Jeffrey Frentzen

Recently, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS) released its updated statistics on the aesthetic medicine field, and I don’t believe anyone in the field was surprised. The industry has felt the effects of recession, what with around 30% fewer invasive cosmetic procedures in 2009 versus 2008. However, the number of noninvasive procedures grew and almost 10 million cosmetic procedures were performed last year.

How did the mainstream media spin the ASAPS numbers? The closer a news organization “lives” to the health care area, the more reliable the reporting.

For example, the headline from Health Day reads, “Plastic Surgery Demand Drops 2 Percent from 2008 to 2009,” which is a reworking of the title of the ASAPS news report that was quoted widely in the media. The article highlights the report’s results in an evenhanded manner.

Over at The New York Times, however, an online article titled, “Spending Less on Plastic Surgery,” began with, “Facing tough economic times, more Americans are opting to live with small breasts, sagging eyelids, and paunchy stomachs.” To justify this perspective, the article said spending on plastic surgery dropped 20% to $10.5 billion, down from $13.2 billion spent in 2007 (a high water mark for the industry, by the way). Next, cosmetic surgical procedures since 2007 dropped by 30% and nonsurgical treatments fell by 13%.

A look at how these facts are revealed tells me that 2007 was a pretty good year overall and that 2009 was in the dumpster. However, by leaving out certain other figures, the article does not mention that the slowdown between 2007 and 2008 was severe, but the slowdown from 2008 to 2009 was much less severe.

Some of you may balk at my nitpicking, especially if you are still in red ink with your practice and find little comfort in any numbers these days. My point is it matters how news is presented.

Once The Times put its spin on the ASAPS report, there was a trickle-down effect and other organizations opted to follow the same or similar course of thought—from National Public Radio over to The Huffington Post. Some plastic surgeons have responded with their own news blasts with titles like, “Fix an Imperfection in 2009? So Did Over 10 Million Americans.”

The tendency of the news media to put a negative spin on events is part of its DNA, as is its tendency to also sensationalize events. This is usually met with an opposing force that tries to correct any serious misunderstandings or “galactic spin,” which is when regular spin goes careening off in the direction of Jupiter.


All of the foregoing was brought to you in order to broadcast a warning about some recent media spinning that is definitely bad for business; namely, companies, physicians, and their marketing representatives who insist upon playing down the issue of patient pain and postsurgical pain-related problems in cosmetic procedures.

On The Web!

See also “More Hype, Less Invasive,” by Anthony Youn, MD, in the January 2008 issue of PSP.

The number of press- and news-related material devoted to pushing procedures as “no pain, very little downtime” or “little pain, no downtime” has noticeably increased just in the past year.

This spin on pain management for aesthetic patients can become a problem for the large majority of plastic and cosmetic surgeons who go way out of their way to educate the patient on a daily basis about pain and pain management during and after procedures.

Using this type of spin, some firms in the aesthetic space have also gone after physicians who do not have the ability to sedate patients. This is in order to sell a new device or procedure and injection to expand the customer base during a down economy. Then the real problems begin—for the physician. For example, the new procedure hurts the patient, the expensive toy the physician bought does not perform as stated, some patients might suffer over-treatment complications, etc.

Media, the industry, and self-promoting surgeons should not try to make procedures—even noninvasive ones—sound like a picnic.