In the past few years, the media has gone “beyond the norm” in the way it has introduced aesthetic surgery to consumers. The media’s reporting on practices and procedures has pushed a mostly negative stereotype of aesthetic medicine.
Therefore, it may be difficult to get a clear message in front of the public or fend off the resulting boost from media exposure. This can be particularly problematic when the attention is negative, provides information about technology or products that are not in the practice, or is misleading to the patient.
It is critical for you to understand the effective uses of media in a time of media “overload.”
“Media awareness has brought many patients into plastic surgery practices and has accelerated the education curve for people interested in plastic surgery,” says Peter Fodor, MD, FACS, president-elect of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “However, the media has sold unrealistic expectations about plastic surgery, and many patients are surprised about the truth behind plastic surgery when they arrive at the office.”
It is appropriate, in the current media-overload environment, to explore methods practices can use to combat unrealistic expectations that are fostered by a media that is largely unskilled in reporting on aesthetic medicine. This includes repercussions from negative press appearances or media reports that are otherwise potentially damaging to the plastic surgeon.
As well, there are strategies to get the media to look at you and your practice in a positive light, and bring about a positive interest of the media in aesthetic surgery, which in turn can convey accurate information about aesthetic medicine to the public.
THE RESHAPED CONSULTATION
The media has reshaped the traditional plastic surgery consultation. Simultaneously, aesthetic surgery products and technologies are being developed at rapid speed. Thus, it is impossible for plastic surgeons today to be fully educated about every new piece of technology or product.
Media exposure puts detailed information about new procedures and technologies in front of prospective clients before they have been time tested.
As a result, plastic surgeons must spend much more time with patient concerns than ever before. Most importantly, consultations still focus on patient needs, as well as risks and benefits that are associated with appropriate procedures. In fact, some plastic surgeons have written papers elaborating upon the message that patients acquire via the press, and then distribute those papers to patients in an attempt to improve communication.
“I have found that patients expect quality, and writing papers that reflect on specific topics leverages the quality that I can provide to patients,” says Andrew Cohen, MD, FACS, a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles.
“Patients may have the desire for the latest and greatest. Yet, the focus of informed consent is always on the patients’ needs, an analysis of risks and benefits, true art and science, not the technology behind the procedure,” says Steven Svehlak, MD, FACS, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“Patients today are very specific about their goals and demands,” notes Daniel Yamini, MD, FACS, of Beverly Hills. “There is a greater sense of urgency among patients because of the media. Yet, there is no clearinghouse available for plastic surgeons to compare the safety and effectiveness of new products and technology. This, in turn, makes it difficult to dispel the aura of legitimacy many new technologies or products receive simply through media exposure.”
Plastic surgeons may find it helpful to review the history of the technology or product with inquiring patients. You may have to phone the manufacturer about a product you do not have in the practice, and you may have to ask the manufacturer to send data that might correct any misleading information that a patient has interpreted from media reports. In addition, you may want to refer the patient to a medical society Web site to receive a third-party point of view.
Despite your at times necessary moves to counter the misinformation broadcast by the media, you must still be willing to present the correct information to not only your confused patients but your local—or, occasionally, national—press corps.
It is advantageous for you to understand the fundamentals of news. Traditionally, the three types of reports that are considered newsworthy are, as follows:
Trade and financial reports—Focus on a specific aesthetic surgery outlook, focal point, or strategy. These types of stories may involve key opinion leaders, new practices, and/or physicians.
Human interest reports—Their focus is on human interest in a specific demographic segment, such as patients who have made a significant improvement in their body’s appearance because of their physician and due to a product or technology. These stories may involve one or more physicians, several patients, and, perhaps, a third-party representative or key opinion leader.
Specialty-specific reports—Relevant trade, specialty, or new products and technologies. These stories may include a physician, a key opinion leader, one or more patients, and, perhaps, a third-party representative.
In theory, the goal of the press is founded upon credibility, is not promotional in nature, and identifies news-worthiness via professionally written materials that quote a variety of credible individuals. In practice, journalists are not trained in medical issues—there is a wholly different discipline for medical reporting. Therefore, in medical matters, reporters must rely on the information provided to them to make their decisions about what qualifies as news and what does not.
Some media outlets follow guidelines and protocols that are quite rigid and professional. Some outlets are very lax in this regard.
“There is an inherent conflict between news and good surgery,” explains David Rapaport, MD, FACS, a plastic surgeon practicing in New York City. “Surgery is about repetition, tried-and-true credibility, not a newly launched product. Hype phenomena embraced by the media can become a disadvantage to the plastic surgeon.”
So how can plastic surgeons manage the results that the media has energized?
In response, perhaps it is wise to place the burden back on the media and present information to patients in press form within your practice.
Highly coordinated press efforts can lend credibility to your practice, provide educational messages, and are a demonstration of good will. In addition, a practice’s willingness to understand press requirements and meet deadlines is highly desirable for the press and patients alike.
Prepared materials, such as physician biographies, scripts, statistics, before-and-after photos, patient testimonials, and third-party support (in the form of quotes located in the material), are very appealing. These tools help people quickly determine credibility to support your point of view.
In fact, you will benefit from knowing how the press and the public like to receive information (in the form of press releases, letters to the editor, letters of endorsement, and opinion editorial articles).
Preparing press materials can be useful to help educate patients, manage expectations, and help the media offer well-rounded information to the public—as long as these materials are not promotional pieces.
Some physicians can be blinded by their desire to promote their practice and services in a blatantly promotional manner—this may have the effect of turning the press and the public against them.
When communicating with patients, the following tips may be helpful:
- Express concise statements with fairness and objectivity.
