- Study: Only 17.8% of plastic surgeons on Instagram in the US and Canada are board-certified
- Experts offer tips on how to safely shop for a plastic surgeon
Yet picking your next plastic surgeon on Instagram can bring some serious health risks if that surgeon is not board-certified, according to a pilot study published Wednesday in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.
Only 17.8% of plastic surgery-related Instagram posts in the United States and Canada might come from board-certified plastic surgeons, according to the study, which analyzed posts uploaded on a single day in January.
The majority of the posts were from physicians not trained in plastic surgery or professionals who were not even licensed physicians, such as dermatologists, dentists or spa aestheticians, said senior study author Dr. Clark Schierle, a board-certified Northwestern Medicine plastic surgeon and faculty member at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“Finding your surgeon on Instagram isn’t necessarily a problem,” Schierle said, adding that his own practice has accounts on Instagram and other social media sites.
Rather, a public health problem can arise when non-certified professionals market invasive procedures on the social media app and prospective patients may not ensure that the person behind the marketing is board-certified for that surgery, he said.
“We’ve all heard these headlines in recent years of some terrible things that have happened in association with surgery that was not being done in the safest possible manner,” Schierle said.
‘Social media takes it to yet another level’
The new study involved more than 1 million Instagram posts that were uploaded January 9. Each included at least one of 21 plastic surgery-related hashtags such as #plasticsurgery, #plasticsurgeon, #breastlift or #nosejob.
Among the hashtags in the study, “the use of colloquial or layperson terminology for cosmetic surgical procedures seems to be much more popular than the use of technical terminology,” Schierle said, such as #tummytuck over #abdominoplasty.
The researchers analyzed the Instagram posts to find the top nine associated with each of the 21 hashtags, and they recorded data on who did the posting, referring to the Instagram profile associated with each post.
“The Instagram app itself automatically categorizes the top nine posts. Whenever you do a given search, the first nine results that show up are identified as top posts,” Schierle said. “The top nine are based on how many followers the person has and how many likes the particular post has.”
The researchers wrote that the online presence of surgeons who are not board-certified in plastic and reconstructive surgery in the US and Canada often comes at the expense of patient safety and dangerous outcomes.
Globally, the majority of the top posts for each hashtag came from surgeons outside the United States, including Turkey, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and the United Arab Emirates, the researchers found. However, those posts were not analyzed to determine the poster’s board certification status.
Plastic surgeons have long warned against traveling internationally for unsafe plastic surgeries, and Schierle said he has corrected some botched procedures from overseas among his own patients. Now, however, consumers should be warned of unsafe procedures being promoted on social media, he said.
“Social media takes it to yet another level in terms of the impact that people can have and how rapidly they’re able to kind of establish themselves as something that they may or may not actually be,” Schierle said.
Still, the new study comes with limitations, including that it involved only one day’s worth of Instagram data — all the posts were from January 9 — and that the data were pulled from a single social media platform.
The researchers plan to conduct followup studies over a longer time period and across an array of social media platforms, including Snapchat, Schierle said.
“More data need to be collected in terms of seasonality, how cyclical the data are, as well as the overall trend,” he said. All in all, the study reveals that the underrepresentation of board-certified plastic surgeons among the top posts on Instagram should be something for potential patients to be aware of, he said.
Tips for finding a plastic surgeon, and questions to ask
“Instagram has become a convenient way for patients to see a surgeon’s work and get a sense of the types of procedures being performed,” Jones said.
“It is quickly becoming a go-to source for millennials,” he added. “In today’s society, patients want to get to know the surgeon before ever stepping foot into the office.”