As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
And the same is true when it comes to hair transplant surgery. You skimp at your peril – and you need only look at some of the well-documented ‘botched’ examples to realise that taking short-cuts with your looks does not pay dividends.
The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) has announced a new global campaign to expose what they say is a ‘black market underworld’ of unethical hair transplant surgery providers.
Cut-price treatments around the world are often performed by rogue clinics staffed by non-doctors or unsupervised technicians and which sometimes actually operate outside the local laws.
This means patients may not only be at risk of poor aesthetic results and scarring, but may have no option for redress when it all goes horribly wrong.
And what’s more, this ‘black market’ is expanding – meaning it’s never been more vital that patients are informed and educated about the potential pitfalls.
First of all, let’s look at the stats.
According to ISHRS figures, there were an estimated 635,000 surgical hair transplant procedures worldwide in 2017.
Compare that to the 397,048 procedures performed in 2014 – and just 225,779 procedures in 2006 – and the surge in popularity is laid bare.
There are many factors driving the trend, but the increasing number of celebrities talking about their surgical hair restoration is certainly contributing to the popularity of hair transplants.
And this transparency and honesty when it comes to talking about transplants is helping to diminish some of the stigma and taboo. It’s no longer the ’embarrassing’ procedure it once was.
A thriving market, however, brings others to the table and not all providers have the patient’s best interest at heart.
Sometimes personal financial advancement takes priority. Also, in countries where the cost of living, and private healthcare provision, is less than in the UK there is an opportunity to market this advantage abroad where medical procedures cost much more, like in the UK.
This isn’t about saying all medical tourism is bad – far from it.
There are many clinics around the world operating within the full scope of that country’s regulations and, importantly, where long-term patient care is paramount. The ISHRS has more than a thousand doctor members from around 70 countries across the world.
However, we also know that there are clinics out there staffed by ‘practitioners’ who do not have the requisite training, skill or expertise to carry out successful hair transplant procedures. Frequently we see their patients at our own clinics, when they’re desperate for disfiguring mistakes to be rectified.
So what do patients need to be aware of?
In the UK, any clinic offering a hair transplant surgery must register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and will, therefore, be inspected. If a doctor operates on a patient in a non-CQC registered hair transplant clinic then they are breaking the law.
Additionally, doctors in the UK must abide by strict ethical guidelines set by the General Medical Council (GMC), and must be covered by regulated liability insurers. If they breach this guidance, a patient can report them to the GMC.
Patients should be suspicious of any hair transplant clinic that does not clearly list who the doctors are and what their qualifications are. Surgical planning, including method of donor hair harvesting, number of grafts (follicular units) or hairs (follicles) that are required, and transplant design should NEVER be decided by a patient advisor or clinic manager. Only the doctor should make the surgical decisions.
There needs to be wider public awareness campaign about hair transplant surgery, who can offer it, and the type of facility where it should be performed. In the UK, patients should not hesitate to report to the GMC any doctors who behave unprofessionally and to the CQC any clinics where the care is suboptimal.
All doctors will get complications and poor results from time to time. However, an ethical practice will look after these patients well and try to rectify the problem.
If you have a horror story to share either as a patient who has a had a bad experience in the UK or overseas, or a clinician who’s repaired someone else’s poor work, you can report it to the ISHRS.
By identifying and reporting those responsible for unethical or illegal practice, we can all try and improve patient safety across the globe.
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