Expert Tips on How to Inform Medical Aesthetic Patients
Interview on patient literacy with Dr. Gaurav Bharti, MD, FACS
With over 30,000 followers on social media, it’s an understatement to say that board-certified Plastic Surgeon Dr. Gaurav Bharti understands how to connect with people. Dr. Bharti believes meaningful connections start with building trust—and the best way to build trust is to foster patient literacy. Patient literacy is also referred to as health literacy, which is defined by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.1
Patient literacy is particularly important within Medical Aesthetics because it enables individual patients to help decide with their healthcare providers which plastic surgery procedures are best for them. A literate patient is also able to better anticipate their recovery process.
Fostering patient literacy is not merely the responsibility of the plastic surgeon. Each member of the staff at a plastic surgery practice plays a vital role in helping patients learn about, prepare for, and recover from the procedures they elect to undertake.
Dr. Bharti’s background as a mentor in Medical Aesthetics has translated into a passion for educating his patients and creating a practice with a “synergistic ecosystem” where each member plays a crucial role in a patient’s journey and outcome.
Educating patients on a “Mommy Makeover.”
Dr. Bharti is regularly sought out to perform “Mommy Makeovers,” which often involve a series of procedures performed on women who aim to augment their bodies similar to their pre-childbirth condition. “I very much like combination surgery, and I also like the idea of addressing multiple areas of concern,” Dr. Bharti explains.
The Mommy Makeover consists of procedures meant to address post-childbirth issues, including enlarged or changed breasts, separated abdominal muscles, a protruding abdomen, and changes to the labia that might make it difficult for a woman to exercise or could make sexual intercourse painful for her. Dr. Bharti believes it is critical to educate his patients by thoroughly explaining how these procedures are performed and making sure that he is addressing each patient’s particular concerns.
“Providing them with educational content and making sure they understand is the key. Then you can make a treatment plan, including exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it,” he explains. “I also let my patients know that it's not my decision; they get to decide exactly what's performed. I don't want to put pressure on them. The goal is to collectively come to a decision together so that the patient has enough knowledge. I've found that is the way you foster mutual agreement and goals.”
How each staff member in the practice contributes to patient literacy.
From the staff at the front desk to the injectors, each team member in a plastic surgery practice contributes to patient literacy by focusing on being a good provider. “Like anything in medicine, do no harm to a patient,” Dr. Bharti says.
Clarity and thoroughness are crucial, especially when it comes to explaining the potential for complications. “Make sure you’ve appropriately informed the patient about the good, the bad, and the ugly of an augmentation,” Dr. Bharti says. “Make clear what's really possible and what's not, and don’t be afraid to be clear that complications do happen. But by being a good provider, you can also say that you know how to handle those complications should they arise, and you will be able to take care of the patient.”
The entire staff contributes to patient literacy, and ultimately, education. Ensuring a patient’s safety isn’t just about treating their physical ailments; for staff members and surgeons alike, safety also involves providing patients with both “context and content.” Staff members can educate the patient on what they can expect in each stage of the procedure and recovery. This holistic, information-driven process translates to a safer working environment for everyone.
“When you see an aesthetic patient, it's not just you taking care of this patient. Your entire team provides care,” Dr. Bharti explains. “They help with things before, during, and after. I think safety 100% relates to the entire ecosystem that the patient finds themselves being a part of when they come and see you. The more developed that is, the more robust that is, the safer the care that will be provided to your patient.”
Informed patients often result in satisfied patients.
In Dr. Bharti’s experience, greater patient literacy has a direct effect on patient satisfaction. Patients feel reassured when what they experience during their procedure and recovery matches what they learned from their surgeons and staff.
A patient’s satisfaction is impacted by the fact that relevant information enhances the patient experience, which in turn improves the experience of the staff. “Everyone, including the patient, should be literate when it comes to the procedure. When everybody is dialed in, you get this super-synergistic effect and the best overall experience for a patient.”
Details should be accessible when explaining a complicated procedure.
