Patients frequently seek general information regarding plastic surgery procedures prior to seeking formal consultation. There are many sources for information about plastic surgery procedures. Probably the most commonly accessed source is websites of plastic surgeons. Qualified plastic surgeons have extensive information on websites to assist patients seeking information on procedures. Because every patient is unique, and goals vary from patient to patient, most information regarding procedures is general in nature. In reviewing plastic surgery websites, patients find that the general information is mostly consistent from website to website. Beyond general information, some websites go deeper into detail, analyzing specific anatomy and the options for improving the appearance. There is no “cookbook” for plastic surgery, meaning no single procedure is appropriate for every single patient. As a result, plastic surgery procedures may vary from what is described on a website and may be different altogether. This emphasizes the importance of the in-person consultation with a qualified plastic surgeon.
It is very helpful if the patient seeking a plastic surgery procedure has made an effort to learn the basics of the procedure. This would include the indications, alternatives, risks, complications, limitations, and possible benefits. Plastic surgery is an extremely complex area of medicine, and some effort is required on the part of the patient to become “informed.” So, the education process to become “informed” is a shared responsibility of the plastic surgeon and the patient. Because patients have different educational experiences, the time invested in the process will vary from patient to patient. Because the plastic surgery procedures of note are elective, the patient can take as much time as necessary to understand the procedure(s). It does take some time to absorb and assimilate information on plastic surgery procedures, so some time is always allowed between the initial consultation and the procedure. In addition to allowing time for a decision, this also allows patients the opportunity to discuss the procedures with family members, if so desired.
The Most Valuable Source of Information: Peer-Reviewed Studies
Gathering information from many sources is generally helpful, but it is very important to recognize the validity and utility of different sources of information. There are two basic categories of information that patients can obtain when considering a plastic surgery procedure. While the categories and types of information are much more complicated than this, information can fall into two general categories. The first, most dependable, most consistent, and sometimes the most difficult information to find and interpret by the patient is peer reviewed scientific publications. The best peer-reviewed information comes from controlled studies (research) that are reviewed and validated in a rigorous formal process. While this type of information is considered the most accurate, it is not infallible, and it still can be flawed (inaccurate). Peer-reviewed information should always be the starting point (reference point) for guidance in clinical care. This information is provided to the patient primarily by the plastic surgeon who reviews the scientific literature and makes it more understandable to the lay public.
The Second Most Valuable Source of Information: Observational Evidence
The second type of general information is that of opinion. The opinion type of information, also called anecdotal information, is based on personal observation. While it still may be considered “scientific” when published, it generally represents a lower level of accuracy and dependability. In the case of the plastic surgeon, the ever-advancing scientific literature is balanced with personal observation and experience. During the consultation, it is helpful to the patient to delineate between the information that is broadly accepted scientific literature, and that which is the opinion of the plastic surgeon. In some circumstances, the opinion of the plastic surgeon may vary from the scientific literature when that literature is based on opinion.
The Third Most Valuable Source of Information: Friends and Family
Which leads to the topic of this blog: “My friend told me that…” More information, if accurate, is always better. When a patient gets information from a friend, it is essentially a report of a personal experience. Patients should be well-informed (from a lay person’s perspective) before making any decisions regarding plastic surgery. However, a patient cannot expect to possess the level of expertise attained by a plastic surgeon after years of training. Without the decade of training experienced by the qualified plastic surgeon, a patient’s experience is anecdotal. While the experience a friend has had is sometimes helpful, it should not be considered a primary source of information from which to make clinical decisions, nor should it be used to choose a “cookie cutter” approach to plastic surgery. All patients are different, and therefore require different solutions, so any preconceived idea of a particular procedure before evaluation and discussion with a qualified plastic surgeon is less than ideal.
Again, information from a patient about his/her experience may be helpful, but it should be kept in perspective and considered as only one small piece of the information-gathering process.
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