Research Article| Volume 65, ISSUE 11, P1506-1512, November 2012

Legal disputes over informed consent for cosmetic procedures: A descriptive study of negligence claims and complaints in Australia



      Plastic surgeons and other doctors who perform cosmetic procedures face relatively high risks of malpractice claims and complaints. In particular, alleged problems with the consent process abound in this area, but little is known about the clinical circumstances of these cases.


      We reviewed 481 malpractice claims and serious health care complaints resolved in Australia between 2002 and 2008 that alleged failures in the informed consent process for cosmetic and other procedures. We identified all “cases” involving cosmetic procedures and reviewed them in-depth. We calculated their frequency, and described the treatments, allegations, and outcomes involved.


      A total of 16% (77/481) of the legal disputes over informed consent involved cosmetic procedures. In 70% (54/77) of these cases, patients alleged that the doctor failed to disclose risks of a particular complication, in 39% patients claimed that potential lack of benefit was not explained, and in 26% patients allegations centred on the process by which consent was sought. Five treatment types—liposuction, breast augmentation, face/neck lifts, eye/brow lifts, and rhinoplasty/septoplasty—featured in 70% (54/77) of the cases. Scarring (30/77) and the need for reoperation (18/77) were among the most prevalent adverse health outcomes at issue.


      A mix of factors “supercharges” the informed consent process for cosmetic procedures. Doctors who deliver these procedures should take special care to canvas the risks and possible outcomes that matter most to patients.


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