Poll reveals increase in elective cosmetic procedures -- and in complications

March 7, 2006

Rochester, N.Y. -- Results of a recently released Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health-Care Poll suggest that an increasing percentage of Americans are undergoing invasive cosmetic treatments that sometimes are not covered by medical insurance.

Rochester, N.Y. - Results of a recently released Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health-Care Poll suggest that an increasing percentage of Americans are undergoing invasive cosmetic treatments that sometimes are not covered by medical insurance. Similar numbers of adults say they have had invasive (7 percent) and non-invasive (8 percent) cosmetic surgery or other treatments - many of which appear to be medically unnecessary.

The survey also shows that while the percentage of adults who have undergone cosmetic surgery or other treatments remains relatively small, those who have undergone treatment are more likely to report complications that require follow-up than they have been in recent years.

“In an era of rising out-of-pocket costs for healthcare, a small but increasing minority of U.S. adults are opting for expensive invasive cosmetic treatments that are not always covered by medical insurance,” says Katherine Binns, president of the Healthcare and Public Relations Research Practice at Rochester-based Harris Interactive. “Many of these procedures are elective rather than medically necessary; and the percentage of people getting the more invasive treatments is increasing slightly. Although the numbers remain small, it is somewhat concerning to see that the percentage of people reporting complications from invasive cosmetic procedures has increased over the past two years.”

The survey polled 2,066 U.S. adults between January 23 and 25, 2006, for the Wall Street Journal Online’s Health Industry Edition. Here is a sampling of results:

Of those who have undergone a non-invasive treatment, a majority said their procedure was performed by a medical doctor with a medical degree or another medical professional. The exception to this appears to be laser treatments: While 22 percent of adults who had laser treatment say theirs was performed by a medical doctor or another medical professional (17 percent), 61 percent say their laser procedure was done by a technician - this represents an increase of 25 percentage points from 2004’s poll.

With the exception of bariatric surgery, most of those who have undergone invasive cosmetic surgery or other treatments say their procedure was elective. While a majority (54 percent) of those who had bariatric surgery said it was medically necessary, elective bariatric surgery doubled in popularity within the past two years, from 23 percent to 46 percent.

Elective liposuction procedures fell from 96 to 81 percent, while medically necessary liposuction increased from 4 percent to 19 percent.

While a majority (63 percent) of those who have undergone any cosmetic treatment or other procedure say they were not concerned about potential complications prior to the treatment, 33 percent say they were somewhat concerned, and 9 percent say they were very concerned. These percentages increase significantly for those who have undergone an invasive procedure (47 percent somewhat concerned, 17 percent very concerned). These concerns appear to be somewhat warranted: 10 percent report experiencing medical problems that required follow-up as a result of cosmetic surgery or other treatment they received, up from 2004’s 7 percent.

The poll also reveals concerns about treatments conducted by technicians. More than half (56 percent) of adults who have never had cosmetic surgery or other treatments say they would be concerned about receiving such treatments from someone other than a medically trained doctor.