Are you a member of the ASPS? And why do I care?
This is very important, because your physician has to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency and skill in a number of areas to qualify. There are many doctors marketing themselves as “cosmetic surgeons” who are not even plastic surgeons and do not meet the requirements for membership of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The ASPS is the governing body for plastic and reconstructive surgeons. To become a member, your plastic surgeon must be board certified and have at least six years of surgical training and experience, with at least three years in plastic surgery. They are required to adhere to a strict code of ethics and operate only in accredited medical facilities. Additionally, they participate in advanced training and continuing education.
Are you board certified? And in what field?
There are doctors marketing themselves as “cosmetic surgeons” who may have little or no formal training in plastic surgery. Board certification guarantees that a surgeon has trained in and is deemed qualified to perform plastic surgery.
There are several different paths to become a plastic surgeon, and most involve training in general surgery or ENT for at least five years. According to the website of the American Board of Plastic Surgery, to be board certified by the ABPS, your doctor must have graduated from an accredited medical school and has completed at least five years of additional training as a resident surgeon in a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Medical Education or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. This includes a minimum of five years of residency training in all areas of surgery, including at least two years devoted entirely to plastic surgery. Certification is a voluntary process a surgeon seeks after this training. To become certified, the doctor then must pass comprehensive written and oral exams.
You can confirm your doctor’s certification by visiting the website for the American Board of Medical Specialties, or www.abms.org.
Where do you perform your procedures? (In the office? An accredited surgery center? A hospital?)
You should understand what kinds of amenities/ resources are available when you are having any kind of medical procedure. You need to understand if and how your physician is equipped to handle a complication; in the rare case that one arises.
Do you have privileges at an accredited emergency room?
Again, this will help you understand whether your physician is qualified to treat you. Members of the American Society of Plastic Surgery are required to operate only in accredited facilities. Also, this indicates that a surgeon has been credentialed to perform surgery at an accredited hospital facility. Should major complications arise, admission to the hospital may be necessary.
Have you performed this procedure before?
Every patient and each procedure is unique; however it is important to understand whether your surgeon has experience in your area of need.
Will I see you again after the surgery? Where? When?
These are questions you should ask your doctor at your first appointment. It will give you some insight into how the office works and help set expectations before you’re in a postoperative haze. As always, communication between the patient and the doctor is critical, and close follow up may be necessary for your care. Keep in mind that some minor procedures may not require immediate or close follow up as long as no complications arise after surgery.
What if I need help after hours?
This is something to understand before you have a medical procedure. If you have questions, will you be able to get an answer after hours, or will you have to wait until the next day (or head to the emergency room in an extreme situation)? Some physicians may have a nurse or another physician answer calls after hours. Either way, it is important to know that a qualified person may be the one responding to your call in the middle of the night.
What are the risks associated with this procedure?
Any elective procedure has risks and benefits associated with it. It’s important to understand potential risks at the outset so that you can be prepared in the rare event that something goes wrong. You might want to determine ahead of time how your insurance company handles hospital admissions after an elective procedure, and determine how much time you may take off from work. As always, it’s up to you to determine whether the potential benefits (i.e. a more beautiful you!) outweigh the risks, and it is your surgeon’s responsibility to help you understand these things. But, keep in mind that it is not the surgeon’s responsibility to make decisions for you, but to give you all the information you need to make an informed decision.
Who will be assisting you in this procedure?
Does your doctor have a regular team? Who are they? How long have they worked together? Surgeons may have physician assistants, surgical assistants, or nobody assisting them in the operating room. Sometimes, the assistants may require separate billing that you should keep in mind. This information should be presented to you before your surgery.
Do you have any before and after pictures of patients who have received this procedure?
Before and after pictures are very helpful in setting realistic expectations. Don’t be shy about asking to see them, and definitely ask tons of questions! Again, communication between the doctor and the patient is always key.