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Patients not doing enough research before plastic surgery

Plastic surgeons here are seeing more patients suffering the consequences of botched operations or the lack of follow-up care.

Many of these cases are a result of poor handiwork done overseas or by doctors who are not certified specialists, they say.

Dr Martin Huang, who practises at Cosmetic Surgery Clinic at Orchard Road´╗┐, sees one or two patients a week who need treatment for previous operations.

It is a significant increase from the one or two a month he used to encounter a few years ago.

"It's worrying, especially with more Singaporeans making their way to Korea for surgery. They seem to think there are good surgeons there only when, in fact, there are both good and bad in every country," he says.

Just last week, Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao reported that an Indonesian man was declared brain-dead after a facelift at a Camden Medical Centre aesthetic clinic.

The New Paper on Sunday understands that the doctor involved is not a specialist nor a trained plastic surgeon. Previous news reports reveal that he had been rapped twice for misleading people into thinking that he was a trained plastic surgeon.

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is meant to follow up.

Reviews online and into the credentials of doctors are often insufficient in predicting whether you will be in good hands, say plastic surgeons.

"It's very difficult to tell simply through the website of a doctor where everything would look good, obviously," says Dr Huang.

Dr Leslie Kuek, whose clinic is located within Gleneagles Medical Centre, says patients are often naive in thinking that botched jobs can be fixed easily.

On the contrary, they not only end up spending more money on additional procedures, but put themselves through unnecessary anguish, frustration and anxiety, says Dr Kuek.

"In any kind of surgery, complications are sometimes irreversible. Not always can bad results be reversed. It can perhaps be salvaged," he says.

A concerning trend is the increasingly aggressive advertising efforts from foreign clinics.

They send out electronic flyers which tout breast jobs, liposuction, and show before-and-after pictures of facelifts.

While Singapore health-care institutions come under a strict code when publicising their medical services here, these rules do not apply to foreign clinics.

This is because the clinics are based overseas, and they do not come under local jurisdiction.

A Health Ministry spokesman noted that foreign doctors cannot see patients and give consultations here without first registering for a practising certificate.

Patients who seek treatment overseas do so at their own risk.

The Ministry of Health does not have jurisdiction over overseas health-care institutions, patients would have to seek their own legal recourse in the country where the procedure was performed in case of unexpected outcomes.

Plastic surgeons here say a pack mentality among beauty-conscious women, coupled with aggressive marketing, has produced a worrying trend. Says Dr Kuek: "They end up doing more than what they originally intended just because the others are doing it. And sometimes that leads to regret because they did not think through if that was a change they really wanted."

Similarly, Dr Huang recalls having a patient who had no intention of undergoing cosmetic surgery, but ended up having her jaw reduced after an overseas trip with friends.

"She regretted it after she came back to Singapore. There's a disturbing lack of discernment among patients."

In some cases, the consequences can be serious. Says Dr Huang: "I saw a patient who had a facelift done in Korea. Fat was injected in the cheek and lower eyelid area, which later developed an infection, causing severe scarring of the lower eyelid."

In another case, a patient suffered nerve damage to the thigh after fat was sucked out from it and injected into her face.

"She had numbness and problems walking as a result," he says.

Risk factors of going overseas include language barriers and a lack of proper follow-up, explain doctors.

Says plastic surgeon JJ Chua, who has a surgery at Mount Elizabeth Hospital: "If a problem develops, it's not like they can take a taxi or train to the clinic to seek help the next day. They are thousands of miles away. Patients should not assume that healing after an operation is always a straightforward process."