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Shrouded in the warm blanket of Internet anonymity, prospective patients have found a platform to share their insecurities and their success stories

There was once a time, before this digital age, when a plastic surgeon’s best friend was a talkative patient. If a satisfied client spoke candidly to his or her friends and family, that likely made for prospective new patients. A surgeon’s name on the lips of a refreshed face was worth more than any ad. Word of mouth was king.

But with the age of the Internet came an age of business opportunity, not just for e-startups and the like, but for a range of industries, as long as they were willing to get themselves online. There, plastic surgeons and other service providers would find a vast and vocal population of leads. If word of mouth has long been king, the Internet is its new kingdom.

The Comfort of Anonymity

The world of plastic surgery is certainly more open than it was in decades past, but still, most people don’t want to chat at the water cooler about the things they don’t like about their bodies. At the heart of the aesthetic industry is the issue of insecurity and confidence. Patients want to feel better about the way they look, and surgeons can help.

So how does a prospective patient, in the throes of vulnerability, get to the point where he or she is ready to invest time, money, and emotion in a procedure? The Internet provides an anonymous platform to get the patients to that next step.

Without revealing a single personal detail, a person who’s interested in cosmetic surgery can research procedure options, before-and-after photos, and doctors from the emotional safe zone of a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Perhaps more importantly, that person can also read from others who’ve shared stories, both good and bad, about their procedure experiences. This kind of emotional connection, when patients see themselves in those who’ve gone before, can be a powerful impetus toward action, and it’s one that’s hard to make without the Internet.

The Places Where Patients Connect

A lot of online tools have sprung up to connect past patients with prospective patients and surgeons. Not only do these tools provide a way for those just beginning their research to learn more, but they are also outlets for those who’ve already been there and want to share. Most of these people have had an experience with plastic surgery that was either so good or so bad that they want others to know about it. These are some of the platforms where patients connect:

Reviews and ratings sites: Yelp isn’t just for restaurants. Plastic surgery patients have taken to reviews and ratings sites such as Plastic Surgery Review, HealthgradesĀ®, and Real Patient RatingsĀ® to score their doctors and post about their processes. Real Patient Ratings has published research showing how much patients love these outlets. From the patient perspective, they can be cathartic and educational, but they can also be major boons for doctors. Good reviews have been shown to get patients in the door, and adding reviews to a doctor’s website can also be very beneficial.

Testimonials and real patient stories: This is another patient outlet that has to do with surgeons’ own websites. For example, Dr. Wayne Yamahata, a plastic surgeon in Sacramento, posts testimonials from his patients on his website. These are direct quotes from patients, sometimes left on comment satisfaction forms and sometimes sent in to the practice as thank-you notes. Some practices also post what are called real patient stories. For these, the patient’s story is told in their own words, which is posted to the doctor’s website, often with before-and-after photos. Prospective patients say these personal touches make a big difference when they’re trying to decide between doctors.

RealSelf.com: This site has become a major hub for past and future patients and their doctors to post about all aspects of cosmetic enhancement. Patients can ask questions for real doctors to answer. There are forums where people can solicit advice from those who’ve been in their shoes, and there’s a “Worth It” rating section that shows, on average, how satisfied patients are with nearly every cosmetic procedure you can think of.

These online platforms are now such an integral part of the world of cosmetic enhancement that surgeons have found they need to keep up with them in order to compete with their medical rivals. For patients, the outlets have proved to be extremely positive, pulling back the curtain on a topic that was once tough to talk about.

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