Questions I get a lot from patients are “How many consultations should I have before surgery?” and “How many plastic surgeons should I see?” Is one enough? Are five too many? As you might expect, there is no simple answer. It depends upon the quality of the consultation and whether or not you have what you need to feel comfortable with making a decision.
First Things First
Any consultation you have for plastic surgery should be with a board-certified or board-eligible plastic surgeon. If you are not or have not, keep looking.
The question is: How will you know that you have found the best plastic surgeon for you? The endpoint of your search is reached when you have these four things.
4 Keys To Knowing It Fits
- You’ve made a connection with a plastic surgeon and their office staff.
- You’ve been educated about what your surgical options are.
- You’ve agreed upon a treatment plan that makes sense to you.
- You feel comfortable with moving forward.
Probably the essential thing to get out of a consultation is a connection with the plastic surgeon and his/her office staff. You want to make sure that your concerns are heard, and your plastic surgeon is responding in a way you understand and feel comfortable with. If you are not feeling listened to and understood, or if the plastic surgeon starts talking about something that is not a concern to you, there is likely (at least) one more consultation in your future.
In terms of making this connection, your rapport with the surgeon’s staff is crucial. In a well-run practice, the doctor and the team will be on the same page in terms of how they treat you and how responsive they are to your concerns. While the doctor will be the one operating, you will probably interact with the office staff as much, if not more. Staff-members are an extension of how the doctor will treat you. So make sure you are comfortable with them as well.
To truly understand a patient’s concerns, I always start consultations with an open-ended question: “How can I help you?” – even if I think I already know what a patient wants. This is something I was taught in medical school to help focus on what is of concern to the patient, rather than what I have to offer.
Difficulties sometimes arise when a patient needs something other than what they think they need to achieve the results they want. Here are some examples:
Someone comes in wanting to have breast implants because they are unhappy with the size and shape of their breasts. They think they just need implants, but they have a great deal of sagging and will also need a breast lift as well. Or someone wants to improve the appearance of their lower face and neck and want a neck lift, but the solution for them is a facelift (which, by the way, includes a neck lift). It happens when someone thinks liposuction will fix the loose skin on their abdomen, and they need a tummy tuck instead.
In these circumstances, education is critical. I must explain to the patient why a different operation or procedure, other than what they expected, is needed to achieve the results they want. This is not an uncommon situation.
Education is also needed to help the patient understand what the treatment plan is, how it will be carried out, and what they can expect in terms of the process and the outcome. This takes some time. The things I talk about are the things that I do every day, but I recognize that it’s all new to the patient. Further, there may be a couple of options available, each with a slightly different recovery and outcome. It will take some back and forth for you and your plastic surgeon to decide which treatment will be best for you.
The Treatment Plan
When presented with a treatment plan by your plastic surgeon, it should make sense to you. It may be different from what you thought you might need to begin with, and it may be something that you were educated about during your consultation, but in the end, you need to be confident going forward.
True, you are not a plastic surgeon, but you know what you are looking for, and the plan proposed should address this. If you are unsure, ask questions and continue the consultation. If you still don’t understand what your plastic surgeon is recommending and it just doesn’t seem to wash with you, there is probably another consultation in your future.
As a caveat, I will note that there are patients who request an outcome that is not possible or cannot be achieved with their body type or shape or the quality of their skin. Generally, I will tell them the limitations of what can be achieved. It is possible that this does not make sense to them. In such a case, they are better off not having something done or seeing someone else. The chances are that they will be told the same thing in subsequent consultations.
Your Confidence Level
If you have had a good consultation, and have been given a treatment plan that makes sense to you, you may or may not be comfortable to move forward. If you are, you probably don’t need any further consultations. However, if for your peace of mind, you need to see one or more surgeons, then go for it.
As a general rule, you will know something about the surgeons you are going to see from the internet, the practice website, reviews, and what others have told you. So, you may already have an idea of the surgeon you will work the best with. If this is the case, and you are someone who is going to see more than one surgeon, save your favorite for the last consultation. Otherwise, start with that surgeon and only see others if you feel you need to.
So how many consultations do you need? The number is enough to feel that you have made a connection with your surgeon, that he/she has educated you about your options, that you have been given a treatment plan that makes sense, and that you are comfortable enough to move forward. In many cases, this will be a single surgeon or consultation. The chances are that once you have gotten to this point, you will know it. At this point, seeing additional surgeons will probably not be of benefit.
All the best,
David B. Reath, MD
Resources for Your Research
- So you can be better prepared for your consultation, we have developed a list of important plastic surgery questions you will want to ask your doctor before you have your surgery. If your consultation is with Dr. Reath, please feel free to print this out, and he will be happy to go over everything with you during your visit. Top Ten Questions to Ask your Plastic Surgeon
- Even though the majority of cosmetic surgery patients are pleased with their results, the decision to have a procedure is a big one. It is normal to have questions, and it’s important to answer them honestly. In the end, you want to be completely comfortable with your decision. So, are you clear about your motivations for surgery? Are your expectations realistic? Test yourself by answering these critical questions How to Know if You Are Ready for Plastic Surgery.
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Not in Knoxville? Here is the American Society of Plastic Surgeon’s Find a Surgeon Locator