"Uncorrectable" liposuction disaster: board-certification matters

A. Foley on 14 Nov 2008 at 12:52pm

Despite our guidelines for identifying board certification, there isn't a week that goes by where we aren't challenged by a doctor who demands to be listed as a plastic surgeon in the RealSelf.com doctor directory.

Our position is that a "plastic surgeon" is a medical doctor who is certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).

A recent lawsuit illustrates why we take board certification so seriously and, consequentially, make some doctors unhappy.

The Oregon Supreme Court just affirmed the lower court decision in Knepper v. Brown, in which a liposuction patient sued her physician and Dex (a yellow pages vendor) for injuries arising from the surgery.  The doctor administering the tumescent liposuction was a dermatologist, not a board certified plastic surgeon as referenced in Dex advertising.

While the doctor settled the injury case out of court, Dex decided to go to litigation to fight the charge that it had committed fraud by advertising the doctor as "board certified" in plastic and reconstructive surgery. 

The plantiff alleged:

1) Dex knew that Brown was not board certified in plastic and reconstructive surgery; 

(2) Dex and Brown together designed and developed an advertisement that falsely implied that Brown was a board-certified plastic surgeon;

(3) Knepper wanted a board-certified plastic surgeon to perform liposuction surgery on her;

(4) Knepper relied in part on the misleading Dex advertisement and retained Brown to perform liposuction surgery;

(5) if Knepper had known the truth about Brown's credentials, she would not have consented to surgery by him; and

(6) Brown performed the liposuction negligently, causing injury to plaintiffs. 

Dr. Lloyd Hale, a Portland plastic surgeon, testified about the qualifications of dermatologists, as opposed to those of plastic surgeons, to perform surgical procedures.

He observed that dermatologists usually do not receive formalized surgical training, while plastic surgeons receive extensive surgical training over a period of many years.  Hale further observed that surgical knowledge, training, and experience are important for obtaining good results from liposuction.  Hale acknowledged that plastic surgeons do not always meet the standard of care for liposuction or other surgical procedures, but he stated that he had never seen an injury like Knepper's -- which he described as an "uncorrectable disaster" -- at the hands of a doctor who had gone through formalized surgical training.

The bottom line is that many consumers trust that a board certified plastic surgeon is qualified to conduct aesthetic surgery.  Anyone or any service that purposely attempts to obfuscate the true qualifications of a medical professional is putting consumers in harms way.