Surgeon experience and a personal recommendation from a doctor or friend are the most influential factors for patients who are choosing a plastic surgeon, according to new research in the January issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery®.

Using a conjoint analysis, researchers assessed factors affecting choice of surgeons in a group of 150 Dutch patients expressing an interest in cosmetic plastic surgery. Patients were presented with 18 different scenarios to rank their preferences in terms of cost, travel time, surgeon experience, clinic size, method of referral, and online presentation.

Overall, patients rated surgeon experience as the most influential attribute, with an importance of about 36%. Surgeons with at least 10 years’ experience were preferred over less-experienced surgeons, the study showed.

Method of referral was the next-strongest factor, with an importance of 21.5%. By contrast, referrals by TV, radio, magazine, and Internet forums had a negative effect.

Travel time had an importance of 14%, with patients preferring travel times of less than 1 hour. The cost of the procedure had an importance of 13%. Cost preferences are highly influenced by socioeconomic levels, but patients remain price-sensitive.

Although patients preferred a more extensive online presentation, this factor had an overall importance of less than about 9%. Clinic size was the least important attribute—just 6%—with local clinics preferred over nationwide clinics.

“The most preferred clinic would be with a specialist that has over 10 years of experience, is recommended by the general practitioner, costs 15 percent less than average, with a travel time between 0 and 30 minutes, is a local clinic, and has an extensive online presentation,” study authors conclude.

The researchers acknowledge some limitations of their conjoint analysis technique, including the limited number of scenarios explored. Other factors may be important in other areas—for example, all plastic surgeons in the Netherlands are board-certified, which is not necessarily the case in the United States and other countries.

Watch a video about the new findings here.