Ethics of Aesthetic Medicine: Unique Considerations for Practitioners

Compared to traditional medical practices, aesthetic medicine presents unique ethical issues.

As a practitioner, you face ethical considerations surrounding which patients to treat, as  well as explaining all the risks associated with procedures.

Central to the ethics of aesthetic medicine is the question, “Is this in the best interest of my patient?” The best interest is not always clear in aesthetic medicine, and requires unique considerations for practitioners.

Patient autonomy in elective surgery

Medical technology has revolutionized the aesthetic medical industry. Procedures are safer, more effective, and have better results than decades ago. Combined with cultural concern for image and appearance, these advancements have led to an increased desire for aesthetic surgery.

Unlike traditional clinical medicine, where practitioners are treating an illness or injury, aesthetic medicine is considered “elective.”  All patients have the right to decide whether they wish to undergo a procedure. Patient autonomy is even more important in aesthetic medicine, where patients are electing surgical intervention to enhance or correct.

To ensure that your patient is making an informed decision, provide all details of the risks, current technology, and benefits, to ensure the decision is a partnership between you and your patient.

Set realistic expectations

Expectation management is key when consulting patients about cosmetic procedures. In most medically necessary procedures, patients expect some skin imperfections or suboptimal results. But, in elective cosmetic procedures, patients expect to look “improved,” and anything less can lead to disappointment.

Saying “No”

You want to help your patients achieve their desired outcomes. However, some patients are not ideal candidates for cosmetic procedures. One example is those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD is a psychiatric syndrome that is characterized by a preoccupation with a non-existent cosmetic “defect” and repeat attempts to have it surgically corrected.

Performing a procedure on a patient with BDD or other psychiatric disorders that dwell on imperfections will ultimately lead to dissatisfied patients.

Best interests of the patient

Psychiatric disorders aside, there are other types of patients for whom aesthetic procedures may not be in their best interest. These would be patients with comorbidities, individuals with unrealistic expectations, and those going through life crises.

As an aesthetic medical provider, it’s important to consider these potential obstacles when consulting with a patient about undergoing a cosmetic procedure.

Commercial interest

Another unique aspect of aesthetic medicine is how it’s situated in the larger field of financial interest. There has been a great expansion in businesses offering non-physician based cosmetic services with untrained practitioners.

Aesthetic medicine practitioners should position themselves as experts of these procedures with the highest likelihood of optimal results for patients. Certifications such as AAAMS’s CE Approved Aesthetics 101 Training will position you as a certified expert in the field of cosmetic medicine.

Receiving training in aesthetic procedures benefits patients by providing the best, safest results and guarantees your practice will rise above the untrained competition.

Do no harm

The Hippocratic oath of “Do No Harm” continues to be essential for the practice of aesthetic medicine. You may decline to operate on a patient for whom the risks of surgery outweigh the potential benefits to the patient. Determine this on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, no practitioner should proceed with an operation merely for personal financial gain.

Right patient for the right reasons

No matter the procedure, ethical integrity is vital in the practice of medicine. Aesthetic medicine can help give patients who are suffering meaningful improvements in their lives.

High-quality professional practices always operate with the guiding principle that procedures are done for the right reason on the right patient. The best interest of the patient should always preempt all other considerations, including financial and emotional.

Training and experience is key

To avoid complications and suboptimal results, practitioners need to hone their craft with continuous training. Clinicians performing procedures should, ideally, always be learning new techniques to benefit patients.

An example of how to expand your training in aesthetic medicine is through enrolling in the hybrid course offered by AAAMS. AAAMS’s hybrid course provides a blend of traditional and virtual learning.

Patients need to perceive that they are in the best hands with aesthetic medical providers, and our courses offer that credibility. Administered by trained physicians, AAAMS courses offer cutting-edge training for medical professionals looking to add new specialties to their practices, or switch specialties. 

The growth of the cosmetic industry requires all aesthetic medical providers to reflect on their ethical codes and practices and ensure that they align with the best interests of the patient.

If you’d like to explore the possibilities this field has to offer, take a look at all of AAAMS’s courses here.

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