For this integration to succeed, independent sources of support must be understood. Patient advisors as they are today are not independent or trained in emotional support. When any psychotherapist who is also selling or recommending products tries to offer emotional support, the process becomes corrupted. The entire reason for emotional support is for the patient to draw his/her own well-informed conclusions based on clear information and emotional understanding. This can’t be achieved when the ‘provider’ is linked to products or other commercial factors. Nor can this be even partially achieved if the support is offered in a public setting such as social media. I do not wish to be insulting but there is a lack of understanding among patients about how to verify the qualifications of the person from whom they are asking life-changing questions.
Yesterday I met a patient who shared the story of her face-lift and blepharoplasty. Applying the concepts of privacy and confidentiality, this patient will be referred to as Samara. When she turned 50 Samara noticed her face was showing signs of age that she had more than enough financial means to correct. She wanted to hold back the visible signs of ageing as much as possible and she wanted the best possible surgeon to do the job. Samara felt that a facelift and blepharoplasty was relatively straight forward - “…all my friends have already had it done,” she said. Samara did her research by going online to see which clinic looked best. Being easily able to afford the best and considering herself a reasonably well-educated and intelligent woman, Samara decided it was easier to choose a hospital instead of a surgeon. She chose a hospital in a popular London location that she considered looked the best: “good hospitals will have the best surgeons”, she believed. Samara was happy that she had found a ‘good surgeon’ and was in safe hands. More than a year later, Samara struggles in the summer heat when she wants to tie her long blonde hair in a pony tail because of the tell-tale scars that remain clearly visible. I asked Samara who her surgeon was but she could not remember how to spell his name although she had a vague recollection of his Eastern European sounding name. She tried to google what she thought might be the spelling and nothing came up. Equally, the surgeon was not listed on the particular hospital’s website. I asked Samara if she knew whether her surgeon was on the GMC list of specialist plastic surgeons and she asked me what that was. This type of response is not uncommon. I explained the importance of this register and she responded by trying her best to assure me that she had chosen well because she had spent a long time on the internet searching for the best hospital.
This brief excerpt from a recent case history illustrates why it is not only crucial for patient safety to be brought into line with real patient needs but also conveys the need for appropriately independent cosmetic surgery counsellors. Patient (emotional) support is often confused with information or psychology. It borrows from both but it is neither of the two. Psychology may argue that it is preferable to focus on reporting the findings of scientific research rather than on the results of individual cases. However, history shows us that it is cases like ‘The Wolf Man’ and ‘Anna O’ that make life-long impressions. Patients will remember the encounter (form and content) they have with an intelligent, informative emotional support provider rather than the questionnaire they are asked to fill out in the isolation of a waiting room or with a non-psychologically trained professional.
It is not just patients who benefit from an independent integrative emotional support system. I have often heard it said among aesthetic surgeons that their patients are “.. the type of people who want the best”. I think it is fair to say that most patients want the best. What that best looks like on a glossy website or other form of marketing is a matter of individual taste. There may be several stores appearing to be selling the same thing. Why is one drawing more customers than another if they are all playing on the same level playing field? Are surgeons really understanding that their patients make up a cross-section of different financial backgrounds? There was once upon a time when the myth that plastic surgery was only for Hollywood or the elite and secretive rich, but not any more. All aesthetic professionals must learn to understand who is at the other end of their treatment plan and how to talk to them in a way that they understand. Accepting this aspect of their business does not cheapen it - quite the contrary - it elevates it to a new standard.
Offering free information and advice, whether it is online or via consultation is a great way to help create well-informed patients and any appropriate method should be encouraged by all cosmetic practitioners wherever possible.
There appear to be two different types of patient support on the market: independent and commercial. I speak as an independent patient support provider believing this to be the right way to offer support. Independent emotional support can and should be integrated into the industry while remaining true to its essential ethical principles. Diluting this solution leads to pollution.