The Medical Board of Australia (MBA) and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) have released new guidelines for practitioners of cosmetic surgery and non-surgical cosmetic procedures. The aim is to improve patient safety by preventing harm caused by exploitation. These stricter regulations will come into effect from July 1, 2023, giving practitioners three months to comply with the changes.
The President of the Australian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS), Dr Tim Edwards, stated that the changes would force rogue operators into a better practice model, rather than enforce high surgical standards. He emphasised that surgery should be performed by surgeons, just as non-surgeons are not allowed to perform Neurosurgery. He added that the changes would not significantly impact registered Specialist Surgeons who already look for signs of mental health issues among patients and have recommended GP referrals in the past.
Referral from GP now necessary for cosmetic surgery
The new guidelines require patients seeking cosmetic surgery to obtain a referral from their general practitioner (GP), providing an extra layer of protection for patients. These new regulations also include higher standards for cosmetic surgery premises, improved patient assessment, and guidelines on how practitioners advertise their services, with a strong focus on online and social media advertising.
Higher advertising standards
Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher said, “We’re reforming cosmetic surgery to raise standards, improve consent about surgery, and raise the bar in advertising. We’re making it very clear what is not acceptable behaviour by practitioners.” The new regulations prohibit advertising that is false, misleading, or deceptive, and forbid the creation of unreasonable expectations of beneficial treatment. Cosmetic surgery advertising must be identified as adult content, and practitioners must include clear information about their registration type and number, risks and recovery, and avoid sexualized and negative body language.
Endorsement to help patients identify trained and qualified surgeons
The reforms also introduce a new endorsement on registration to help patients know who is trained and qualified to perform cosmetic surgery safely. The endorsement will make it clear on the public register if a doctor has met cosmetic surgery standards set by the Australian Medical Council (AMC) and the Medical Board of Australia.
A significant step towards improving patient safety
The new guidelines mark a significant step towards raising the bar on the cosmetic surgery sector, cleaning up the industry, and improving patient safety. Delia Rickard, Chair of the Cosmetic Surgery Oversight Group, described the new guidelines as “important for patients and mark a real turning point.” Patients seeking cosmetic surgery are encouraged to discuss their motivations with their GP, who can provide valuable insight into their medical history and any potential risks.
Screening tool for patient safety
To comply with the new regulations, ASAPS has been working with the Australian Foundation for Plastic Surgery to develop an advanced and validated Psychological Screening tool, which they will be rolling out to their members over the next few weeks. The screening tool will facilitate conversations between doctors and patients and protect patients as their GP will help them navigate the referral process to see a registered surgical specialist. Dr Edwards stated that the Psychological Screening tool would make a process that is already in place more robust, improving patient safety, which is paramount to specialist surgeons.
Impact on an already inundated Medical Community
Dr Edwards stated: “ASAPS is very concerned about the medical workforce issues in the General Practice community, and sympathises with them over these demand issues”.
There has been some concern over General Practitioners not being well-versed in cosmetic surgery matters and patients feeling embarrassed to discuss it with them. Dr Edwards explains that many cosmetic surgery procedures are also performed for medical reasons, and GPs are well-versed in referring medical patients for medical procedures that can sometimes be applied for aesthetic reasons. ASAPS regularly presents topical presentations at GP conferences and sectional learning sessions to educate GPs about the nuances of cosmetic surgery, and they are preparing information to be distributed to GP’s through their regular communication channels.
Dr Edwards emphasised the importance of shared care models of Australian healthcare, where GPs receive correspondence from all specialists, including plastic surgeons performing cosmetic surgery, to stay informed about the patient’s recent surgical history. He said that not every patient would require a referral to proceed with treatments, and the new screening tool would help to better identify the patients who needed one.
The new regulations are designed to improve patient safety and prevent harm caused by exploitation. Patients seeking cosmetic surgery are encouraged to obtain a referral from their GP and discuss their motivations with them. These guidelines, including higher advertising standards and a new endorsement on registration, are a significant step towards cleaning up the cosmetic surgery sector and improving patient safety.The new medical board regulations have been introduced to enforce a more ethical approach to cosmetic surgery and to prevent unregistered medical practitioners from performing surgery.
We also reached out to Ms Plaxy Q F Purich, Association Manager of the
Australasian College of Aesthetic Medicine (ACAM) for comment.
She advised “ACAM is still in the process of digesting the guidelines, and we may release something in the future, but at this stage there are no plans.”