New study identifies most important factors in aesthetic surgery patient decisions

January 11, 2017, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine

Cindy Wu, MD, assistant professor in the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery, set out to quantify the anecdotal information she was receiving from her patients. What she found in the course of her study – the results of which were published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal – surprised her.

Wu and her fellow authors compared the preferences of seeking information on three common aesthetic procedures: breast augmentation, face lift, and combination breast and . Since aesthetic procedures are usually elective in nature, Wu knew that patients were shopping around and weighing their options before choosing a surgeon. The study was set up to measure which factors were most influential in a patient's ultimate decision: before-and-after photographs, patient testimonials, pricing information, and physician information, such as years in practice, educational information, credentials, etc.

"The industry understanding, for example, is that patients – who are generally younger – are very price conscious," Wu said. "We also know from clinical experience that facelift patients – who tend to be older women – valued testimonials from friends, neighbors, or family members."

The results of the study, however, upended those assumptions. Findings were consistent across patient groups and procedures, with before-and-after photos and testimonials being the most important factors for patients in all three groups when making decisions.

"Aesthetic surgery is different from other areas of surgery because it's so visual, so experiential," Wu said. "Photos obviously allow patients to judge for themselves whether this was a good result or not, and testimonials are also valuable because patients put a lot of stock in the experiences of previous patients. The best advertisement for you as a surgeon is definitely a satisfied patient," Wu said.

In addition to these findings, the study is also noteworthy for its method of data collection. Wu and her colleagues used crowdsourcing to recruit study participants who used an electronic survey to weigh the attributes.

"I think that the way we traditionally have recruited patients for research studies, though email solicitation and posting fliers, is archaic and can contribute to the fact that research projects take so long to complete," said Wu. "I was seeking options for how we could get a large number of people engaged and taking our survey, and came across Amazon's MTurk tool."

Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is a crowdsourcing platform that employs workers from all over the world to perform tasks online, including completing surveys. The tool has been used widely by corporations and researchers in the humanities and behavioral sciences, but had not yet gained wide acceptance in health research.

When Wu learned about the tool, she knew it would be ideal for the study, both for its ability to enroll participants quickly, but also the diversity of MTurk workers.

"While Amazon's MTurk platform is anonymous, some research has looked at the participants and has found that many are based in the United States, with many other users in countries like India and China. In general, these are people who are educated and want to participate in studies involving research that they are interested in," Wu said.

Before launching the survey in the MTurk community, a smaller survey was conducted in and around Chapel Hill utilizing more traditional methods of subject recruitment. The results were consistent.

Moving forward, Wu said that surgeons should utilize these findings to inform how they market themselves to potential patients. The study is especially valuable since the results contradict what had previously been believed within the field, that price was the factor many patients would value in selecting an aesthetic plastic surgeon.

"What we've seen is that no matter the procedure, good photos and testimonials are what people want," Wu said. "It can be difficult to know what to focus on in marketing your practice to new patients and this study should help clear up some of that confusion and hopefully practices will have a clearer idea of where to dedicate their marketing and advertising resources."

Explore further: Round or 'shaped' breast implants? Even plastic surgeons can't tell the difference

More information: Cindy Wu et al. What Do Our Patients Truly Want? Conjoint Analysis of an Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Practice Using Internet Crowdsourcing, Aesthetic Surgery Journal (2017). DOI: 10.1093/asj/sjw143

Related Stories

Round or 'shaped' breast implants? Even plastic surgeons can't tell the difference

December 29, 2016
Looking at before-and-after photos, plastic surgeons and nurses can't tell whether breast augmentation surgery was done using conventional round implants or newer anatomically shaped implants, reports a study in the January ...

New tool guides patient-centric aesthetic consultation

December 23, 2016
(HealthDay)—A new patient assessment tool can guide clinicians to help ensure consistency in the quality of patient assessment and consultation in those seeking minimally invasive facial cosmetic procedures, according to ...

Breast reconstruction after cancer using abdominal tissue

October 20, 2016
In addition to being faced with the diagnosis of breast cancer, many women also are faced with making several important decisions, including whether to have breast reconstruction surgery. According to a plastic surgeon who ...

Study finds substantial rate of contralateral prophylactic mastectomy when procedure not indicated

December 21, 2016
In a survey of women who underwent treatment for early-stage breast cancer in one breast, contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM; both breasts are surgically removed, the breast that contains cancer and the healthy breast) ...

What's the best way to match the implant to the breast? Evidence on implant size selection systems reviewed

October 28, 2016
How should plastic surgeons choose the best implant type and size for women undergoing breast augmentation surgery? Implant size selection systems based on breast tissue measurements may provide better outcomes, suggests ...

Self-esteem not correlated with number of years younger patients look after face-lift

October 29, 2015
Patient self-esteem measures appear to be unconnected to a positive outcome after face-lift surgery because patients felt they looked almost nine years younger but there was no change in self-esteem, according to an article ...

Recommended for you

Drug may help surgical patients stop opioids sooner

December 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Opioid painkillers after surgery can be the first step toward addiction for some patients. But a common drug might cut the amount of narcotics that patients need, a new study finds.

Children best placed to explain facts of surgery to patients, say experts

December 13, 2017
Getting children to design patient information leaflets may improve patient understanding before they have surgery, finds an article in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Burn victim saved by skin grafts from identical twin (Update)

November 23, 2017
A man doomed to die after suffering burns across 95 percent of his body was saved by skin transplants from his identical twin in a world-first operation, French doctors said Thursday.

Is a common shoulder surgery useless?

November 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—New research casts doubt on the true effectiveness of a common type of surgery used to ease shoulder pain.

Study shows electric bandages can fight biofilm infection, antimicrobial resistance

November 6, 2017
Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have shown - for the first time - that special bandages using weak electric fields to disrupt bacterial biofilm infection can prevent infections, combat antibiotic ...

Obesity increases incidence, severity, costs of knee dislocations

November 3, 2017
A new study of more than 19,000 knee dislocation cases in the U.S. between 2000 and 2012 provides a painful indication of how the nation's obesity epidemic is changing the risk, severity and cost of a traumatic injury.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.