by Elana Pruitt © 2006-2009
Visiting a plastic surgeon for the first time should mean more than asking a few questions. While the initial consultation is, no doubt, a significant part of the plastic surgery experience, how you prepare for that first meeting is also a determining factor in its success.
The initial consultation is a private time between patient and doctor - an hour or two that commonly involves questions for the physician, looking at before-and-after photographs of a procedure you're considering, and possibly viewing computer imaging that can personalize the changes your body may go through. This moment is an intimate gathering; a perfect time to discuss your surgical options associated with a specific procedure, and to find the right type of doctor that you can trust.
Become An Informed Plastic Surgery Patient
This calls for researching the surgeon, the surgery, and everything-else-in-between prior to making your appointment for an initial consultation. "I find that the people who know more - the smoother the post-operative course goes for them," says Miami plastic surgeon Leonard M. Hochstein, M.D., mentioning that a patient should visit four to five doctors before deciding on the right one.
"When the patient comes to the consultation with a focused and structured agenda, the doctor's time is used well, not wasted," writes cosmetic surgeon Robert Kotler, M.D., F.A.C.S., of Beverly Hills in his latest book, "The Essential Cosmetic Surgery Companion: Don't Consult A Cosmetic Surgeon Without This Book!" (2005). Not only is your time just as valuable as the doctor's - so is your money. Because some plastic surgeons charge a fee for the initial consultation, patients should be wise when calling to make an appointment for their first visit with a doctor. Asking intelligent questions during an over-the-phone interview with an office manager may not only save you time and money, but will put you in control. Taking matters into your own hands by educating yourself about a practice beforehand may ultimately protect your health in the end. Dr. Kotler discusses the importance of this step in a chapter titled, "The Screening Call: A 5-Minute Call Can Save You 2 Hours and $200."
Truly, the nature of screening calls has become routine for most people. Whether trying to schedule a hair appointment at a new salon, or attempting to make an over-the-phone reservation at a popular restaurant, our goal is to not only get the answers we want, but listen for sincerity and professionalism as well. First impressions can stay with us for awhile, and a negative telephone experience may influence your decision as to whether you visit that establishment again, if at all. So even if calling to make an appointment with a doctor who was recommended from a friend, Dr. Hochstein says, "The surgeon's personality will be shown by the way his staff is."
Encouraging patients to consider themselves "customers," Dr. Kotler proposes the ideal of getting good service. "The doctor must care about you, the caller, before he ever meets you," he notes. "If not, if he does not have in place smart, able, and conscientious staff 'up front,' how particular, how attentive, and how competent might he and his team be in the operating room and during the recovery phase?"
Learning About Financing
To be ready when picking up the phone, you should have all of your immediate concerns compiled into questions. Finances matter and finding a doctor who does not charge for the initial consultation may be a major goal for you, especially considering that most medical professionals recommend visiting at least two to three physicians before selecting the right one. Yet Dr. Kotler says, "Nothing is for free." He believes that the most accomplished plastic surgeons, the ones who are of the greatest value are the same ones who attach a fee to the consultation visit. "A patient is charged for the doctor's time. They should actually see the virtue in paying for it," he says, adding that the word "free" is commonly used as a marketing and advertising tool towards attracting more clients to that doctor's practice. "I believe you should pay for a quality practice."
Still, a surgeon who offers free visits may be just as qualified as someone who does charge, but Dr. Kotler says it may mean that a patient should examine that practice first before making an appointment.
In order to prepare for the initial consultation visit, Dr. Hochstein says it's all about "research, knowing their credentials, and using your gut instincts," mentioning that a patient can learn prior to visiting a doctor if he or she is board certified by calling the American Board of Medical Specialists (ABMS). According to Dr. Hochstein, other steps in preparation for the big visit include having a realistic idea of what their body already looks like and the possibility of what to expect after surgery; talking to a friend who has had the same procedure, and whether or not they are happy with their results; and taking a look at a doctor's history of malpractice lawsuits through your state's Web site (every state has a medical association).
Pre-Surgical Patient Anxiety
Anxiety and nervousness can kick in while meeting with doctors for the first time, so asking about deaths in the operating room and lawsuits is commonly expected during this time. While Dr. Kotler believes in being upfront with his patients, he purposely left out a chapter about malpractice in his handbook because "it so complicated." Although agreeing that it should be one of the first questions asked, he says many times lawsuits happen for the wrong reasons - patients or lawyers just trying to get money out of a doctor. "There is no correlation between malpractice and the quality of a plastic surgeon," says Dr. Kotler.
Despite the idea of going "under the knife," Dr. Kotler says that, "People do not die from getting cut up." He explains that usually it's an anesthetic mishap or a reaction to a drug, which is why all patients should be healthy before surgery and are required to have a drug test. A surgeon cannot perform surgery on a patient unless he or she has consent from his or her doctor after their physical. To learn how to put safety first when undergoing plastic surgery, Dr. Kotler suggests asking about operating room and anesthetic issues during the telephone screening call.
Preparing for the initial consultation is an essential part of plastic surgery. Try talking to close sources, researching online, compiling focused and procedure-specific questions for the screening call, and taking notes before, during, and after the initial consultation. You will feel proud in protecting your health, time, and money.
"Don't be embarrassed to ask questions, because one of two things will happen," says Dr. Hochstein on once you've finally arrived to the consultation. "Either the surgeon will be proud to answer your questions, or if they're not, you know you shouldn't be there."