With stay-at-home orders leaving many bemoaning their webcam appearances, plastic surgeons have seen a rebound in demand for procedures with the reopening of their offices.
“Across the country there has been some pent-up demand," said American Society of Plastic Surgeons President Dr. Lynn Jeffers. "Our statistics show that people are still interested.”
Jeffers said breast augmentation and liposuction top the list of most common procedures, according to surveys of plastic surgeons' offices from across the country compiled by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
“Even during this pandemic the interest in plastic surgery has not waned," she noted.
Millions of Americans get Botox injections and breast augmentations every year. Following strict stay-at-home orders in March and April, many hospitals and doctors' office across the country have since resumed these elective procedures, particularly in places where infection rates are relatively stable.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 55% of plastic surgeons across the country reported that Botox injections were the most commonly sought treatment during the stay-at-home order, followed by 40% who reported that breast augmentation was the most frequent request.
These expectations align with prior plastic surgery trends. Botox injections and breast augmentations were the most common procedures in 2019 for nonsurgical and surgical categories, respectively. Nearly 8 million botox injections and nearly 300,000 breast augmentations were performed last year.
Dr. Heather Furnas, a plastic surgeon at Plastic Surgery Associates in Santa Rosa, California, and an adjunct clinical professor of plastic surgery at Stanford University, agrees.
“It’s like there was this pent-up demand for surgery – breast augmentation, breast lifts, tummy tucks . . . demand is huge," she said. "We filled up immediately.”
Furnas feels that stay-at-home orders may have contributed to this phenomenon.
“Some of them will say they see themselves on Zoom and they just want to feel better," she explained. "In this crazy time, I think people are looking for something to make them feel better about themselves.”
But as patients grapple with the economic impact of the pandemic, Jeffers predicts a higher proportion of patients will opt for less expensive and less invasive procedures initially.
“Bridging procedures like Botox and fillers – patients will want things like that until they are more secure,” she said.
And beyond cosmetic procedures, plastic surgeons are grateful to be able to resume other procedures as well, such as reconstructive plastic surgery for an injury or for breast or skin cancer.
As the pandemic swept the nation and all elective procedures were canceled, plastic surgeons say the blurred lines between essential and nonessential surgeries led to many difficult decisions.
“If somebody came in with something traumatic, it obviously had to be dealt with. The harder things were skin cancer, early breast cancers – at what point can you delay them and at what point must you move forward,” Jeffers explained.
These decisions were difficult because “no one knew how long this was going to last," she said. "Certain things can be put off for a month but they can’t be delayed for three or five.”
Many of these patients who had their cancer surgeries and reconstructions delayed are now part of a backlog that plastic surgeons like Jeffers are trying to tackle.
“We still don’t know the whole aftermath of that and how many people had certain amount of delayed care from a cancer perspective,” she said.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has somewhat normalized remote medical visits, in which patients video conference with their doctors to talk about their medical concerns and see if they can be addressed remotely.
Now, many plastic surgeons hope that virtual medicine is here to stay because it might increase access to treatments among people who live in more remote areas.
Although telemedicine can help relieve some of the demand for in-person visits, there are certain procedures and consultations that must be done in person. Plastic surgeons say they can be done safely by following CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of infection.
What you should know if you want to visit a plastic surgeon
For those wishing to see a plastic surgeon in the near future, Furnas said, “Find out what their protocol is. They should be informing you in advance to come with a mask, that they will be taking your temperature, and they will be screening your symptoms.”
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons put out guidelines for plastic surgeons to get back to work safely and Jeffers encouraged patients to ask their plastic surgeons about the safety procedures they have in place.
Furnas also said that not every patient will be a good candidate for elective surgery during a pandemic.
“Sometimes patients will push to do more than can safely be done," she said. "We do really look at comorbidities and so occasionally we will tell somebody, 'Why don’t we wait?’”
Furnas and Jeffers are both pleased to be providing patients with a source of happiness during these challenging times.
“The best part of being a plastic surgeon is seeing the happiness of the patient afterwards ... seeing them smile in this time is just really, really gratifying,” Furnas said.
Stephanie Farber, M.D., is a plastic surgeon from Pittsburgh and is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.