- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

More and more people seeking plastic surgery are turning to the Internet to find the doctor charging the cheapest price, and officials of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons say they are concerned about the trend.
Dr. C. Lin Puckett, president of the 5,000-member ASPS, the world's largest professional organization for plastic surgeons, said he recognizes such discount programs are "tempting" to "young practitioners" just starting out. But he said patients should be wary.
"Those who bid the cheapest prices might well be the hungriest, the least experienced, the least qualified," Dr. Puckett said in a telephone interview from Columbia, Mo., where he heads the division of plastic surgery at the University of Missouri Medical Center.
Dr. Seth Goldberg, a facial plastic surgeon in Rockville, Md., has serious reservations about "Internet auctions or Web sites which offer discounts on elective medical and surgical procedures." He said many such operations offer financing programs that look attractive but really aren't because of "enormous interest rates."
"These sites are targeting people, such as the very young, who really can't afford plastic surgery. They lure them by offering surgery at $50 a week or so. But the people wind up signing their lives away. They get a nose job that would normally cost $8,000, but wind up having to pay $16,000," because they may be extending their payments over decades, said Amanda Uhry. Miss Uhry is an official of New York-based Seventh Millennium Public Relations Ltd., which represents some doctors concerned about the bidding to perform medical services.
Miss Uhry added: "Anything that has a financing arm attached, you know somebody is making money. No one is putting up Web sites as a humanitarian gesture."
Thatlook.com, a cyber firm that is a referral service for doctors doing cosmetic surgery, advertises that it charges no interest to those who pay off their loan within six months. For those whose finances are tight, it offers a "quality cosmetic procedure for as little as $300 down" and $38 a week.
Dr. Wallace Chang, chairman of ASPS's ethics committee, said the organization has not yet taken a formal position on the propriety of the so-called Internet physician medical auction sites. But the committee is currently investigating and will release its findings "by October," he said.
"The ethics committee [has already] indicated this concept is potentially unethical and an ethical infraction with regard to our guidelines," said Dr. Puckett.
He and Dr. Goldberg said they are particularly disturbed about a Web site that offers a raffle for breast-implant surgery, for those who wage bets of $20 or $50.
"I find that utterly offensive in every way. It's clearly unethical for all doctors who are members of our society, since our members are prohibited from participating in raffles," said Dr. Puckett.
"Ventures like this make medicine and physicians themselves look ridiculous," said Dr. Goldberg.
One company that has been listening to what the critics have to say is Medicine Online Inc., of Huntington Beach, Calif., which runs a service known as Bidforsurgery.
Kevin Moshayedi, chief executive officer, said Bidforsurgery provides specific information about surgeons who participate in the program such as how many times they've performed a certain procedure and their malpractice history. He also said no deal is made between a doctor and a patient until they have had a face-to-face meeting.
Since going on line in March, Bidforsurgery has received more than 1,000 requests for surgery. "Approximately 680 [applicants] have had meetings with doctors," and surgery usually occurs soon after those meetings, said Mr. Moshayedi.
To date, more than 250 doctors are registered with the on-line surgery service. When a doctor bids for a job, other doctors in competition are not informed of the amount. Only the consumer knows, said Mr. Moshayedi. He noted that the company which went national after the first month has not had any mishaps or complaints, to date.
"Medicine Online Inc. is an exception to the rule," said Miss Uhry.

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