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Effect of the recession on plastic surgery practices

13m cosmetic procedures took place in the US in 2010

Written by Sarah Hodge

As the world economy teeters between disaster and recovery there are a couple industries that show few signs of impact. The elective surgeries sector is one of them and earlier this year, media outlets around the world reported on how efficiently the industry performed.

It seems, however, that the economic losses have eventually caught up with the widely accepted practice and now everyone is looking for the right deal to stay afloat and keep customers walking through the doors. The consequences are already affecting doctors and patients and if they are not careful, they could end up changing the way in which the industry operates as a whole.

In the United States alone, more than 13 million cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures were performed last year and according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), this was a five percent increase from 2009. As a representation of thousands of plastic surgeons across the country, the Society serves as a reference for patients on cosmetic procedures. So what was the reason for an increase in the number of plastic surgery patients? The answer is simple, people wanted jobs.

The state of the economy actually served as a catalyst, encouraging more people to seek out and undergo cosmetic procedures. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then employment is the reward for attracting the right employer and plastic surgery has quickly become the new tool to gain a competitive advantage in a stumbling job market.

Men and women found themselves getting tightened, plumped and filled to reduce the signs of aging and avoid getting the axe. Meanwhile, the increasingly popular Botox has gained even more loyal followers and there were reportedly 11.3 million administrations of the FDA approved drug last year.

With the job reports showing declines over the past months, people must resort to their own measures before many job plans will prove to be effective, especially as the economic response in the states and abroad has been less than enthusiastic. In the scramble to keep their appointment books filled, some surgeons have begun to offer their services at discounted rates. For professional organisations such as the ASPS and the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), this is a cause for concern.

According to the BAAPS, discounts and deals could trivialise the importance of the plastic surgery industry, especially after researchers discovered that 26 percent of British and 12 percent of American cosmetic clinics use financial incentives to promote their surgical treatments. These incentives have even gone as far as offering breast enhancement procedures as the main prize in a UK nightclub’s raffle draw. 

However, the growing popularity of Groupon, Living Social and similar daily deals companies is also allowing surgeons to tempt patients with these offers through an exclusive subscriber list. As a result, procedures like liposuction, botox, and nose jobs are available at a fraction of their original cost and the basic format of these incentives is easily replicated and extremely desirable to consumers who want the results without the hefty price tag.

Unfortunately the plastic surgery industry is still a business and if you make cuts in one area other adjustments must be made in order to be profitable. That is where the ASPS raise a red flag, as there are not provisions to regulate what kind of deals surgeons make and such offers create opportunities for unethical practices. 

But it is not just surgeons that are taking advantage of the increased demand for cosmetic surgery treatments. American business celebrity Donald Trump has also found a way to use these avenues to exploit the desires of the masses. His casino, the Taj Mahal, is offering a $25,000 prize to gamblers in their The Nip, Tuck and Lift Sweepstakes.

Advice from the ASPS and the BAAPS to patients is to ensure they always check the fine print of these online deals and the credentials of doctor’s who are offering such heavy discounts. While many potential patients and cosmetic surgery clinics and doctors are feeling the economic pinch, it shouldn’t be at the expense of health and safety.

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