As a New York City medical malpractice lawyer I know that medicine is increasingly a specialized arena. This is likely an outgrowth of the myriad of advances that have been made in medical research–one doctor is simply unlikely to know it all in modern-day medicine. While a general practitioner may be able to handle a range of medical woes, the idea of non-specialists performing risky cosmetic procedures is a concerning and dangerous trend.
A recent piece in The New York Times highlighted the practice of doctors expanding into cosmetic procedures. The article highlights the story of a woman who used a “board certified” doctor for a tummy tuck and face lift. After the procedures left undesirable scars, the woman learned that the doctor was actually certified in otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat surgery) rather than cosmetic work. The Times notes that more doctors are turning to plastic surgery because it can be more lucrative than other medical procedures, especially in an era of declining reimbursements by insurance companies. Dr. Malcom Roth, the current head of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and chief of plastic surgery at Albany Medical Center, notes a surge in patients coming in for revisionary work after a botched cosmetic procedure by an untrained non-specialist. Dr. Roth tells the Times that the public needs to be protected from medical providers who hide the true nature of their certifications and expertise, a deception that carries risk for the patient.
Most states, including New York, do not require doctors to elaborate when stating they are “board-certified”. Personally, I find this to be misleading and believe that doctors should be required to specify the area of medicine in which they are board certified.
Patients should be able to rely on advertising by the medical community, but the current rules permit deceptive practices by some doctors. This does not, however, mean that a New York patient with a botched cosmetic procedure is without recourse. A medical malpractice lawsuit can proceed even despite the lack of advertising regulations. In fact, bringing a legitimate malpractice suit can help spur change. If doctors know they will face a lawsuit if they botch a procedure outside their area of expertise, they will be much less likely to engage in these risky practices. Improperly performed procedures can result in death and yet patients may feel hesitant to bring an action for a less severe outcome. This hesitation is understandable but misplaced. A proper malpractice suit recognizes the very real mental anguish a poor cosmetic outcome can carry and may even prevent a future fatal outcome due to the deterrent effect of malpractice law.
If you’d like to conduct your own research on a doctor that you are interested in seeing, I have provided a brief outline of some of the places you might want to check out on our “Patient Safety” page.
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