A Business, Career Built on Transparency

Plastic surgeon Jonathan Kaplan, MD, recognizes the value of transparency in health care and built his business BuildMyBod on the concept of providing a database of procedure pricing to patients.

As far back as Jonathan Kaplan, MD, can remember, he knew that he wanted to be a doctor. More specifically, friends of his family recall that even at the age of 4 he wanted to be a surgeon.

No surprise, really. His father was a general surgeon, two of his brothers became surgeons, and his sister became a pediatrician. It was in his blood.

But plastic surgery?

As he got older, Kaplan would follow his father to the operating room, and when Kaplan was 16 years old one of his father’s colleague invited Kaplan to watch a different procedure.

“And when I saw the procedure he was doing, I was hooked,” recalls Kaplan, a board certified plastic surgeon and founder of BuildMyBod.com. “It was just removing a skin cancer on the leg, and then taking skin from the neck to close up the defect or the wound on the leg. And I just thought that was amazing—to take parts from one part of the body and fill in other parts.”

Focused on transparency

Kaplan finished his plastic surgeon fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic in 2007, and seized an opportunity to practice in Baton Rouge, LA, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. He was the first plastic surgeon the hospital had ever hired, and in the course of his 6-year stint he was able to build the practice to his liking. At the core of that effort was the development of BuildMyBod.com.

Two years ago, Kaplan realized that patients were always calling the office and asking how much a particular procedure cost—just as they might for any plastic surgeon, or any doctor who offers services that may not be covered by insurance. And sometimes the doctor’s office will say, “Well, we have to see you for a consultation beforehand.”

But all the patients really want is a ballpark figure. They want to know whether or not it’s worth their time to come in.

“I realized that when the patients do come in for a consultation, they sit down with a cosmetic coordinator who has a fee schedule and goes over all the pricing with them,” Kaplan says. “So I felt like, if a fee schedule exists on paper, then why can’t you put it in a computer system and patients can find out that information online.”

BuildMyBod.com was born.

Caveats and pleasant surprises

Kaplan, who recently moved his practice to San Francisco—“I felt like I needed to be in a larger city, kind of as a proof of concept of BuildMyBod”—recognized that by offering consumers a complete database of procedure pricing for cosmetic procedures, some caveats had to be included.

“Whenever a patient goes through and chooses several procedures they’re interested in and submits their wish list with their contact information, the price estimate that they’re given on the screen and in the e-mail that they receive—it says that it’s an estimate both times,” Kaplan explains. “It makes it very clear that it’s an estimate. Every time you see the total price of the estimate, it says it’s an estimate.”

A second caveat truly works to the patient’s advantage. When the price for procedures is posted, it includes the cost of anesthesia and other related fees. The estimate is also based on the maximum time needed for the procedure, which often turns out to be shorter.

For instance, the estimate for a tummy-tuck procedure is based on four operating hours, but Kaplan says that in reality, it’s closer to two hours. The reason for the longer estimate is to cover the possibility that the patient is bigger and will need more time.

“So, they get an estimate for four hours worth of operating time,” Kaplan explains. “When they come in and I see that they’re small and it will take closer to two hours, then the actual estimate we give them is less expensive, so the patients are really hooked on the idea of getting the operation.”

But BuildMyBod.com doesn’t just benefit Kaplan and his patients. There are currently 86 plastic surgeons across the country whose pricing schedules are on the BuildMyBod website and mobile app.

Patient-centered approach

Kaplan recognizes the value of transparency in health care. Recently, BuildMyBod announced that it was joining with RealPatientRatings.com, the only patient-rating site endorsed by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

“More than 60% of US adults use the Internet to find medical information,” Kaplan explains. “Over 30% of medical searches are about health care providers, and 10% of those people seek pricing information about plastic surgery procedures. By joining with RealPatientRatings.com … [patients] can find a highly rated plastic surgeon and find out how much treatment will cost at the same time.”

He explains that according to a survey conducted by RealPatientRatings.com, if a patient has a better understanding of price before they meet with a physician for a consultation, or if they have a better idea of the cost of the procedure they’re interested in, they are 21% more likely to book the surgery.

Loving partnership

Kaplan says the work he does is particularly rewarding because he’s able to do it with his spouse, who’s the business manager for BuildMyBod.com.

“The kind of brainstorming we do together on how to improve things, and how to provide better patient experiences, I think that has been the most rewarding, kind of unexpected part of my career to this point,” he says.