Social media sites – especially Instagram – have revolutionized the way plastic surgeons market their practice. These platforms allow surgeons to post testimonials, educational videos, and before and after photos.
This information can help patients make decisions about whether to have cosmetic surgery and which plastic surgeon to choose, depending on factors such as the surgeon’s experience and the results obtained.
However, patient perceptions about the skills of plastic surgeons may also be affected by an implicit bias – based solely on the ethnicity of the surgeon’s name.
In our survey of responses to otherwise identical Instagram posts, the plastic surgeon’s name. “
Ash Patel, MB, ChB, lead study author, Albany (NY) Medical Center
âThe results remind us that implicit biases play a vital role in our daily actions, whether we realize it or not,â adds Dr Patel. The study appears in the June issue of Plastic and Reconstructive SurgeryÂ®, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
The researchers created a set of fake Instagram posts showing before and after photos of a breast augmentation patient. The posts were identical in all respects – except for the name of the plastic surgeon. Versions of the message used female or male names typical of eight different racial / ethnic groups: African, Caucasian or American Jew, East or South Asian, Black, Latinx, and Middle Eastern.
The online survey participants received one of the fake Instagram posts and were asked to rate their perceptions of the competence of the plastic surgeon and the likelihood that they would be letting the surgeon operate on them (likelihood of recruitment). The analysis included the scores of almost 3,000 respondents.
Overall ratings of surgeon competence were similar for names representing different ethnic racial groups. However, there were significant differences related to the racial / ethnic group of the respondents.
âWhite Americans and Latinxes were the only two ethnic groups to show favoritism within the group,â comments Dr. Patel. “This may be particularly important because these two ethnicities make up about 80 percent of cosmetic surgery patients in the United States.”
Surgeons with female names received higher perceived competence scores and higher recruitment likelihood scores. Yet, the women surveyed assigned lower recruitment likelihood scores for both male and female surgeons.
Social media has sparked a great deal of interest in cosmetic and plastic surgery – with high stakes for plastic surgeons looking to market their practice online. The new study is the first to examine the effects of implicit social media biases related to plastic surgery.
Overall, the survey finds that the apparent gender and ethnicity of the plastic surgeon does not affect the likelihood that the general population will choose that surgeon. However, the results suggest more favorable perceptions of surgeons of the same racial / ethnic group, particularly among Caucasian and Latin American raters.
“Combating implicit prejudices is a challenge, as these associations are subconscious and not necessarily the ones we can recognize as present.” Comments from Dr Patel. “We need to look at new approaches to encourage patients to make decisions about plastic surgeons based on board certifications, qualifications, and experience – not race or ethnicity.”
Bhat, D., et al. (2021) What’s in a Name? Implicit bias affects the patient’s perception of the skills of the surgeon. Plastic and reconstructive surgery. doi.org/10.1097/PRS.0000000000008171.