Why Clear Communication is Key to a Successful Cosmetic Experience
I recently started answering questions on the plastic surgery Q&A website RealSelf.com – it’s a neat, quickly growing service that has the potential to be truly great (they just need to improve a few key features which I plan to write about in a later blog post). That said, from reading and answering the many questions that come into my email inbox each day I think what stands out most is the frequent lack of clear and completely open communication between patients and their doctors (exemplified most often in questions by patients who have recently completed their surgery).
It is of critical importance that post-op, patients feel 100% comfortable asking their surgeon if x, y or z “looks ok”, “is a normal part of the healing process”, etc. etc. What’s more, many other people do not appear to have a clear understanding of what to expect going into their procedure, what the results will/should look like, and what the post operative healing period entails. This causes them to become worried and concerned and seek advice and reassurance in the form of answers from other plastic surgeons who make use of this excellent web site. This isn’t to say that the members of realself.com shouldn’t be asking such questions. On the contrary, they should be asking every question they have and more! I just hope that they are sharing these questions with their own surgeons as well, since they should have a much more intimate understanding of the questioner’s body and/or condition. If they aren’t, then I can’t help but wonder why? Given the quality of questions asked on realself, I get the feeling that there are doctors who aren’t making clear to their patients that when it comes to cosmetic surgery, there are few if any questions not worth asking.
Through the course of pre-op evaluation, consultation, and preparation, questions should be answered to their fullest and the patient should know precisely what to expect in the early post operative period as well as going forward. Also it is important to realistically portray what can and cannot be done with the procedure, through the use of multiple photos so that unrealistic expectations are not created. This is the way I have always handled my patients. It is most important for them to feel that they are a unique case and they have your undivided attention and concern and most importantly, that they can ask me anything with total confidence that they will receive a complete and honest answer in return. It is our practices belief that no question is without merit and if you have the slightest concern, both pre- or post- operatively, we will see you as soon as is possible. I always carry my cell phone and patients are surprised that they can reach me at any time. Many of us no longer make house calls, but at the very least we can be easily accessible to our patients, particularly when an elective procedure is involved. The practice of medicine should be personal, not assembly line in nature, but todays economic demands make the assembly line approach more the norm than it should be. Everyone of us in the practice takes pride in the opposite approach of personal care. Not exactly Marcus Welby, M.D. but as close as one can get in this day and age.
So unlike the warden in Cool Hand Luke, we make sure that clear communication is a top priority at every step of our patient’s journeys… because uncertainty and/or confusion should never ever be a part of the cosmetic surgery experience.