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Ten tips

Protect yourself when planning plastic surgery

By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

More and more people are turning to cosmetic surgery each year in an effort to look better and feel better about themselves. While most cosmetic surgeons are qualified to do their jobs safely and effectively, reports do surface about phony doctors offering procedures that can cause serious disfigurement. Here's how to protect yourself.

1. Get good referrals. Ask your personal physician or local hospital for the names of qualified cosmetic surgeons. You also can consult the "American Board of Medical Specialties Compendium of Certified Medical Specialists" at the public library.

2. Confirm the doctor's qualifications. Check the surgeon's credentials, licensing status and discipline and complaint history through the state Agency for Health Care Administration at toll-free 1-888-419-3456. You also can verify a doctor's certification by calling ABMS at toll-free 1-866-275-2267.

3. Shop around. Plan to meet with several surgeons, not just one. It's worth the investment of time and consultation fees.

4. Ask the doctor lots of questions, including: What training have you received? How many operations have you performed? How many patients have needed follow-up or corrective surgery? What possible risks and complications exist with this surgery? Who will administer the anesthesia? Can I contact former patients for references?

5. Investigate hospital privileges. If the surgeon wants to perform the procedure in an office or ambulatory surgery center, he or she also should have privileges to perform the same procedure in an acute-care hospital. Call your local hospital and find out.

6. Location, location, location. Be wary about undergoing procedures in a private home or at a "party." The facility should be state-licensed and accredited by: Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, (847) 853-6060 or www.aaahc.org; American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities, (847) 949-6058 or www.aaaasf.org; or Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, (630) 792-5000 or www.jcaho.org

7. What's the plan for follow-up care? If your cosmetic surgeon is reputable, he or she will be available after the surgery.

8. Calculate the total cost. Because health insurance typically doesn't cover the costs of elective cosmetic surgery, it's important to determine how much the procedure, hospital charges, anesthesia, follow-up care and any other services will cost you.

9. For specific information about breast implants, call the Food and Drug Administration at toll-free 1-888-463-6332, visit www.fda.gov/cdrh/breastimplants/index.html or send a postcard to "Breast Implants," FDA, HFE-88, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857.

10. Know where to turn. If you have problems after your surgery and can't resolve them with your surgeon, contact the Agency for Health Care Administration at toll-free 1-888-419-3456 and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at toll-free 1-800-435-7352.

-- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey. Sources: Florida Attorney General's Office (www.myfloridalegal.com); American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (www.surgery.org)

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