Hair restoration patients around the world are being lured to "black market pirate clinics" operated by non-physicians with little or no training promising guaranteed results which pose serious risks to unsuspecting men and women seeking help for hair loss.
To educate patients about this growing problem, the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) - the world's leading medical authority on hair loss treatment and restoration - has initiated an aggressive worldwide Patient Awareness Campaign designed to help patients recognise fraudulent hair restoration clinics and misleading advertising claims. Specifically, social media engagement will be the cornerstone of this physician-led campaign, with physicians and patients sharing stories of this growing problem.
A recent member survey gauging ISHRS members' familiarity or experience treating patients who have suffered a botched hair restoration surgery found that 77.5 percent of survey respondents saw at least six or more cases per year, and that number is climbing drastically.
Former ISHRS President and Founder of the British Association of Hair Restoration Surgery (BAHRS), Dr Bessam Farjo from the Farjo Hair Institute, said registered hair transplant surgeons are left to pick up the pieces when people are left with disastrous results.
"We know that there are clinics out there staffed by 'practitioners' who do not have the requisite training, skills or expertise to carry out successful hair transplant procedures, or appreciate the medium and long-term issues facing the hair loss patient. And then subsequently, we see their patients at our own clinics, when they’re desperate for horrendous mistakes to be rectified", says Dr Farjo.
"A poor hair transplant - which can look unnatural, create awful scarring or simply not work at all - will not only leave a patient out of pocket but will potentially permanently deprive them of the hair they desire, and have an enormous impact on their confidence, psychological well-being and self-esteem", he added.
The ISHRS has established detailed information on its website (www.ISHRS.org) under the header Beware of the Hair Transplant Black Market to help patients find relevant information when considering a hair transplant, including how to evaluate a surgeon's credentials and patient photos illustrating the dangers and problems that occur when clinics do not have the patients best interest.
"Many of the illegal clinics have sophisticated websites ranking high with Google paid ads to attract the consumer into a clinic that appears on the surface very professional. The marketing tactics are deceptive as it appears like a team of professional doctors with excellent testimonials. However, the reality is your surgery may be done by someone with no medical training. The demand is so high, reports are that Taxi cab drivers and Syrian refugees do the surgery in some overseas countries. Patients are the ones that suffer when they realise too late, who did the surgery, and end up with botched complications and scars and hairlines that are not normal and disfiguring", said Ricardo Mejia, MD, chair of the ISHRS Committee on Issues Pertaining to the Unlicensed Practice of Medicine.
"This is a serious crisis for anyone seeking help for hair loss, which is why the ISHRS is working diligently to educate patients about these dangers. We have many competent doctors in the ISHRS operating in the medical tourism industry who have signed a commitment that the Doctor does the surgery and have attended educational meetings regularly to assure the hair restoration surgery in the end makes you happy and not one you will regret for a lifetime."
In the recent ISHRS member survey on black market hair transplants, ISHRS members confirmed that this illegal practice is widespread and causing harm to patients around the world - In countries where the problem is rampant and the tourism is high doctors are seeing the problems almost daily.
Specific problems members reported encountering include scarring, unnatural hairlines, poor hair growth, wrong hair direction, depleted donor area in the scalp leaving a bald appearance, infections and inaccurate graft counts. Some patients think they are getting 4000-6000 grafts when in reality they may only get half. Examples of specific member responses included, "I have seen an exponential increase in complications from poor harvesting and poor growth, not to mention results that are not aesthetic", and "I've seen numerous FUE disaster cases from countries where patients were lured by the glamour of medical tourism but unfortunately did not get the results expected."
With the increased popularity of medical tourism in recent years, the ISHRS implores potential patients to do their homework before considering a hair transplant in another country as laws and regulations pertaining to surgical procedures can be much different than those in their own country. Additionally, there is no recourse when something goes wrong. In the recent ISHRS survey when members were asked to rank on a scale of one to ten (10 being the worst) how big of a problem the issue of black market clinics or unlicensed personnel performing hair restoration surgery in other countries is, 63.27 percent of ISHRS members acknowledged the severity of the problem and responded with either an 8 (23.47 percent), 9 (13.27 percent) or 10 (26.53 percent).
Consumers are being encouraged to visit the ISHRS.org site and verify the credentials of the clinic and or doctor.
"We hope patients will use the new ISHRS resources to educate themselves about the risks of undergoing a hair restoration procedure on the black market and to make sure they understand the local laws and regulations when considering a hair transplant in another country," said Dr. Tykocinski, President of the ISHRS. Forewarned is forearmed could not be truer when it comes to avoiding being a victim of unscrupulous hair transplant clinics. This problem is also happening in every country, where greedy entrepreneurs and clinic owners choose a business turnkey model where a hair transplant practice emerges almost instantly and the patient is mainly assisted by unlicensed professionals and the physician, if present, has no experience or is minimally involved into the procedure at all.
Leading London Hair Transplant Surgeon for the Farjo Hair Institute, President of the British Association of Hair Restoration Surgery (BAHRS) and Consulting Room Adviser, Dr Greg Wiliams warns that people considering hair restoration procedures in England should only go to clinics registered with the Care Quality Commission (or the equivalent organisations in the devolved nations - Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority In Northern Ireland).
"I also believe patients and practitioners should not hesitate to report any clinics to the CQC that offer hair restoration surgery and are not registered. If you are operating on patients in a non-CQC registered hair transplant clinic in England then you are operating illegally", he stated.
The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) is a global non-profit medical association and the leading authority on hair loss treatment and restoration with more than 1,100 members throughout 70 countries worldwide.
* Information and images sourced from a statement issued by The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery. (ISHRS)