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Buyer Beware

Is Your Doctor Qualified?


August 5, 2014

Just because someone has an M.D. after their name and a med school diploma hanging on the wall doesn’t necessarily make them the right person to go to when you’re seeking a cosmetic treatment. Neither does a claim of being “board-certified” truly matter—unless they are certified in dermatology or plastic surgery. “Those specialties are the only fields that include years of study in the anatomy of the skin, lasers and surgery-related cosmetic improvement,” explains Robert Anolik, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College.

It gets confusing, in part because some doctors are being purposefully vague—or even downright deceitful—about their qualifications. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) oversees physician specialists in 24 medical specialties, including dermatology and plastic surgery. “It is viewed as the gold standard in certification, ensuring physician competency, patient confidence and quality care,” says Anolik. But while someone who has achieved board certification from the ABMS in, say, gynecology or internal medicine, is most likely an excellent physician, they aren’t necessarily qualified to treat the skin. And with health insurance issues limiting many doctors’ income, a side business of cosmetic treatments is a very lucrative option. That’s why many gynecologists, internists and dentists (who already have a roster of patients in their office anxious to look better) are cashing in on the cosmetic trend. So if a doctor offering cosmetic procedures claims to be “board-certified,” don’t be afraid to ask about what specialty they’re certified in. You can also check online at the ABMS website to see if your doctor is listed. http://www.certificationmatters.org.

There is a lot of money to be made performing cosmetic procedures. They typically aren’t covered by health insurance so patients pay doctors directly and in full for treatments. That is a very attractive scenario for many—so attractive that some doctors, nurses and even people with little or no medical background are anxious to cash in. And while it may be difficult for a non-medical professional to purchase supplies like Botox, dermal fillers, lasers and body sculpting devices, there is no law that prevents a gynecologist, dentist, or other type of doctor from obtaining them.

A more recent trend toward bogus board certifications and other false credentials has further muddied the waters, and makes it that much harder for the average consumer to sort out who’s truly qualified to treat them. There are various websites for organizations, with names like The American Board of Laser Surgery or Aesthetic Cosmetic Physicians, that allow doctors and others to purchase a so-called “board certification,” potentially after attending just a one-day seminar or taking an online course. “These pseudo-certifications are not part of the ABMS and have no governing body or regulation to ensure standards,” warns Anolik. The ABMS is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to making sure doctors meet stringent educational and professional standards in their specialty.

The risks of seeing someone less-than-qualified for cosmetic treatments are myriad. Not only might you see less in terms of results in the hands of someone inexperienced, but you could put yourself at risk for more dangerous consequences. Burns from lasers that cause hyperpigmentation issues are not uncommon. “Just as you wouldn’t take your child to someone who took a weekend seminar on kids’ health instead of a board-certified pediatrician, you shouldn’t put your skin in the care of anyone who isn’t trained and experienced in treating it,” says Anolik.

The Bottom Line: Before you commit to any cosmetic procedures, do your homework. Ask about the doctor’s credentials, background and experience with the specific treatments you’re considering. Ask to see unretouched before and after photos of the doctor’s work. Ask if the doctor has advanced fellowship training in dermatology or plastic surgery. Ask if he or she participates in research studies and publishes in peer-reviewed journals. And also take the time to look your doctor up online to make sure he or she is certified in dermatology or plastic surgery by the ABMS. Of course, see if they’re part of Charlotte’s Book, because we do all of the above before adding any cosmetic doctors to our directory. It could help you save face in more ways than one.

WORDS: Sally Wadyka

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