David B. Reath, MD
Knoxville, TN (865) 450-9253
HKB Knoxville Staff

Call Your Plastic Surgeon, Not the Internet

real self logoLike many of you, I am a fan of RealSelf. It was created by Tom Seery who is a real thought leader in the world of social media especially as it applies to plastic surgery. This forum provides a very nice platform for patients and doctors to interact, and for patients to interact with other patients. The latter is something that seems to be gaining more steam as patients share their experiences and support one another through the process of surgery.

We have quite a few postings on RealSelf and each day I receive an e-mail with the questions that have been asked of physicians that day. Recently, I read a question and a physician’s response that got me thinking. Let me explain.

The question was from a patient, 6 days out from a breast augmentation surgery, who posted a photo of her breasts, one of which was much larger than the other. She was wondering what might be wrong, and from the photos something was definitely going on.

A physician who responded said that there was definitely a problem, and that she should stop wasting time looking for answers on the internet and call her surgeon immediately. And, I agree completely. Here is the physician’s response:

Real Self physician response

Don’t ask or accept medical treatment advice from the internet.
Platforms like RealSelf and the internet as a whole are a great places for general medical information. However, you should never accept specific treatment advice from this, and I as a surgeon should never prescribe specific treatments via a public forum. The internet is not your doctor! And, it is very ill-advised for me to recommend specific treatment to a patient who is not mine, that I have not ever seen.  Similarly, the physicians who respond via RealSelf are well aware of the type of advice that they should and should not give.

But I am really astounded by the number of patients who will query the internet after surgery to find an answer to the problem they are having. The above is an extreme example but there are many others. Why are these patients not calling their plastic surgeons’ offices?

No one else will know their case, their history, and the specifics of their care better than the surgeon who did their surgery. Never worry about calling or bothering your surgeon or his staff. We would much rather get a call about something that is not a real issue and can be quickly dispensed with, than miss a call about something that is a real problem and needs attention.

Fortunately, most of the physician respondents on RealSelf will start by telling the inquiring patient that they should call their own doctor. Or that they should get in to see their plastic surgeon about their concern. This is always the right answer.

So remember, RealSelf and like platforms, are great places to get general information. But I can assure you that Tom Seery does not want to be your doctor; and does not want RealSelf to be your doctor.

If you are having a problem, call your doctor. End of story.

All the best,

Dr. David B. Reath

David B. Reath, M.D.

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5 Responses to Call Your Plastic Surgeon, Not the Internet

  • Dr Vlad Milovic says:

    Well said, and I am with you on this topic. I also like RealSelf for general questions but find myself stating on almost every post, call your surgeon, talk to your surgeon etc. It almost has become a closing statement. I also find it surprising that some patients don’t call the surgeon who has just operated on them, the person who knows them best, over advice from people who have no part in their care. I prefer to know about my patients’ concerns as they happen.

  • Tom says:

    Thank you for sharing this observation and important advice. At RealSelf we get thousands of consumer questions each month by post-op consumers, with the central question being “is this normal?”

    Underlying this question may be the concern that their doctor is biased to answer “yes.” in most cases.

    In other words, there’s a trust issue.

    My advice to consumers going into surgery is that they need to have complete trust in the doctor and the medical team. If they have lingering fears or a sense that interests are not aligned, work on addressing this upfront and not on the Internet post-op.

    –Tom Seery, CEO, RealSelf

  • Dr. Reath says:

    Thanks for your comments. Your advice is spot on. RealSelf is a great resource for so many patients and consumers. But like anything else, we all need to use it appropriately.
    Those of us in plastic surgery really appreciate what you have done for our field.

  • Caitlin says:

    I would recommend not turning to realself to make any sort of judgement call period. The site is a business built to turn a profit first and foremost and that is goal number on for the founders and executives as with all businesses. This is why ad space for plastic surgeons are on there as well as doctors allowing online and email consultation for surgical procedures. The reviews are also entirely untrustworthy or just as trustworthy as yelp, because some people in business are honest and some aren’t. Hello astroturfing. That should be illegal regarding anything with the human body,Mobutu the federal government is to blame for allowing that. As long as that continues consumers will continue to make poor choices. Then the reviews by the patients does not take into account their mental health and there are a large score of peop,e that do not need plastic surgery advice but instead sound medical/psychological support! This site should be unlawful and is quite frankly dangerous.

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