It seems you can buy anything on the Internet these days. So why not plastic surgery?
The idea shocks many in the medical industry, and has local physicians calling for an investigation into the site by the state Attorney General’s Office. But consumers who are too busy or too shy to step into a physician’s office and ask questions are logging onto www.bidforsurgery.com to compare prices on 36 different surgical procedures, from nose jobs to bunion removal and teeth whitening.
So far, 470 transactions have been completed at the site after just three months in existence, said Keith Moshayedi, chief executive of Medicine Online Inc., the Huntington Beach company that launched the Web site. “We look at the Web site as a marketing tool for doctors to bring more patients in, just as they do in advertising.”
Bidforsurgery works much like eBay, the site matching buyers and sellers in an online auction.
How much for a nose job?
At the medical Web site, consumers fill out a medical history form and then specify the plastic surgery procedure they’re looking for and ask for bids. Then they wait seven days for the bids to roll in. With those bids, physicians enclose their qualifications and educational history.
After sifting through the offers, consumers can schedule a free consultation. So far, 178 doctors are registered on the site. Sixty percent of them are in California.
It’s a straightforward business plan, but one that has some plastic surgeons up in arms. They believe the site is dangerous and should be shut down.
“There is no consumer protection whatsoever,” said Dr. Michael McGuire, a Santa Monica physician and president of the California Society of Plastic Surgeons. “The only doctors involved in this are the most peripheral and desperate people There is no verification of the credentials of the doctors, so anybody could go on and pretend to be a doctor.”
Moshayedi denies that is the case. He says every single doctor registered on the site is licensed and board-certified. “We review their credentials and match all the information with the board to make sure they don’t have any sanctions against them or malpractice cases,” he said.
Still, McGuire maintains the Web site is illegal because it goes against state business and professional codes that stipulate it is illegal for physicians to pay a fee to obtain patients. He is currently looking for a state legislator who would ask state Attorney General Bill Lockyer to investigate.
Moshayedi has an answer to that criticism, too; he says physicians pay no fees to register with Medicine Online, so they’re not paying for patients. The business endeavor currently is financed through advertising.
While some physicians complain this is no way to find a specialist, particularly someone entrusted with shaping a person’s face, the site does have satisfied customers. One of them is Dawn Buchanan, a 43-year-old from Westminster who logged onto the Web site in April and had eyelid surgery a month later. She’s quite happy with the outcome.
Sorting through bids
“I had been toying with the idea of having my upper and lower eyelids done, but I had no idea if I could afford it,” said Buchanan, a billings specialist. “Within 72 hours I received five bids from five different surgeons. Along with each bid there was information on where they did their residency, where they went to college, if they were board-certified and what hospital they worked out of. It gave me a lot of information to sort through.”
Her bids for eyelid surgery ranged from $1,500 to $3,000. She chose to go with the $1,650 bid after she talked to her primary care physician, who recommended one of the plastic surgeons.
“I know many surgeons aren’t impressed with this idea,” she said. “But it leaves the marketing to the consumer, and price is very important to some consumers.”
Bidforsurgery is one of a handful of Web sites that have launched to help consumers find the best prices for elective surgery. More such sites are likely on the way.
Medicine Online was founded in 1995 by Drs. Sirus Farivar and Syrus Rayhan of Orange County. The company began as a simple Web site with a medical directory. Later, they added products and services geared to consumers and health care providers.
Bidforsurgery was started after the doctors analyzed the elective surgery field and found that more and more consumers were considering cosmetic procedures.
One of the first physicians they recruited to register on the site was Dr. Mohsen Tavoussi, a plastic surgeon in Huntington Beach. Tavoussi can understand the medical establishment’s cool reception to the doctor-patient matchmaking site. At the beginning, he too was skeptical.
“I didn’t like the name of it. I am not going to bid. My fee is fixed,” he said. “If patients are interested, they come in.”