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The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the cosmetic and elective surgery industries

Posted: 12/10/2020

The consequences of lockdown and government-enforced restrictions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have, of course, been felt heavily by businesses across all industries. Both the private healthcare sector and health and beauty businesses, which rely on close physical contact with their clients, have been significantly affected. The cosmetic surgery industry falls at the intersection of these two sectors, yet the impact of Covid-19 on cosmetic surgery so far appears to have been mixed.

For many, non-essential medical treatment has understandably been less of a priority over recent months. Many healthcare professionals who conduct elective surgery have been unable to provide their usual level of service, either because they have focused on frontline work, or because hospitals have postponed all but the most essential inpatient appointments to slow the spread of the virus. In early March, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) issued a statement urging the suspension of any elective, non-essential procedures, but has since released a cautious statement setting out the new considerations for practices when gradually resuming elective procedures. The pattern in the UK has been similar.

While this means that some private practices may return to providing elective procedures, the new precautions will in themselves bring additional logistical and financial burdens. These will include the need to be alert to infection statistics in the local area; enhanced cleaning measures, meaning higher costs for cleaning products and cleaning time; ensuring PPE is available and appropriately worn; and procuring coronavirus tests for staff and patients. This is particularly relevant given that there is a heightened risk of complications when someone who tests positive for Covid-19 undergoes general anaesthetic.

In an open letter published on PubMed Central, surgeons experiencing an enforced lull in business were encouraged to use telehealth tools (ie platforms allowing for live consultation with patients such as Zoom or the more specialist Teladoc Health) to continue to engage with, assess and monitor patients as best they can, paving the way for a return to in-person appointments. Practitioners have also expressed worries, not only about their own inability to provide services, but about the downturn in patient interest as elective surgery becomes less of a priority for patients, either for financial reasons or due to anxiety over infection.

Despite these concerns, a perhaps surprising trend seems to have emerged in some countries of increasing numbers of people seeking cosmetic surgery. Clinics in the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia are all reporting a rise in patients enquiring about facial treatments such as lip fillers, botox and nose jobs. Experts have suggested that this may be due to the ability to recover at home, with less social interaction, less requirement to be seen at work, and the obligation to wear a mask while out and about – all of which may hide procedures such as rhinoplasty or facelifts. While many people have been hit hard financially by the pandemic, some have been saving the money they would have otherwise spent on holidays abroad, socialising or commuting, and feel able to afford elective surgery when they might not have done so before.

However, there are still many risks to consider when choosing to undergo non-essential surgery, and the ASPS encourages a new Covid-19 consent form to be signed by patients before they agree to come in for elective procedures. The NHS has also provided information and guidance on preparing for coming into hospital for an operation or surgery of any kind during the pandemic. This guidance places emphasis on patients ensuring they are as fit and well as possible, so as to recover swiftly from the anaesthetic and surgery and be ready to fight any potential infection, including Covid-19.

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