October 24th, 2011
Excepts from article published in USA TODAY, Sept. 15, 2011:
Cosmetic surgery gets cheaper, faster, scarier
By Jayne O’Donnell, USA TODAY
A booming business
Critics call it the commoditization of cosmetic surgery. Procedures that once included lengthy consultations with plastic surgeons and trips to the hospital, now often involve meetings in office-park surgery centers with salespeople who tell prospective patients what “work” they need and how little it can cost when performed in their offices, say former patients, other plastic surgeons and plaintiff lawyers.
While these clinics typically employ plastic surgeons who are either board-certified or up for certification, lawyers, victims and other plastic surgeons say these new-style surgery clinics are under so much sales pressure they often don’t sufficiently screen patients for medical problems, do inadequate follow-up and persuade patients to undergo procedures that are either unnecessary or unlikely to get good results.
Cosmetic procedures ranging from Botox to buttocks lifts performed by plastic surgeons were up 77% last year, as consumers flock to clinics including Strax, the national chain Lifestyle Lift, and other busy cosmetic surgery centers geared to the budget-minded.
“This is a recipe for disaster.”
With marketers playing a key role at some cosmetic surgery centers, former patients and lawyers say some of the clinics’ claims about the low risk, dramatic results and short recuperation time are misstated. Lifestyle Lift’s marketing practices, which are under investigation by the Florida attorney general, are “backed up by tons and tons of research,” says CEO Gordon Quick. Still, Florida’s attorney general has more than 60 complaints about the company, including several contesting its claims about fast recoveries, minimal pain and results that take years off one’s appearance.
Two years ago, Lifestyle Lift settled a lawsuit by then-New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo charging that the company was writing its own online testimonials for existing websites and at least 10 sites it created to appear consumer-generated.
In its settlement agreement, the attorney general’s office revealed internal e-mails, including one directing a Lifestyle Lift employee to “Put your wig and skirt on and tell them about the great experience you had” on the independent site RealSelf.com. Lifestyle Lift says it was simply posting the contents of letters it received from happy patients, although the settlement agreement says evidence shows many of the postings were written entirely by employees.
Jennifer Davis, a spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, says its 16-month probe is looking at Lifestyle Lift’s advertising of a “facial rejuvenation procedure that is purported by them to be safer and less expensive than other traditional procedures, totally individualized for the client, and offers a quicker recovery time.” Investigators, she says, are looking into possible violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, which bans commercial practices that deceive consumers.
Left with lopsided ears
Joyce Wooten, 53, of Tampa said her surgeries at Lifestyle Lift “ruined my life,” in her complaint to the Florida attorney general. She said the healing process was longer and more difficult than she was told and heard in advertising.
“I began hiding my face everywhere I went because people stared and some gasped,” Wooten wrote, citing problems including loose flaps of skin on her neck and lopsided ears.
Lifestyle Lift says it did a “revision procedure” for Wooten at no cost in late 2008, but Wooten says that was only after she threatened a lawsuit.
While these centers typically employ board-certified plastic surgeons, some don’t have privileges to treat patients at hospitals, leaving patients to fend for themselves at emergency rooms.
Lifestyle Lift uses only oral sedatives and injections of a painkiller, lidocaine, which is similar to novocaine. Its offices are not accredited by any of the groups that certify hospitals or surgical centers, which rules out even the use of intravenous sedation to put patients into what’s known as a partially asleep “twilight” state.
Wooten says that during her Lifestyle Lift procedure, she could tell the doctor was cutting around her ear and hitting it to get it to come loose from her head, according to her complaint to the Florida attorney general.
“I wish I had been completely asleep,” Wooten said. “The worst part is remembering.”
Orlando facial plastic surgeon Edward Gross filed a complaint with the Florida Board of Medicine after he provided emergency room services in 2008 for what he called the “life threatening” condition of a Lifestyle Lift patient.
In the complaint, Gross wrote that the patient was “bleeding from the face” and needed emergency assistance with breathing and surgery for hematomas. He wrote that the patient, who settled a lawsuit against Lifestyle Lift out of court, was in intensive care on a ventilator and breathing tubes for six days.
He also charged that patient safety was at risk because her doctor didn’t have hospital privileges and the facility did not meet the state’s “standard of care” for office surgery.
Stephen Prendiville, a Fort Myers, Fla., facial plastic surgeon, says he’s treated several patients who were unhappy with the results they got at Lifestyle Lift. Most had “visible, poorly executed face-lift scars with no discernible aesthetic improvement,” he says. USA TODAY interviewed six other plastic surgeons who did not want their names used but made similar comments.
Prendiville says Lifestyle Lift’s claims aren’t based on any studies ever published in surgical journals, and the company uses terms including “revolutionary” when, he says, their procedure is really just a variant of a quick face-lift that’s been done for decades by others.