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Is it ethical to name or TM a surgical procedure?


Is it ethical to name or trademark a surgical procedure? It depends, of course, but an expert explains that it's less about the trademark and more about placing value on the surgeon-patient bond.

Is it ethical to name or trademark a surgical procedure? It all depends on who’s doing the marketing, said Harold Kaplan, M.D., Torrance, Calif., during his presentation, “Is it ethical to name or TM a surgical procedure?” at the annual Vegas Cosmetic Surgery meeting recently. If it’s done by a franchise and not an individual doctor or practice, that’s where the problems start, he said. 

“I have no problem with marketing,” Dr. Kaplan said. “I have trademarked two procedure names myself.”

In fact, Dr. Kaplan made sure everyone in attendance know he owns the trademark for Wonderlift, a minimially invasive procedure that lifts the lower third of the face, and RevitalEYES, a combined brow lift-blepharoplasty procedure. Dr. Kaplan also made it clear, however, that he’s simply trademarking names, not the procedures themselves. Franchises that try to own procedures fall under a different treatment model, he said - one that values the “business” over the surgeon-patient bond.

Dr. Kaplan said he himself has been the target of such marketing campaigns that mail glossy fliers with “cutesy” surgical procedure names without using the word “surgery” anywhere and have an utter lack of personal identity and, hence, accountability.

“Who am I going to see? When you come into my office, you see me, not a sales representative or counselor who feels your finances out,” Dr. Kaplan said, likening the franchise model to an experience buying real estate.

That isn’t to say that patients won’t necessarily have a successful surgical procedure, Dr. Kaplan said, but he has seen patients who are left hanging out to dry during their post-operative recovery without their surgeon’s support or advice. This practice model, he said, abandons the all-important surgeon-patient bond.

“The issue isn’t with marketing. Marketing is important to our practices. I get upset when there’s no name. Who’s running the place?" he said.

At the end of the day, it’s an issue of the all-too familiar phrase “buyer beware.” Any ethical provider will make sure they're in a position to offer support and advice to patients before, during and after care. 


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