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New guidelines: Stop and think before you nip and tuck

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Patients should use new cooling off periods to carefully consider whether cosmetic surgery is right for them and to investigate the credentials of the practitioner performing the procedure, according to a leading medical lawyer.

Slater and Gordon Medical Law Practice Group Leader Kate Williams said the cooling off periods were a key measure of new Medical Board of Australia guidelines, which come into effect on 1 October.*

“The media is full of stories and images of celebrity makeovers that give the impression that it’s quick and easy to improve your appearance,” Ms Williams said.

“Unfortunately, what we see are the horror stories. People are sold a dream, but the result is a nightmare. Some of our clients have suffered very serious injuries and complications.”

Ms Williams said cases being investigated by Slater and Gordon include:

  • A patient who suffered extensive infection, septicaemia and scarring after liposuction.

  • A patient left with severe facial scarring after injections into veins around their nose and mouth.

  • A patient who suffered complications, including an abdominal wall injury and permanent pain, after abdominoplasty.

  • A patient whose nasal bridge collapsed after a rhinoplasty was performed on their freshly fractured nose. A failure of medical staff to quickly detect nerve injury in the feet of a patient who had liposuction on their thighs and legs.

Under the new guidelines, there will be a seven day cooling off period for adults planning to have major cosmetic medical and surgical procedures. Patients under 18 will be given a three month cooling off period and must undergo a mandatory evaluation by a registered psychologist, psychiatrist or GP.

Medical practitioners performing cosmetic procedure must also provide sufficient information to patients to allow them to make an informed decision about whether to have the procedure, including what the procedure involves, the risks and possible complications, recovery times and their qualifications and experience.

The guidelines also require the treating practitioners to provide post-surgical care, detailed written information about costs and prevent them from offering financing schemes (other than credit card facilities), such as loans or commercial payment plans.

The guidelines apply to medical practitioners, including specialist plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons and cosmetic physicians, but do not apply to unregistered providers of cosmetic procedures or other health practitioners.

Ms Williams encouraged patients to become familiar with the new guidelines.

“My advice is to do your research – not just about the planned procedure – but also the person who is performing the procedure.

“Find out what their qualifications are, what their experience is, whether they are a member of a relevant medical college or society, and whether they have been the subject of previous complaints.

“Many people are unaware of the difference between a cosmetic and plastic surgeon.

“Plastic surgeons have much more extensive specialist training in all aspects of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery – 12 years total medical and surgical education as opposed to six years for a cosmetic surgeon.

“Surgeons are also Fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS).”

*The full guidelines are available on the Medical Board of Australia’s website:  http://www.medicalboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Policies/FAQ/FAQ-guidelines-forcosmetic-procedures.aspx