuss it with your doctor or surgeon.
When there are patient complaints, Australian doctors are supposed to recognise that “Patients who are dissatisfied have a right to complain about their care.”
Beyond that, good medical practice in the event of a complaint involves the doctor:
- Acknowledging the patient’s right to complain.
- Working with the patient to resolve the issue, where possible.
- Providing a prompt, open and constructive response, including an explanation and, if appropriate, an apology.
- Ensuring that the complaint does not adversely affect the patient’s care. In some cases, it may be advisable to refer the patient to another doctor.
- Complying with relevant complaints law, policies and procedures.
According to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in August 2011, one in six patient disputes with doctors and surgeons were related to cosmetic procedures. You can read more about this study and about giving your informed consent to medical procedure in our article on Informed Consent.
Where Else Can You Turn?
If you feel your complaint has not received the attention it deserves from your doctor or surgeon and wish to pursue the matter further, you can make a complaint to one of the following:
- Your state or territory Independent Health Services Commission.
- Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA), the agency responsible for the registration and accreditation of 10 health professions across Australia. It supports the 10 national boards including the Medical Board of Australia. Consumers or patients can make a complaint to AHPRA about the conduct, health or performance of a practitioner.
- State or territory branch of the Australian Medical Association or relevant professional association about any breach of professional ethics by your doctor or surgeon. Make sure that the doctor is a member of an association before making your complaint, as each accepts complaints about their members only.
Independent Health Services Commissions
There are free, independent health services commissions in each State and Territory in Australia, which help consumers with complaints across all aspects of health in the public and private sector.
You can complain about a private medical practitioner, a public or private hospital, a medical facility or any place that provides a health service.
You can complain on a number of grounds such as:
- Failure to provide a service or providing an unnecessary service.
- Denying dignity or privacy.
- Failure to provide adequate information for your decision-making process.
- Denial of access to information about health care.
- Failure to exercise due skill.
- Failure to treat you in a professional manner.
You can make a complaint in the capacity of a user of a health service, as someone appointed by the user, acting with power of attorney or as authorised by law.
Here are the links:
- VICTORIA – Office of the Health Services Commissioner website and complaint process details.
- NEW SOUTH WALES – Health Care Complaints Commission website and complaint process details.
- ACT – Health Services Commissioner website and consumer information page.
- QUEENSLAND – Health Quality and Complaints Commission website and complaint process details.
- SOUTH AUSTRALIA – Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner website and complaint process details.
- TASMANIA – Health Complaints Commissioner website and complaint process details.
- WESTERN AUSTRALIA – Health & Disability Services Complaints Office website and complaint process details.
- NORTHERN TERRITORY – Health & Community Services Complaints Commission website and complaint process details.
It is always better to be safe than sorry. Reduce your risk by choosing professionally qualified, accredited, experienced surgeons or physicians.
You will find these articles useful in choosing a cosmetic physician or surgeon: