AMA House of Delegates

TV makeovers more extreme than real

Physicians discuss the ethics of reality television at a CEJA Open Forum.

By Tanya Albert Henry — Posted Dec. 27, 2004

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If you're a physician concerned that patients watching makeover reality television shows will unrealistically expect the world from their own plastic surgery, you're not alone.

Doctors gathered at the American Medical Association Interim Meeting in December voted to make it AMA policy to oppose television programs that minimize the seriousness and risks of surgery and distort patient expectations.

Some physicians who have tuned in to shows on which patients have multiple procedures at one time are worried that the programs aren't doing enough to explain surgical risks. They're also concerned that the dramatic end results could leave viewers with unrealistic expectations.

"I'm concerned about audiences watching on TV who tend not to understand risks that are being brushed over quickly in these programs," said Florida family physician E. Coy Irvin Jr., MD. "We need to protect patients from misinformation."

At least one physician said she's seen some positive effects on patient education because patients see the bruising and swelling.

"I've had patients come in and say, 'I didn't realize how I would look after the surgery,' " said Georgia dermatologist Billie L. Jackson, MD.

The AMA House of Delegates also asked the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs to evaluate existing opinions on advertising and informed consent and, if necessary, to create new opinions to guide doctors considering participating in a show.

CEJA members heard thoughts on the issue at an Open Forum. Among the concerns that physicians raised were patients seeking out doctors they see perform surgery on television, patients taking on more surgical risks than they otherwise would and an eroding of patient-physician confidentiality. A number of specialty societies have addressed similar issues.

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