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    Cosmetic surgery and social media influence in 2015

    Are patients really feeling the influence of social media on their decisions to have a cosmetic surgery procedure?

    According to a recent survey conducted by RealSelf, the answer is a simple and resounding ‘yes’. The online info-sharing community suggests that more and more, social media is bringing to light the self-perceived need for cosmetic surgery. A selfie here, a selfie there and those sagging jowls or forehead wrinkles are all over Facebook and a constant reminder of just how much older you look. Thoughts naturally turn to what can be done to make improvements. In fact, not only are they doing it, but they’re also sharing it all and posting physician reviews too.

    The Survey

    RealSelf, an online information-sharing community that offers reviews, photos and physician Q&A relating to cosmetic surgery, dermatology and other elective treatments, surveyed 527 of its website visitors recently with a fairly straight-forward question, “Has social media influenced you to consider or choose to have a cosmetic procedure?” Nearly half confirmed the social media impact, with 15.37% answering a flat out “yes,” and  33.40% saying, “somewhat, I knew I wanted a change, but photos on social media made me more aware.”

    According to Tom Seery, founder and CEO of RealSelf, “Connectivity has forever changed the ways prospective patients engage with your practice.”

    Dr. EmerJason Emer, M.D., a regular physician contributor to RealSelf and practicing cosmetic surgeon agrees with Seery’s observation.

    “I have just started out in practice in Beverly Hills, and roughly 60 percent of my patients are from social media, website postings, online advertising or RealSelf.”

    But are patients really feeling the influence of social media on their decisions to have a cosmetic surgery procedure?

    “Patients today are highly influenced by what others say. They look to partner with you in the decisions about their procedure or treatment,” notes Seery. “In aesthetics, we’ve seen that half of consumers researched a treatment for more than one year. In this information gathering, people trust opinions of their peers, mainly reviews, and information posted by medical experts, such as answers to questions,” he points out. “To illustrate the significance of social media to a medical practice, I share with doctors  [the statistic] that one in four U.S. adults share their health experiences on social media channels.”

    And that means doctor reviews too.

    Dr. Emer says even a demanding but satisfied patient can post a rating of three or four (out of five) stars, which gives the impression of a less-than-stellar experience. Or patients might post a rating of one star for factors such as no insurance coverage, length of time in the waiting room or something else not related to your expertise or the actual clinical results achieved.

    “Patients can easily try and ruin your reputation with online media, such as Yelp or RealSelf,” says Dr. Emer. For social media posts that you cannot control, such as patient tweets or posts on a physician review site, including RealSelf, Dr. Emer suggests an excessively positive approach.

    “Flood out the bad with the good. Influence good reviews by having happy patients give important testimonials. Not just that they are happy, but why. What was done that was different? How did the person, practice or procedure stand out?” he advises.

    RealSelf research also suggests that actively engaging in information sharing online can positively influence physician reviews.

    “Our data reveals that a doctor’s online performance rating is directly proportional to their level of activity in posting expert insights and engagement of patients in sharing their reviews and testimonials,” explains Seery. “Doctors may be reluctant to give away their hard-earned expertise for free online, but content is the future of marketing and acquiring patients from the web.”

    Just as with any other professional recommendation or business tips on how to run a better healthcare practice, some clinicians will embrace the concept, while others take a more cautious approach.

    Because social media offers fingertip access to information and critiques to anyone, Dr. Emer finds that web surfers sometimes attempt to gain cosmetic surgery services when they have little or no access to pay. Such patient contact can be a drain and a strain on office staff, unless you establish some ground rules for staff members to follow.

    “Uninterested patients will contact you for pro bono cases or to waste staff time,” he explains. “It is important to have good initial contact protocols and measures to ensure that your time is well spent when floods of calls come in from social media or online.”

    Overall, Dr. Emer is a believer. But he’s also taken the time to invest in his online engagement with patients. “I have used RealSelf for the past two years for patient acquisition and for personal interest,” he explains. “I started a blog... about what doctors can learn from RealSelf and why it is important for practices to be involved in using it.” His blog is called Cosmetic Complications and available on the Cosmetic Surgery Times website. He also advertises on the site via RealSelf doctor “spotlights” in a local area or as expert in a specific procedure.

    “I post videos of almost all of my procedures and results, as well as me teaching cutting-edge procedures and technologies to other doctors and residents,” he says. “Often I’m showing devices before they come out.”

    Although Dr. Emer has faced criticism for the content of some of his postings, he defends his choices as a business decision.

    “I get a lot of slack when I post pictures of me doing buttock augmentation, fat transfer and liposuction. The same goes for posts I have done on vaginal skin tightening, anal hair removal, Botox for scrotal sweating or filler for nipple projection.

    “Listen, patients ask for it! If you don’t talk about it and put it out there, someone else will and beat you to it.”

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