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August 09, 1991 - Image 55

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-08-09

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Advertise or Perish?

Doctors and lawyers debate ethics, and subleties, of advertising.

Staff Writer


evies of young, nubile
beauties parade
across TV screens
every day. Turning
and flexing, they
show off slimmer, shaplier
bodies: Tighter buttocks, big-
ger breasts, stapled stomachs,
humpless noses, plumper lips.
The bodies are theirs, but
the handiwork is not, a
voice-over announces. It's
the work of a plastic or
cosmetic surgeon. More and
more doctors have succumb-
ed to what lawyers have
practiced for more than a
decade — the pressure to
In an age of stiff competi-
tion, television, radio and
print advertising has pro-
vided the extra edge in-
creased numbers of profes-
sionals turn to. Advertising
sells and gets results. Or
does it?
"Blatant physician adver-
tising was traditionally
looked down upon," said Dr.
Joseph W. Stern, a cosmetic
surgeon in Farmington Hills
who has in the past spent up
to $25,000 a year on adver-
tising. "There was never a
law against advertising. But
there was this unwritten
code that doctors were above
Negative attitudes toward
ethics of advertising are also
prevalent in the legal pro-
fession, said Tom Oren, di-
rector of communication for
the Michigan State Bar in
In fact; until the late
1970s, lawyers were barred
from advertising, Mr. Oren
"We perform a service for
people who may otherwise
have no way of knowing
what legal rights they
have," said Sanford Topper,
a personal injury lawyer
who advertises. "The people
who respond to TV or news-
paper advertisements are
usually from middle to lower
class circles. They're not
hooked into a professional
network. Sometimes, their

quickest recourse is TV,
radio or the newspaper."
When Dr. Stern, a board
certified gynecologist, began
his medical practice, he said
doctors were listed alpha-
betically in the yellow pages.
"Physicians and surgeons
weren't listed by specialty
the way they are today," Dr.
Stern said. "As more doctors
entered the fields of plastic
and cosmetic surgery, an
economic war broke out."
Dr. Stern, who introduced
liposuction and fat grafting
techniques to the
metropolitan Detroit area,
said the competition is
"Since the early 1980s,
more obstetricians and
gynecologists, ENT (ear,
nose and throat specialists)
and general surgeons bran-
ched into cosmetic surgery
as a way to boost their prac-
tices," Dr. Stern said.
"Patients know who's

good. Some gravitate to
those who aren't or are
wiley. But they'll soon
become suspicious of those
that duck the important
In April, the American
Society of Plastic and
Reconstructive Surgeons
called for controls on

"The key lies in

Dr. Joseph W. Stern

medical advertising and the
physicians who perform
plastic surgery.
Convened by the Com-
mittee on Small Business'
Subcommittee on Regula-
tion, Business Opportunities
and Energy, the hearing
focused on the risks assoc-
iated with the promotion of
cosmetic surgery, including

advertisements that make
unsubstantiated claims
about doctors' qualifications,
and the performance of
surgical procedures by
physicians without adequate
Pam Rasmussen, a
spokeswoman for ASPRS,
which represents about
3,500 physicians certified by
the American Board of
Plastic Surgery, said the
society is concerned about
advertisers who label them-
selves "cosmetic or plastic
surgeons," but don't reveal
their accreditation.
Ms. Rasmussen said the
Federal Trade Commission
prevents the American
Medical Association from
barring doctors from adver-
tising. Only false advertisers
-can be legally challenged,
such as those who claim
they're board certified, but
fail to mention their cer-

tification isn't in plastic
surgery, or that they receiv-
ed their certificate from a
board not recognized by the
American Board of Medical
"There is, in fact, nothing
to prevent any physician —
regardless of training —
from presenting himself as a
plastic surgeon," said Dr.
Norman Cole, one of the
ASPRS officers who testified
before the House subcom-
mittee. "For the patient, this
makes choosing a surgeon
like a game of Russian
The key is being honest
when advertising, Dr. Stern
"People are entitled to
know about the availability
of legal services as long as
it's not false, fraudulent or
misleading," Mr. Oren add-
"To combat perceived

Photos by Glenn Triest


Dr. Joseph W. Stern displays his TV ad for cosmetic surgery.



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