Medical Board of Australia recommends cooling-off period and psychological assessments for teens

Posted: 17/03/2015


With cosmetic surgery becoming more accepted as 'normal' in today's society, more younger people are being attracted to the idea of altering their appearance through surgery.

It is clear from our experience that there is also an increase in the number of people who either suffer complications or do not get their expected outcome after surgery and subsequently develop psychological problems. People who have issues with either their self-esteem or body confidence can often have unrealistic expectations about how they will look/feel after surgery.

A common debate is whether or not those electing to undergo cosmetic surgery - particularly teenagers - should be psychologically assessed pre-operatively to determine whether surgery will actually benefit them or potentially cause them psychological harm. 

A psychological assessment may help some patients to determine that surgery is unlikely to have a positive outcome and a proper exploration of someone's motivations for wanting surgery could avoid some post-operative problems. This may be particularly important in addressing the reasons and motivation for why a teenager may wish to have surgery. 

With this in mind, the Medical Board of Australia has drafted new guidelines proposing that patients under the age of 18 years should be psychologically assessed by a registered psychologist or psychiatrist before having surgery and that there should be a recommended minimum three month cooling-off period for both adults and teenagers to reconsider cosmetic surgery.

The Board noted an increasing trend of young people rushing into surgery and is worried that inadequately informed patients are "physically or emotionally unready to appreciate the risks". Worryingly, it has been reported that Australians are spending $1 billion a year on cosmetic procedures and the Board chairman, Dr Flynn, has said that surgeons need clear boundaries to operate within. She said: “We are looking for the best way to manage risk to patients...we want to do what we can to keep the public safe, without imposing an unreasonable regulatory burden on practitioners.”

Amy Milner, associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, comments: “We are not only seeing an increase in the number of younger people undergoing cosmetic surgery but also more enquiries from people with pre-existing psychological problems looking for a quick surgical fix. We usually become involved as, more often than not, their condition worsens following surgery. Given the increasing rates of those having cosmetic surgery, it is important that those offering cosmetic procedures should thoroughly explore a patient’s history – particularly if they are only teenagers – to determine why they want surgery.

“We welcome the new guidelines being introduced in Australia and will be keen to see whether these recommendations will improve patient safety and make both practitioners and, more importantly, teenagers think more before having surgery.”


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