Dr Asim Shahmalak argues why it’s time to end the hard sell in aesthetic practice
Patients quite rightly expect us to put their interests first, regardless of whether it benefits our practice or not. In my work as a hair transplant surgeon I have treated some big names in show business, but for every celebrity that has had a hair transplant, there is another that I have had to turn away. While my practice may have benefited enormously by the global publicity, I had to say ‘no’ as, if I treated them, I would not be acting in the patient’s best interests and, thus, I would have been failing in my duties as a medical professional.
Unfortunately, not every clinic has the same ethics. In my opinion, it has become apparent that hard-sales tactics are being used to the detriment of the patient. Patients will be told, ‘If you book today, you can have 25% off’ – pressuring them into making a decision quickly. Other clinics will offer price matches on foreign clinics, in the same way you see supermarkets matching its competitor’s prices on branded goods. I’ve also seen botulinum toxin offered as part of a ‘3 for 2’ deal, like tubes of toothpaste at the chemist.
I have spent more than 30 years building my reputation as a successful practitioner and establishing my hair transplantation clinic, which, to my knowledge, is one of only four such clinics in UK that is doctor-owned and run. While many other clinics have excellent doctors working in them, it is not always the medical professionals who are in charge of running the business. To my knowledge, a sales team or ‘consultants’ (as they are often described to perspective patients) are running some clinics. Their primary interest is not always that of the patient – and can be, instead, focused on making a sale and generating profits for the business. This can mean patients are being treated too early or when there is little chance of a successful treatment because they are not suitable.
I often see the results of this recklessness as around 10% of my workload is what we could call ‘repair work’ – fixing the poor surgery provided by other clinics. Most of my repair jobs arise from patients who have gone abroad for treatment. The most popular locations tend to be Greece, Turkey and Spain, and increasingly India and Pakistan, too. In each case, the regulation in these countries is not as strict as it is here; patients can have a hair transplant without ever seeing a fully qualified surgeon – a technician rather than a doctor will do the grafts. Patients seeking repairs have come to me blaming foreign hard sells; they are lured by the cheaper prices abroad but bitterly regret cutting corners on cost. If you buy cheap, you buy twice.
Clinics pushing patients into undergoing a treatment too quickly is not just an issue in hair transplantation surgery – the issue is prevalent right across the aesthetics industry. From breast implants to filler injections, there are rogue procedures taking place that are damaging the reputations of us all, and making some patients wary of seeking treatment that has the potential to transform their lives.
Patients seeking repairs have come to me blaming foreign hard sells; they are lured by the cheaper prices abroad but bitterly regret cutting corners on cost
It pains me to see the hard-sell tactics being used so blatantly. There have been significant developments in the aesthetics industry within the last 10 years, and while technologies have advanced right across the board, offering patients highly sophisticated treatments which produce far better results than ever before, the principles and values underpinning some of the clinics in our field leave a lot to be desired. I think the way forward is to put more power into the hands of doctors and clinicians who are experts in their field and to rely less on sales people and consultants, who may put profit ahead of their patients’ best interests. I believe the best way to do this is to bring in tighter regulation in the UK. The British Association of Hair Restoration Surgery (BAHRS) is keen to liaise more closely with the General Medical Council and the health sector to bring in even tougher laws, as are other bodies such as the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS).
In the hair transplantation sector, we are now moving towards a system where you would not be able to operate unless you were a member of the BAHRS, which insists on the highest ethical standards. The most important thing we are all working for in aesthetics is our reputation as medical professionals. As such, it is vital that we do not feel pressurised into focusing on sales and profit instead of the care of our patients. People pay for quality so, remember, your reputation doesn’t need to be built on how many sales you make, more so, it should reflect the high level of care and successful treatments you offer your patients. It’s time to end the hard sell.