The Safety Of Liposuction And Cosmetic Surgery

Liposuction is a very effective procedure for removing unwanted fat. It is a well known procedure that many people want and some have concerns about its safety. There are stories every year around the U.S. about serious complications arising from liposuction so it is no wonder it can give one pause. If you dissect behind these stories, however,  there is almost always a reason these liposuction complications have occurred. This recent story caught my attention…I will get into the reason after the story.

‘Earlier this month,  an Arizona doctor was charged with murder after three patients died in 2006 and 2007 during liposuction procedures performed at his clinic. According to the prosecution, the doctor did not kill these patients with a gun, rather the murder weapon was arrogance and the motive was greed. Two of the patients overdosed on anesthesia during routine liposuction procedures and the third died of a fat embolism after undergoing buttock augmentation with fat injections. All three were improperly intubated during resuscitation, making it impossible to save them.

The doctor, who was trained in Internal Medicine and Dermatology, opened a cosmetic clinic in 2005. Initially he offered Botox, hair restoration and laser procedures before moving ‘up’ to do  liposuction and breast augmentation. He employed medical assistants with little or no medical training. According to the Arizona Medical Board Review, his medical staff included a massage therapist, a former restaurant owner, two former pre-school teachers and his mother. And when he had to surrender his medical license after the first two deaths, he hired a homeopathic doctor to perform surgery that soon killed a third patient.’

While on the surface of the story liposuction receives the blame for these complications, even the medically uneducated would perceive that the real problem was not the procedure but the doctor. The average person reading this story would say…how could this happen? Aren’t there rules and regulations that govern what doctors are allowed to do?

The simple answer is…no. Once  a doctor has a medical license, they can perform anything they want…in their office or their own clinic. The only regulations are when they try to perform procedures in a hospital where medical oversight exists. This has become a significant issue in cosmetic surgery where much can be done under local and IV sedation anesthesia. An office setting without general anesthesia is very appealing to many patients, particularly when it comes to liposuction, as they perceive a limited or virtually no recovery scenario. As this story illustrates, the office setting under local anesthesia may not be safer than an operating room under general anesthesia. Not to mention that the results between the two locations may not be remotely similar.

How could someone with no real training be allowed to perform these procedures you ask? Because in the office setting the only ‘regulations’ a doctor has is their own conscience. In today’s medical climate, whether it be for economics or ego, the appeal of an upfront fee as opposed to an insurance billable procedure is an invitation for doctors to step beyond what they are actually formally trained to do.

Prospective cosmetic surgery patients need to do their homework and look out for their own health and safety. That attractive low fee and the ‘simple’ office procedure can be a recipe for problems. Bargains are for the retail mall, not for medical procedures.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana