Help Keep Patients Safe With Social Media

Social media has become the primary source for patients wanting to learn more about cosmetic surgery. Which is why social media is so heavily used in marketing plastic surgery centers. Unfortunately, this space is currently dominated by uncertified practitioners, including non-physicians.

#PlasticSurgery on Instagram

In their recent paper, researchers at Northwestern University looked at plastic surgery-related hashtags (e.g.., "#tummytuck" and "#rhinoplasty") on Instagram. They wanted to find out: what content is being posted, who is posting the content, and under which hashtags this content is most frequently found. After finding nearly two million posts under just 21 hashtags, researchers took a closer look at the "top" 9 posts in each.

Less than 18% of the popular posts were made by plastic surgeons certified by either the American Board of Plastic Surgery or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. By contrast, other physicians, including gynecologists and otolaryngologists, were much more active in the plastic surgery-related hashtags, making up more than a quarter of the total posts. More alarmingly, 5.5% of the promotional aesthetic surgery posts were found to be made by non-physicians and practices with no associated physician on the staff, including spas and dentist offices.

Researchers also found that more than two-thirds of the top posts were self-promotional rather than educational. What's more interesting, however, is that board-certified plastic surgeons were much more likely to post educational content. Additionally, posts made by certified plastic surgeons also averaged about half as many likes, suggesting that this content is reaching a wider audience.

Dangers of Uncertified Cosmetic Surgeons

One important takeaway from this study is that physicians advertising themselves as "cosmetic surgeons" are much more active on Instagram — and likely other social media platforms — than board-certified plastic surgeons. Additionally, providers without any medical training, such as hair salons, are advertising plastic surgery procedures through this medium.

When inexperienced providers more effectively market their practices to patients, it becomes a public health concern. Previous research has found that procedures performed by board-certified plastic surgeons result in better patient safety and outcomes. By contrast, procedures done by providers who lack the proper training have a greater risk of complications and death.

Fight Back With Your Own Content

The best method for board-certified plastic surgeons to combat these trends? Using these social media platforms to market their own services more effectively. Engaging on Instagram and other popular channels needs to be a core part of your practice's marketing strategy. With a strong social media presence, you'll be able to reach potential patients in your area before competitors, especially those not certified in plastic surgery.

Another important finding of this study? Posts using layperson terminology (e.g., "#tummytuck" rather than "#abdominoplasty") were much less likely to have been posted by a plastic surgeon, while these tags had many more posts and are much more likely to be found by potential patients interested in this procedure. Although using the proper terminology in advertising is still important, consider the advantages of tagging your posts with the appropriate colloquial slang.

Finally, plastic surgeons should post content that highlights the importance of going to an experienced plastic surgeon for aesthetic surgery. Better public education on this subject will both help protect patients while simultaneously boosting your practice's success.