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Need a lift? Be sure to check your plastic surgeon's credentials

The plastic surgery industry is alive and well in Maryland and across the United States. The demand for firmer skin, a tighter tummy and fuller, more pouty lips is higher than ever, and it's not hard to find a surgeon willing to take years off your appearance for the right price. But what is the true price, and whom are you paying?

Because fewer cosmetic procedures are covered by insurance these days, more patients are paying out of pocket. This trend has lured more doctors from their original practices into plastic surgery, which can be much more lucrative. But with so many doctors doing surgeries in which they're inexperienced, the risk of medical malpractice is higher.

Certified plastic surgeons who started in the field say more patients are coming to them with requests to repair disfigurements from botched surgeries. These repairs don't come cheap because they aren't usually covered by insurance, either. But many newer plastic surgery practitioners say that traditional plastic surgeons are simply trying to corner the market by insisting they're the only ones who can perform the surgeries.

The majority of licensed doctors get a specialty certification by one of 24 boards approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Board certification requires at least a three-year residency in a concentrated field, plus exams. But only a handful of states require doctors to be specific in their advertising about which specialty board certifications they have. In Maryland and other states, they only need to say that they're board-certified

There are no laws requiring doctors to practice only within the fields in which they were originally trained, and there's no way to tell how many doctors are practicing outside their specialty because they don't have to report they're doing so. They also don't have to report any plastic surgery complications, so you may never know if your plastic surgeon has a history of them. You can rely on reviews, if you can find them, but many victims of botched procedures are too embarrassed to report them. Perhaps the best you can do is check state medical board for any disciplinary actions and whether your prospective doctor has full operating privileges at a hospital.

Plastic surgery doesn't come cheap, so avoid having to shell out once for the original procedure and again for the repair. If you become disfigured in the process, a medical malpractice suit may be your next course of action.

Source: The New York Times, "Ear Doctors Performing Face-Lifts? It Happens," Kate Murphy, Jan. 30, 2012

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