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Facial plastic surgeons see an increase in procedures as an aftereffect of the pandemic

COVID-19 ushered in many unexpected changes across health care, including a notably heightened interest in cosmetic plastic surgery procedures. Many physicians were surprised to see the increased volume in these elective procedures, particularly those of the face and neck, said Anthony Brissett, MD, FACS, Division Chief of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Houston Methodist.
“Once there was more clarity around the virus, we saw a dramatic increase,” he said. “It was multifactorial. Not only did video conferencing and social media increase awareness of appearance, but patients also were now able to find the time. And masks actually served to camouflage recovery.”
In a survey completed by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 70% of surgeons reported an increase in appointments and treatments, with nine in 10 reporting an increase of more than 10%. The procedures increasing most notably included rhinoplasty, facelifts, eye lifts and neck lifts/treatments. The increase in volume for Brissett and his team, which includes Fred Bressler, MD, FACS, reflects the national trend.

Digital Reality Brings a New Reality

The abrupt shift to remote working with its reliance on video conferencing in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted even further interest. This novel experience forced people to look at themselves on screen for hours, and many observed the way their faces moved while speaking and making expressions for the first time. Even before the pandemic, however, interest in facial plastic surgery has risen alongside the integration of social media photos, selfies and photo filtering apps into daily life.
“The motivation factors have changed. Patients are saying they want to look better in selfies and they’re using filters to see what those changes might look like,” said Brissett.
If technology is what drove patients into clinics, it should not be a surprise that technology is what physicians are using to provide more comprehensive care and improved outcomes for their patients. Nonsurgical alternatives such as radiofrequency (RF) energy and ultrafine microneedles are among the advanced technological options recently adopted by Houston Methodist facial plastic surgeons. These options are more cost effective and can be conducted in the office. One of these devices is The Profound® system, an innovative, office-based tool that uses radiofrequency thermoenergy to tighten skin, thereby reducing facial wrinkles. Brissett and his colleagues are also working with the Piezoelectric System to discover how this ultrasound technology can be used in rhinoplasty. Houston Methodist surgeons were already familiar with the Piezoelectric electronic drill, which is known for its use in several surgical interventions, including craniomaxillofacial, foot and ankle and spinal procedures as well as in sports medicine, but not as a rhinoplasty tool. The Piezoelectric System is designed to cut bone without impacting the overlying or surrounding soft tissue. Using it to during a rhinoplasty procedure allows the surgeon to more precisely make bony cuts and reposition the nose with a minimum of collateral damage. Brissett recently was a course director for a virtual international Master’s in Rhinoplasty course based in Europe, where the device was highlighted by several rhinoplasty specialists.

Looking to the Future

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the increased interest in facial procedures over the past year also included office-based procedures, such as Botox and fillers, prompting many practices to increase focus on nonsurgical offerings. Brissett agrees. “While it’s difficult to predict the future, people have come to value more flexibility in their time and more freedom to work remotely — these changes aren’t likely to return to the way they were before,” he said. “We expect to continue to see more opportunities for connecting with peers and patients remotely as well as continued desire for procedures that offer less downtime and risk and are more accessible, such as office-based procedures.”

Working Alongside Referring Physicians

As national leaders in the field with decades of subspecialty experience, Brissett and his team consider themselves a resource for physicians both in the Houston community and well beyond. “We evaluate many complex cases, especially when there are functional considerations,” Brissett said. “We welcome the opportunity to provide second opinions and consult with physicians on cases. We recognize each patient’s uniqueness, and value personalized relationships in a concierge-style practice.”