Plastic Surgery Procedures Fluctuate with the Economy

A research team explains the relationship between economic indicators and patients' propensity to undergo cosmetic procedures.

Physician compensation and reimbursement is less than it was in years’ past, as insurers are tightening their purse strings and paying less for office visits and procedures. However, the plastic and reconstructive surgery field is somewhat different than other medical fields because patients elect to receive many of those surgeries. Although most of that work was traditionally performed in the operative suite, plastic and reconstructive surgeons are carrying out more office-based procedures today.

With the American economy not as robust as it used to be, a team of researchers from the New Jersey Medical School of Rutgers University has examined the relationship between economic indicators and patients’ propensity to undergo cosmetic procedures.

The researchers compared the total number of plastic surgery procedures performed to a variety of leading economic indicators using 11-year data from leading economic organizations and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ annual reports on plastic surgery statistics.

While the overall volume of plastic surgery procedures has increased steadily since 2000, the authors determined that cosmetic minimally invasive procedures increased significantly in volume while the number of cosmetic surgical and reconstructive procedures remained relatively constant. As cosmetic surgical procedures appeared to be unrelated to the country’s economic state, the researchers postulated that patients plan cosmetic surgical procedures well in advance and without regard to the current or future economy.

Conversely, cosmetic minimally invasive procedures were strongly associated with corresponding economic indicators, which led the researchers to conclude that a patient’s decision to undergo a minimally invasive procedure is influenced by the economy. Therefore, if the economy is bad and potential patients have little discretionary cash, then they tend to avoid the procedures because they make those decisions quickly and without long-term planning.

Lastly, reconstructive procedures correlated negatively with all coincident economic indicators and appeared sensitive to current economic conditions — meaning that as the economy improved, surgeons performed fewer reconstructive surgeries and more cosmetic work. Therefore, the researchers suggested that as the economy improves and patient demand for minimally invasive procedures increases, plastic surgeons may do more minimally invasive cosmetic procedures because they are more lucrative. However, the authors noted that during an economic decline, reconstructive procedures may sustain a practice.

The researchers concluded that surgeons can tailor their practice to reflect the economic climate, performing more cosmetic office procedures during robust economic times and developing loyal clientele that may return for cosmetic surgical procedures in the future.