Should you trust online reviews about surgeons?

Woman on her computer

Dr Scott Turner, Specialist Plastic Surgeon and Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons Board member said it is important for patients looking to undergo cosmetic surgery to do their research.

It’s not only curiosity that should help drive a patient’s quest for knowledge when they are learning the ins and outs of what to expect when it comes to cosmetic surgery.  It’s essential for their safety that they know as much as they can about not only the procedure (including any risks and length of recovery etc.) but also, and perhaps most importantly, they should know who is going to perform the procedure.  This includes a detailed knowledge of the training and registration the doctor holds to ensure they have the right skills and experience to provide a result that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Where patients go for information

Traditionally, patients would seek advice from their friends, family and the trusted local GP in choosing the right surgeon.  However, with the rise of the internet and social media, there are now numerous online review sites and forums which now form an increasingly important part of the decision process in selecting the right surgeon.  With the quick and easy access to this vast information, it has empowered many people to make more accurate and well-informed decisions for themselves.

While the value of these sites is undisputed in educating patients, we need to highlight that like all things on the internet they are not always factual.  Not everything that you read online is genuine feedback based on actual real patients’ experiences.

What should you look out for?

  • Many cosmetic clinics are known to post fake reviews, both positive and negative (competitor clinic profiles) to boost their business.  Posting fake reviews has become increasingly more common with online cosmetic forum sites with clinics paying staff/marketing agencies to pretend to be actual patients promoting a particular doctor while discrediting other clinics/surgeons.
  • Some negative reviews are from real patients who did not receive a result that met their expectation (who actually had a very good surgical outcome but had unrealistic expectations) and so write numerous negative reviews to punish their surgeon.
  • While most negative reviews are from real patients that may have experienced a real medical complication due to a known risk of the procedure.  It is important to highlight that these complications can occur to all surgeons who perform this procedure and nearly all Specialist Plastic Surgeons will have some negative reviews online.  It’s well documented that people are much more likely to write a review based on an unfavourable outcome than a positive result.

How these issues are being combatted

In an attempt to minimise the effects of these issues, the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) banned testimonials on all doctors’ websites from 2010.  While this potentially stops clinics publishing fake and misleading patients’ reviews, it has created numerous independent review websites that are highly unregulated with most not even located in Australia.

How to ensure you are in safe hands

The best place to start your cosmetic journey is on the AHPRA website.  Here you can check if your doctor has a current registration and if they have a specialist qualification.  Only doctors who have been through the rigorous training program of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) are entitled to use terms such as Specialist Plastic Surgeon, like all members of ASAPS.  It’s also important to note that RACS is the only accredited trainer of surgeons in Australia and New Zealand.



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