Managing Expectations: Achieving Desired Cosmetic Surgery Outcomes Safely
In the age of Instagram models and an undying quest to achieve the ‘perfect’ face, patients may be disappointed to know that cosmetic surgery cannot guarantee a cookie-cutter result. While the primary job of any medical professional is to keep their patient safe, plastic surgeons and cosmetic dermatologists face an additional pressure to properly manage expectations, balance desires, and deliver results. Fortunately, there are steps both aesthetic providers and patients can take to ensure the best outcome is safely achieved.
One of the most important factors in maintaining patient safety is understanding what a patient wants and establishing a realistic picture of what kind of results can be achieved with cosmetic procedure(s). While researching treatment options online is an important first step in patient education, relying too heavily on ultra-filtered before and afters on Instagram is a recipe for unrealistic expectations.
Jason D. Bloom, MD, a double board certified plastic surgeon and founder of Bloom Plastic Surgery in Bryn Mawr, PA, has seen the so-called ‘social media effect’ in his own practice — especially as it relates to rhinoplasty (i.e. nose jobs). “Social media and influencers have made people want ‘this nose,’” he says. “Patients begin to think that surgery is a robotic program where I can program what they want and it shows up on their face.”
In reality, no two patients or procedures are the same. “This is your anatomy, which I have no control over. This is not putting in coordinates,” Dr. Bloom explains. “But I can do my best to control. I am very conservative in regard to this, and I think patients seek me out for that reason. When doing rhinoplasty, I would rather under-promise and completely overdeliver.”
Rather than basing your expectations on pictures of celebrities or your favorite influencers, ask your provider to see before and after photos of their patients to better understand their aesthetic. Many plastic surgeons also work with computerized images that allow patients to get a sense of potential results before undergoing the procedure, and apps like the AEDITOR allow you to visualize your ideal aesthetic before you even arrive at the doctor’s office.
Whether you are interested in undergoing your first cosmetic procedure or are looking to revise the results of a previous surgery or treatment, your provider will always first consider the health and safety of the patient. Dr. Bloom often sees this with people who are seeking a revision after liposuction of the neck area. “The process can be aggressive, and taking all the fat off that area causes scarring in the skin,” he explains. “We know the levels of nerves, but the tissue planes make the anti-repeat that much higher.”
A board certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist (in the case of non-surgical cosmetic treatments) should be able to walk you through any potential risks involved. And, it should be noted, that providers may not perform a patient’s preferred procedure for any number of reasons.
Maintaining good communication with your plastic surgeon is imperative. It is recommended that patients consult with at least two providers before moving ahead with any cosmetic procedure or surgery, and many patients find that they end up choosing the physician who gives them the most time to ask questions and gather the information they need to feel comfortable moving forward.
It should come as no surprise then that plastic surgery consultations are the ideal time to communicate your aesthetic goals and desires to the provider and understand what they believe would be needed to help you safely achieve that. To make the conversation as fruitful as possible for everyone involved, consider asking the following questions:
1. How close to my desired result will the outcome likely be?
While before and after photos will help you understand a provider’s aesthetic, it doesn’t shed much light on your own personal results. Asking the surgeon to draw a diagram or create some kind of model or image (when possible) can help you see if the theoretical results are in line with what you were expecting. If they are not, you can discuss what other options may be open to you.
2. Is this procedure the safest way to achieve my desired result?
Your surgeon will be able to lay out and discuss any potential safety risks, complications, and/or side effects associated with the procedure you are considering, in addition to offering alternative treatment plans that may be suitable, too. Since there is some level of risk with literally every procedure performed (surgical and otherwise), it is also important to inquire about what safety protocols are in place should anything go wrong.
3. How often do you perform this procedure?
Dr. Bloom advises patients ask their surgeon this question to help them to establish whether or not you have found the right specialist for your procedure. “I am only a facial plastic surgeon. I am not inserting breast implants,” he explains. “I never want to take risks when it comes to my patients’ bodies and health. I have specialists working on every aspect of the surgery. There will always be a team of doctors making sure the patient is being taken care of to the fullest extent.” Asking how frequently a provider performs the procedure in question and looking at before and after photos will give you a sense of their level of expertise.
4. How long can I expect the recovery and results to last?
Managing expectations isn’t just about the final results. It is important for patients to understand the time commitment involved pre-op and post-op to ensure the safest and most effective recovery process. When it comes to results, be sure you inquire about how long you can expect to enjoy them. There can be a higher level of risk associated with revision or follow up surgery on certain parts of the body, and asking your surgeon how long results will last can give you insight into how likely it is that you will want to undergo additional procedures in the future.
Plastic surgeons and dermatologists are in the business of helping patients realize their ideal aesthetic, yet those desires should never come at the expense of safety. Consulting with a board certified provider will allow you to better understand the best treatment options for your specific concerns and ensure your expectations are managed and met throughout the process.