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It is a question that has divided plastic surgeons. Should we offer free consultations or not?
The argument for free consultations
On the one hand, patients may feel that they may not strike up a rapport with the surgeon or the surgeon may not be able or willing to give them the result that they are aiming to achieve and so they do not want to risk paying a consultation fee if they are not going to go ahead with surgery at that facility. It is important to get a feel for the place where you are going to be treated and to make sure that the staff are polite, attentive and professional – this applies not only to the surgeon but also to the rest of the outpatient and hospital staff. First impressions are important, and if you don’t get a good one, you may regret paying £100 or more for the privilege!
The argument against free consultations
On the other hand, many surgeons feel that they should be paid for their professional opinion and we have costs such as secretarial fees, consulting room rental and medical indemnity that have to be covered. Furthermore, there is the concern that patients are less likely to attend the appointment if it is free as the value is cheapened when patients are not paying. There is also a concern on the wider scale, that some clinics may be offering free consultations in order to attract patients and then using ‘hard sell’ tactics to encourage patients to undergo procedures. There should never be any pressure or incentives given to make patients feel that they have only a limited time to make a decision on what is often a life-changing event.
The third way is free ‘mini’ consultations
I can see both sides of the argument. They say that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and so if clinics are going to offer free consultations, then they will presumably expect a significant proportion of patients to go ahead with a procedure. I think that it is important to see every patient and give them the best advice. We are doctors first and there must be no suggestion that any decision that we make, or advice that we give, has been given with any pressure or agenda, other than the patient’s best interest. A good consultation is one where the patient has left feeling supported, informed and educated, whether or not they choose to have surgery.
Some do charge for consultations and will give you my professional opinion and as much time as you need. They can charge for the initial consultation, so you can come back and go over things as often as you need if you have questions or queries. In fact, some encourage you to come back for a second consultation to go over things. They also give patients my personal email address if they have any questions or concerns that they can answer by email. However, we are aware that there are a lot of plastic surgery providers who do offer free consultations and I can understand someone being reluctant to pay £100 to see me when they might not even like them! For this reason, some surgeons offer potential patients free mini-consultations. This allows patients to come along and have a chat and can answer any questions you might have. You can ask me about my qualifications and experience and we can talk about your expectations and whether surgery might be able to fulfil your goals. You will only see me, there will be no salespeople or patient advisors and there will be absolutely no pressure to proceed with anything. If you think that surgery might be right for you and you would like to go over things in more detail, then you can come back and have a full consultation.
I feel that the free mini consultation fills the gap between a fully paid consultation when you may not be sure what you are getting and a fully free consultation when you might feel pressurised to proceed with surgery. Of course, you can come along and have a full consultation to start with, but if you are unsure, then a free mini-consultation may be the thing to do.