Posting live Snapchat video during surgery is either a brilliant promotional strategy and patient education resource or an ethical quagmire, depending on who you ask. One plastic surgeon in New York claims a million viewers, and “Dr. Miami” has reportedly leveraged the idea into a reality TV show. When I performed the world’s first live plastic surgery webcast, I did it in order to highlight the potential for education over sensationalism. But this latest twist has plastic surgery leaders taking a hard look at the ethical boundaries. According to Dr. Dan Mills, President of the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, “There is no question that some physicians using Snapchat are being unprofessional and lack integrity.”
I’m not so sure it’s always a bad thing though, assuming that patient consent and privacy are respected. Beyond that, the primary concern is whether the surgeon is going to be distracted, thinking more about the audience than the patient. I think the opposite is more likely to be true; having an audience of thousands looking over your shoulder should make you hyper-vigilant about the details of the procedure.
How I came to do the world's first live plastic surgery webcast
It’s easy to see how this could veer from education to theatricality. The reason I agreed to do the live webcast was because I knew it would set a precedent, and wanted it to be done right. This was in the early days of the web, years before YouTube, and a demonstration webcast of a heart surgery had made the news. The company that had developed the technology envisioned it as a collaborative platform for physician education. But I knew immediately that someone would do a breast augmentation webcast as a publicity stunt. Sure enough, within a week a contest had been announced with a drive time radio shock jock screening the candidate patients, with the winner to have a free breast augmentation streamed live. Never mind that the doctor who would do the surgery was not a plastic surgeon.
So the breast implant manufacturers, back then still reeling from controversies about safety, were none too pleased to see their product associated with lurid and demeaning portrayals of women who were considering implants. So they asked me to do a webcast, protect the patient’s privacy, and do it tastefully. Since the surgery date for the radio contest winner had been announced, all we had to do was schedule ours a week before. We had a television crew here, lots of positive response, and of course once it had been done it was no longer news. The only negative feedback I got was apparently some comments by the radio host, for stealing his thunder and making their contest irrelevant.
So I say Snap away, just keep in mind that the patient is the star.