- Support statements with examples or statistics.
- When asked a “loaded” question, take a moment to formulate an answer, restate the objective, and support the objective with an example or statistic that relates to the question.
- When you don’t know the answer, let the patient know that you will investigate the answer and respond to them.
- When asked a question that is negative, don’t repeat the question.
- Professionally and tactfully correct any possible errors.
- Review the history of any technology the patient asks about, and investigate alternative technology that may be more appropriate.
- Analyze the specific risks that relate to the patient.
- Deliver the message in a humble tone in order to facilitate open communication.
- Invite questions about uncertain details, which will better serve and be appreciated by the patient.
- Distribute materials about your practice.
Some physicians are ego-driven and unwilling (or unable) to understand the differences between promotional, “fluff” news reports and truly informational news/press releases. This sort should forget about promoting themselves and hire talent to perform the information-gathering and writing functions, lest they end up looking arrogant and self-absorbed to the public.
The final version of your materials can be presented to patients and delivered to press corps. The message in the materials may be new information, a response to a previous media appearance, or a presentation of an alternative to a specific product or technology that was announced by the media.
Should the media publish your report, reprints can be used for mailings to patients, referring physicians, and key specialty organization members. The basic ingredients are as follows:
Before-and-after photos. For any press relating to an aesthetic medical procedure, standard before-and-after photos are important. These may include photos of results from alternative procedures that can provide similar results for specific types of patients. In an ideal world, each before-and-after photo that is gathered for commercial or public purposes should be accompanied by a corresponding patient testimonial and a hold-harmless agreement.
Patient testimonials. These take the form of quotes that are crucial for consumer-oriented news stories relating to aesthetic medical procedures. They can also be part of a formal package that is presented to patients. Patient quotes can be inserted into press releases so that press corps can establish credibility in the information you supply. Testimonials can list the reasons why the patient selected the procedure, the benefits of the procedure, and why they believe that others can benefit from the procedure.
Hold-harmless agreements. Patients must sign a hold-harmless agreement (or release) before you can use patient quotes or pictures for any legitimate commercial purpose. It is advised to keep the agreement, associated photo(s), and testimonials together in one place, to ensure easy access should the need arise.
Physician biographies. A biography of up to 400 words—denoting credentials, training, education, membership affiliation, honors, awards, and practice focus (outlining specific areas on which the physician is qualified to comment)—is important to include in a press folder.
Third-party support. This includes securing the support of an industry analyst or key opinion leader (in the form of a quote or letter of endorsement that supports the physician’s point of view on a topic), a representative of the technology or manufacturing company, or statistics demonstrating the issue and resolution that you are reflecting upon.
Reprints. Articles you have written or published that relate to your specialty can be beneficial to patients, and can be included in press submissions.
Information forms. Educational brochures can be helpful, but points of view that are critical for credibility may be best presented in the form of a press release, press kit, letter to the editor, opinion-based editorial article, or letter of endorsement.
THE PRESS RELEASE MESSAGE
As Anthony Youn, MD, a plastic surgeon in Detroit, explains to his patients, “TV shows are not typically scripted by doctors concerned about education. They are scripted by writers that have the goal to attract and entertain. In fact, the information is in ‘sound byte’ text, making it difficult to fully educate a listener or viewer.”
An alternative to having a script you read is a press release crafted by your practice or a public relations representative. In addition to defining a clear and concise message, press releases may be used to respond to a specific recent media appearance or may present other current, newsworthy information.
Messages for television, radio, and print should communicate five essentials: the proverbial who, what, when, where, and why.
All messages should capture the attention of a specific demographic or event; and contain the reasons why the message is of strong appeal, a recap, a physician biography, and contact information (including Web site and e-mail addresses).
Nonpromotional material is critical for press releases. Each press release should contain quotes by at least three people, including you, a patient and, perhaps, a third-party representative or opinion-maker.
Newspaper or Web site letters to the editor can be extremely effective in endorsing or contesting a point of view that has been expressed through a media outlet. In this letter, it is important that you present some factual information to support your opinion. Write a brief letter —newspapers routinely discard lengthy diatribes.
Opinion articles can raise public awareness about medical concerns and may impact the point of view of policymakers within the medical community. You should stay within 700 to 800 words. Define the issue and your solution, and write in clear, concise language using a minimum of technical terms. Opinion pieces should comment on events of the day or past week.
A letter of endorsement expands on the patient testimonial, but includes a stronger expression of differential information than what patients might read prior to surgery. Letters of endorsement are written by elected public officials, medical professionals, and celebrities.
Press kits provide a variety of materials that may be presented to patients or to the media for publication, airing, or informational use. They can be distributed at patient seminars and other gatherings where members of the press may be present.
Press kits are usually composed of some or all of the following materials:
See also “The Seven Deadly Media Sins” by Angela O’Mara in the July 2007 issue of PSP.
- Cover letter;
- Press release(s), opinion pieces, and/or a letter to the editor;
- Relevant brochures and “fast facts”;
- Letters of endorsement;
- Article reprints, such as published trade pieces;
- Before-and-after photos accompanied by patient testimonials;
- A physician biography; and,
- Your business card.
The outcome of your media exposure can be orchestrated—somewhat. News reporters don’t usually understand medical issues, and you can educate both the public and the media by making yourself accessible and willing to talk to reporters.
By now, consumers have been educated to investigate procedures thoroughly and can be better served by the good will of practices that take time to help streamline communication.
In the end, the press can be a clearinghouse for information, but they need the support of many parties to provide the best outcome for patients.
Lesley Ranft is a contributing writer for PSP. For additional information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.