One of the goals of patient literacy is to give a patient enough information to help them feel more confident when making their own decisions. For providers, this means understanding not only what a given procedure entails, but also the best way to explain it to someone who may have little to no medical background.
For Dr. Bharti, this translates into providing details in an accessible, clear format. “You have to be able to explain succinctly what the procedure entails—who the proper candidate of that procedure would be, what the risks are, what the complications are, what the risks are in combining procedures,” he says. “A longer operative time typically means a higher rate of potential complications. But on the flip side, patients usually don't want to recover multiple times, or there may be a potential financial benefit by combining things.”
What details should a provider include in a given information session? Dr. Bharti believes that greater transparency is a benefit and that the time needed to explain it should not be a limiting factor. “Don't hide anything from your patients,” he says. “Don't hide the potential complications from them. For example, don’t hide the complication of something like a pulmonary embolism—which is a risk from tummy tuck—or dangerous blood clots. Acknowledge these risks, but then tell your patients what you do to try to help prevent the complications. If it takes you an hour to explain it, then it takes you an hour to explain it. If it takes you 10 minutes to explain it, then it takes you 10 minutes, but you owe it to your patients to be as thorough as possible.”
The importance of establishing a “match” between patient and provider.
Providers also should make sure that they fully understand the needs of their patients and that they have a good connection with them. Dr. Bharti refers to this slightly more intangible process as “being a good match.” “Whether your patient is undergoing a Mommy Makeover, an injectable, a facelift, or a rhinoplasty, you have to find patients who are perfectly matched to you as the provider. If you can’t build a rapport and you don't feel like you understand what the patient wants, then you may need to elect not to operate or take care of them,” he says. “There's a lot of trust in making sure that you're appropriately matched with your patients so that you understand what their expectations are. And if all those things happen, then typically you will get a great result.”
The role of social media in patient literacy.
Social media has undeniably become a part of the Medical Aesthetics space. Dr. Bharti believes that surgeons and their staff have a responsibility to carefully use social platforms for educational purposes and not as a means to simply book more surgeries.
“Sometimes social media leads people to do things or think of specific aesthetic ideals that may not be really what we would want our patients or our family members to pursue,” he cautions. “In general, though, I think it has increased awareness of what can be provided. I think it's up to all of us to ensure that we are using it as an educational tool and not just as a platform for lead generation. We should be careful with what and how we portray things and make sure they're real and factual, and that social media is being used to better inform and educate our patients.”
Looking ahead to advances in Medical Aesthetics.
Dr. Bharti is excited about how the Medical Aesthetics field is pursuing advancements in treatments and procedures. He believes these future innovations will take place not only with the physical tools used to perform procedures but also in the industry’s approach to marketing materials.
“My biggest anticipated innovation in Medical Aesthetics is the refinement of the tools that we use to achieve patient outcomes, by which I mean improvements in procedures, products and treatments, and technologies and combining different modalities to achieve the best outcome,” Dr. Bharti says.
“Hopefully, these innovations will also help improve patient literacy because we have industry partners who are bringing these products to market along with us,” he elaborates. "By appropriately portraying product uses and patient outcomes in their marketing, aesthetic manufacturers can continue to educate patients to help inform them of the results that may be achieved.”
About Dr. Gaurav Bharti, MD, FACS
Since 2016, board-certified Plastic Surgeon Dr. Gaurav Bharti has been a co-owner and partner at a firm specializing in surgical aesthetic procedures. He has been recognized as a RealSelf Top 100 Social Influencer and chosen as a six-time Vitals Patient Choice Award winner. In addition to his practice, Dr. Bharti is also the Director of the HKB ASAPS-endorsed aesthetic surgery fellowship, where he mentors two fellows every year. He lectures at local, regional, national, and international plastic surgery meetings.
Health Resources & Services Administration. https://www.hrsa.gov/about/organization/bureaus/ohe/health-literacy/index.html. Accessed March 30, 2022