The commodization and overzealous marketing of plastic surgery procedures may compromise patient safety, according to Eric Swanson, MD, a plastic surgeon in Leawood, Kansas.

Without naming any names, the so-called “corporate medicine model” may include promotion of a trademarked procedure or device, national advertising that promises stunning results, and claims of innovation, superiority, and improved safety.

But “plastic surgery should not be treated as a commodity, because it isn’t one,” Swanson writes. “Unlike most commercial products, the service is not interchangeable—patients are dissimilar, surgeons are unique in their capabilities, and techniques are individualized.”

He continues: “trademarked labels and gadgets will come and go. Only a few will prove to be genuine advancements, and seldom will they be more important than the surgeon’s expertise. Patient safety and education should always take precedence over any business concern.”

Swanson took this issue on in an article the September/October issue of Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

Principles such as patient expectations, avoidance of overselling, truthful advertising, informing patients about complications, presenting alternatives, and insisting on proper training and accredited facilities may sometimes be at odds with corporate priorities. For example, in the corporate medicine model, the recommendation for surgery may come before patients meet their doctor. “Further, by turning patients into ‘clients’ and allowing non-physician executives to make decisions that affect patient care, the model negatively impacts the trusted patient-physician relationship,” he writes.

“Plastic surgeons need to know that by affiliating with a corporation, they are also endorsing its business practices. As physicians and members of professional societies, they need to be sure that these practices remain consistent with ethical medical care.”

In an editorial accompanying the article, Foad Nahai, MD, editor-in-chief of Aesthetic Surgery Journal, writes that, “There is nothing inherently wrong with adopting a business model for managing one’s practice, and every practice must ultimately be profitable in order to continue to exist. But we must continue to engage the public in an educational dialogue about plastic surgery training and patient safety, and encourage them to view sensational claims with appropriate suspicion.”

What’s more, “We can also encourage the device and drug manufacturing companies with which we have relationships to engage in responsible direct-to-patient advertising that doesn’t damage the essential doctor-patient relationship. Our goal should be to help steer patients in the right direction so that they do not become unwitting victims of plastic surgery’s commercialization.”