The short, and disappointing, answer to this question is that it’s “the Wild, Wild West!”
Let me preface this answer with the fact that I believe social media has expanded our ability to communicate, educate, inform, market, and even distinguish a person or business from their competitors with a single “point, shoot, and upload.” It has allowed old friends to catch up, families separated by miles to follow little Bobby’s soccer games, and even give someone a new job title: Influencer. When used for good, it has led to donating to those in need, warning others of potential danger, and it empowers us to strive for better. I have been guilty myself of posting the shameless, subjectively cute video of my own 16-month-old twin boys, or a filtered photo of a night out on the town with my beautiful wife, because… doesn’t everybody need to feel the way I do?
When it comes to plastic surgery, or any surgery for that matter, I still believe it is sacred. And although it is hard for me to stray away from that sentiment, some of my colleagues have made a joke of it! I have posted before and after photos, or an educational video on rhinoplasty, as I feel this is “dipping my feet into” the marketing sea of Instagram. However, when I have watched plastic surgeons don costumes, juggle implants, dance in the operating room, or pretend to coddle the excised skin of a patient as a baby, it makes me sick. What has happened to our profession? Where once a surgeon was held in high regard, now he or she becomes an entertainer? As the patient, calmly asleep under anesthesia, is laid bare before all to see? No, I do not believe that the oath, “first do no harm,” is being followed.
In all things plastic surgery, our governing body is usually seen as the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and the good news is, this topic was recently ruled upon to stratify what was educational, what was detrimental to the profession, and how to preserve the integrity of our specialty. A recent study out of Northwestern University Medical Center aimed to do just that. They offered several guidelines:
1. Ask your patient if is OK to post videos or photos of the patient’s surgery/procedure and obtain written consent to do so. The photos/videos must blur out any patient identifiers, such as tattoos, birthmarks, faces, etc., and they have the option to remove these photos/videos at any time.
2. Let the patient know they have the right to refuse – and it in no way will alter their results.
3. Uphold standards of professionalism as advocated by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons Code of Ethics. If any surgeon is unsure of what this means, then this entire article will be lost to you.
4. To avoid increased operative room times, consider hiring a designated videographer.
The answer to this question truly lies in what the individual surgeon believes. Not everyone has integrity, not everyone believes in the sacredness of surgery, not everyone believes that plastic surgery is more than a business. I, for one, will try to educate potential patients and showcase natural results on social media, with each patient’s permission. Otherwise, word of mouth will have to do.