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Social media is great for finding outfit inspo, cyber-stalking ex-lovers, and keeping up with the Kardashians. What it’s not great for, though, is finding a plastic surgeon. According to a recent study published in the AestheticSurgery Journal, a number of users are advertising plastic surgery services on Instagram. But here’s the scary part: Many of them aren’t actually plastic surgeons. "ASAPS eligible board-certified plastic surgeons are underrepresented among physicians posting top plastic surgery-related content to Instagram,” the study, which surveyed over a million posts with 21 different hashtags like #boobjob and #brazillianbuttlift, notes in its conclusion. In fact, less than 18 percent of top plastic surgery-related Instagram posts are by board-certified plastic surgeons.
It may sound like #NBD, but the problem is that most people scrolling through their feeds cannot easily differentiate what surgery-related content is legit and what is not. This could potentially lead to them seeking treatment from a doctor who doesn’t have the proper qualifications, which isn’t ideal when you are undergoing such a serious medical operation. There are many risks involved.
“It is very important that people looking for a plastic surgeon make sure the doctor is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery,” says David Shafer, MD, FACS, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City and contributor to RealSelf. "This insures that the doctor has met rigorous standards to become a plastic surgeon.” To be certified, a doctor needs at least six years of training and has to pass two rigorous examinations. Other doctors may call themselves cosmetic surgeons or aesthetic surgeons, but they certainly do not have the same qualifications, he adds, noting that there are also people who are performing cosmetic treatments but are not even doctors, which is extremely dangerous.
The allure of doc-shopping on Instagram stems from the fact that the app allows for a more “behind the scenes” look into plastic surgery and shows things that you wouldn’t normally see, like a patient’s consultation or a sneak peek into the operating room. But the number of followers someone has doesn’t necessarily equate to skill or qualifications. "Anyone can make an inspirational Instagram account,” Dr. Shafer reminds us.
If you still choose to find a doctor on social media—yes, there are some legit ones out there—Dr. Shafer advises taking things a few steps further in the research process: "Check the credentials through the American Board of Plastic Surgery website. If the doctor is not board certified, then I would steer clear and find a doctor who is."
Despite all the scary stuff, Instagram actually can be helpful in some surgery-related scenarios. "Social Media is a great way to educate and expose patients to various aspects of plastic surgery,” says Dr. Shafer. "It should not be a reality show or a novelty. Showing a new procedure, a before-and-after, or a patient testimonial is a great way to positively use social media.” Still, it’s best to use the ‘gram to search for lip kits, not lip injections.