Utah plastic surgeons, like their counterparts nationwide, have already heard the horror stories a congressional subcommittee is now hearing about patients disfigured by unqualified doctors.
They are often called in to repair the damage done by a doctor who has not had the training necessary to be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery as a qualified specialist in that field.Dr. Thomas Ray Broadbent, director of LDS Hospital's cosmetic survey information center, can recite a list of cases in which a patient was deformed by a doctor whose specialty is not plastic surgery.
Broadbent said he is scheduled to perform reconstructive surgery Wednesday on a woman who lost much of her breast under the knife of a doctor who was not board-certified in plastic surgery.
Specialists ranging from ophthalmologists to dermatologists "are doing everything from ear jobs and nose jobs to suction lipectomy," said Carol Leavitt, director of communications for the Utah Medical Association.
"I don't think plastic surgeons appreciate that, but even more important than a turf battle is that patients really need to understand who's qualified to do what," Leavitt said.
Similar stories were heard in Washington D.C. Tuesday by members of a House Small Business subcommittee investigating unqualified doctors performing plastic surgery.
The motivation of doctors who attempt an operation for which they're not trained? "Money. Money - cosmetic surgery is all paid for up front," Broadbent said, adding that it also can be more profitable than other types of surgery.
A six-month study by the House subcommittee staff found a number of problems, including doctors performing surgery in hospitals and even their own offices without specialized training.
"We have found that, incredibly, any doctor who manages to graduate from medical school and receive a state license can do . . . brain surgery, face lifts, breast reductions or enlargements - even open heart surgery," the staff's report said.
Part of the problem, according to the report, is that the Federal Trade Commission refused to prohibit advertising by doctors in the mid-1970s. That makes it difficult for doctors to police themselves.
Broadbent said that issue was taken up by board-certified plastic surgeons themselves several years ago. Now, he said, their advertisements contain the symbol of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.
Although Broadbent said Utah has fewer instances of patients being harmed by unskilled doctors performing plastic surgery, the state's residents should still be cautious.
"They should be very concerned," Broadbent said. "They should be alert to the fact that it can happen here." A patient should always start the search for a doctor by checking for board certification, he said.