Study finds most Instagram marketing on cosmetic surgery is by non-board certified professionals

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A recent study conducted by the Northwestern University indicated that most of the aesthetic surgery service providers who advertise themselves on social media are not board certified, thereby putting the people who respond to these ads at risk.

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Social media has transformed itself into a leading platform for people who seek cosmetic surgery. The findings of the study suggest that young people, who often desire physical enhancements to their appearance for their social media channels like Snapchat and Instagram, are the most affected by these ads, as they are unable to identify the unqualified professionals.  

Providers -- ranging from physicians who are not licensed in plastic surgery to dentists, hair salon employees and barbers -- are doing procedures for which they do not have formal or extensive training.”

Robert Dorfman, the first author of the study, The Feinberg School of Medicine.

The list includes gynecologists and emergency medicine doctors as well as cosmetic surgeons, who are not necessarily the same as a board certified plastic surgeon. Therefore, proper awareness is very important for the patients, added Dorfman.

According to Clark Schierle, a plastic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine, these misleading social media advertisements are putting patients at risk; there are several recent reports indicating patient complications and casualties due to services performed by inexperienced providers, outside of their expertise.

In a previous study from the Northwestern University, Dr. John Kim reported that the number of post- panniculectomy complexities has increased by nearly 300 % when performed by non-plastic surgeons compared with board-certified plastic surgeons.

The study is the first of its kind to analyze various kinds of aesthetic service providers promoting body-contouring procedures like facial surgery, breast augmentation, gluteal buttocks augmentation and liposuction on Instagram. The type of plastic surgery content posted and hashtags used were also identified.

The researchers investigated 21 Instagram hashtags that are associated with plastic surgery. A total of 189 posts (top 9 posts related with each hashtag) were qualitatively evaluated using content analysis and among those 163 posts met required criteria.

The post with the most engagement is shown at the top of the feed, which has been ranked by Instagram’s proprietary algorithm, while the researchers excluded irrelevant and duplicate posts.

As per the findings of the study, only 17.8% of the top posts were by the plastic surgeons that were eligible for ASAPS memberships; whereas 26.4% posts were by non-eligible physicians consisting of otolaryngologists, gynecologists, dermatologists, family medicine physicians, general surgeons, and an emergency medicine physician.

All the physicians who were trained for non-plastic surgery promoted themselves as cosmetic surgeons. Also, the top 9 posts (5.5 %) were by non-physicians like dentists, spas and a hair salon.

Most of the posts (67.1%) included self-promotional content as opposed to educational posts (32.9%). It was also found that in comparison with non-plastic surgeons, educational content were more likely to be posted by board certified plastic surgeons on Instagram (38.1 % vs 62.1 %).

Dr. Schierle said that it is critical to recognize the ecosystem of online platforms as people depend more on social media to choose their provider. It is also vital for board-certified plastic surgeons to use social media to educate people on the risks of surgery.

Getting educational content noticed on social media platforms is a major challenge for plastic surgeons. To reach customers online, it’s important to find a balance between sophisticated terminology and terms that are excessively colloquial. To have a positive impact on people without going below the ethical standards, one should understand and use natural language that the general public uses.

A plastic surgeon is certified by the board only if they complete six years of surgical training with a minimum of three years of experience in plastic surgery. However, a general practitioner (general surgeon, gynecologist, dermatologist, family physician or internist) who refers herself/himself as a cosmetic surgeon may have much less training, they might have undergone training on a one-year cosmetic surgery fellowship or maybe even just few short weekend courses on topics ranging from liposuction to breast implants.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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