Low-Cost “Awake” Plastic Surgery Has Serious Risks

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Many people are interested in having cosmetic surgery, but are concerned about using general anesthetic or put off by the cost. One alternative to traditional plastic surgery, called “Awake,” is supposed to be the perfect solution. Awake procedures use painkillers and local anesthetic, allowing the patient to stay awake during surgery, and saving on the cost of an anesthesiologist.

But as one former patient of an Awake plastic surgeon said in an article from MSNBC, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The woman is a growing number of patients across the country who say they suffered scarring, infections and other problems as a result of undergoing an Awake procedure.

Many doctors who perform Awake surgeries are not board-certified plastic surgeons in their state. Instead, they are ear, nose and throat doctors or other types of specialists who have taken a days-long course on how to perform liposuctions, breast implants and other invasive surgeries. Lack of training and operations performed in improper facilities have led to a series of medical malpractice lawsuits against Awake surgeons.

The training sessions are put on by organizations with names like the American Academy of Cosmetic Gynecologists and the American Academy of Cosmetic Physicians. As their names imply, the organizations are designed to appeal to physicians looking to expand their practice into plastic surgery. According to the MSNBC article, the five largest groups, including the two named above, appear to be run out of the same office in Tucson, Arizona.

The groups offer two-day courses that cost from $5,000 to $7,000. In exchange, doctors are taught to perform various surgeries like breast augmentation and liposuction, procedures that surgeons usually spend years in training to perfect. The result, according to the article, is often incompetent surgeons putting their patients at risk for infection, scarring and long-term pain.

The Awake procedures are based on a cost loophole. General anesthesia is expensive, and must be administered by a licensed anesthesiologist. Most anesthesiologists prefer to work in hospitals or clinics with high safety standards. But if the operation is performed without general anesthetic, the doctor does not need to pay for an anesthesiologist. They can perform the operations out of their own clinics, even if conditions there are not at hospital standards for sterility and safety.

Doctors who perform Awake surgeries often tout the fact that the patient will be awake and in a private doctor’s office during the operation as advantages to the patient. But the fact is, these features are putting patients at risk, said a doctor with the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Source: MSNBC, “Nipped, tucked and wide awake?” Sabrina Rubin Erdely, January 18, 2011

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