According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), an estimated 11.7 million Americans underwent some form of aesthetic surgery in 2007 alone.

As more advanced technology and safer techniques are being implemented in practices, Americans are more willing to go under the knife.

Patients interested in an aesthetic surgery procedure are not only considering it important that they find a surgeon who specializes in the particular procedure, they are also becoming interested in board certification.

With more than 150 self-designated boards to choose from, certification can be very confusing to consumers searching for their surgeon’s certification on the Internet.

Physicians are not necessarily required to disclose their credentials in their advertising materials. Concurrently, many patients are not aware that any physician can publicly claim to be a “plastic surgeon” even if they have been specifically trained in a nonsurgical specialty.

In short, all physicians with a medical license can refer to themselves as surgeons whether or not they’ve had formal training in surgery.

We know that some physicians who haven’t received surgery training and aren’t board certified may perform operations in their offices, but they may not have the privileges to do so at an accredited hospital.

Most patients are not aware of this.


This relationship has changed drastically in the last couple of decades, and all indications are that it will continue to change.

As patients grow more informed about healthy living in general—using in large part information they gathered via the Internet—they are no longer dependent upon their physicians to provide the medical information they want.

In addition, physicians’ schedules have become increasingly hectic; hence, their time is more valuable.

In a perfect world, Internet information-seekers would be the best-educated candidates for your practice.

However, this is not necessarily the case in aesthetic surgery, where the initial 1-hour consultation can include the correction of any misinformation the patient has garnered online about you and your practice.

First and foremost is board certification. When a physician is board certified, it means that he or she has received certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) Member Board.

Ten Questions Patients Should Ask

  • Does the surgeon have a valid license to practice medicine?
  • Is the surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery?
  • Does the surgeon participate in an ongoing education program?
  • How long has the surgeon been performing this particular procedure?
  • Does the surgeon have hospital privileges to perform the procedure?
  • Will the surgeon let prospective customers speak with patients who have had the procedure done?
  • How many times has the surgeon performed this operation?
  • Where will the surgery be conducted?
  • Is the facility an accredited hospital or an outpatient surgical center?
  • What is the procedure should complications arise after the surgery?

Physicians who receive certification commit themselves to a future of continuous learning via board certification and ABMS Maintenance of Certification. The American Board of Plastic Surgery is one of the 24 specialties recognized by the ABMS.

A distinguishing factor between those who are board certified and those who are board certified by one of the more than 150 self-designated boards is the commitment to take part in ongoing continuing education through the American Society of Plastic Surgery (ASPS) or the ASAPS.

If you are board certified, you are expected to stay current on the medical sciences and the technological advances that are taking place within your specialty.

In addition, you should consider staying abreast of the best practices in patient safety to maintain a safe environment for your patients.


After prospective patients decide the time is right for following through on that aesthetic procedure they’ve always wanted, they usually dig around on the Internet first to learn about it. They scan news releases, view before-and-after photos, and much more—including learning about the qualifications of various plastic surgeons.

You can have some control over what they read. As part of that process, your prospective patients should know about board certification as they search the Internet.


The more you can do as a practice to broaden your Web site visitors’ awareness that you are associated with reputable organizations, the better.

These organizations have specific guidelines to follow when using logos and language to broaden consumer awareness about board certification. Failure to adhere to the symbol guidelines may seriously affect a physician’s membership standing (or finalization of the membership process for a Candidate for Membership).

Various Web destinations—”find-a-physician”-type directory sites—supply prospective patients with information regarding surgeons in their area.

Generally speaking, there are two types of directories:

  1. Directories that allow visitors to search by the procedure they are interested in; and,
  2. Directories that allow visitors to search for surgeons in their local area.

Some directories offer exclusivity by allowing the participation of only a limited number of physicians.

See also “The Keys To Networking on the Internet” by Lesley Ranft in the August 2006 issue of PSP.

In addition, there are directories that limit their offerings to those certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, such as A Board Certified Plastic Surgeon Resource (

This site directs prospective patients to a list of board-certified plastic surgeons in their local area and provides up-to-date news and information on aesthetic surgery procedures.

On your practice’s Web site, you can add links to reputable directory sites in order to help identify your practice as a comprehensive resource. Consider adding links to the following Web sites:

  •—The American Society of Plastic Surgeons site describes how consumers can make the right choices regarding surgery, and contains news about the latest medical advances. It also allows patients to share stories about their surgical experiences.
  •—The American Board of Medical Specialties site is where prospective patients can find out more about board certification.
  •—The ASAPS site enables consumers to post questions to board-certified surgeons, and gives a general overview of different types of aesthetic surgery procedures.
  •—The American Board of Plastic Surgery site promotes safe and ethical plastic surgery to the public and offers a directory of board-certified practitioners.


Patients should select informational sites carefully, and you can help them by supplying links to the appropriate sites because not all Web sites are as credible as they may appear. Add this to the more than 100 million people who search the Internet for health care information, and it becomes even more important for surgeons to correctly educate consumers in person and via their Web sites.

Mario Urrutia is president and partner at eVolve Medical Group, Encinatas, Calif, and has been an Internet strategist in aesthetic surgery for more than 10 years. eVolve Medical Group helps board-certified plastic surgeons to develop online directories, Web sites, search engine optimization strategies, and newsletters. He can be reached via