Trish: I’m here this morning with Dr. Jeremy Hunt, who is a specialist plastic surgeon based in Sydney. We’re going to have a bit of a chat about new guidelines that come into effect on the 1st of October this year and how they’re going to affect us as consumers and what they mean for us, basically.
Thank you, Dr. Hunt. How are you?
Dr. Hunt: I’m very well, thank you, Trish.
Dr. Hunt: Always a pleasure to talk to you.
Trish: Thank you. Same, same. We hear about all these guidelines that are happening on the 1st of October and they’re going to make a big difference. Can you just kind of tell us what they mean, just a little bit about them?
Dr. Hunt: There’s a governing body in Australia that looks after medical practitioners, and that’s called AHPRA, and it used to be called the Medical Board. On the 9th of May this year, they came up with some new guidelines designed to protect patients, to ensure that patients were getting the best possible treatment. Those new guidelines are going to come into effect as of the 1st of October. They’re really designed to make sure patients get what they think they’re getting and get the best results possible.
Trish: Right. What are the specifics that we, as consumers when we go to see someone, need to look out for to make sure that the practitioners that we’re seeing are going to be following these guidelines?
Dr. Hunt: There is a whole list of guidelines, but they really come down to three sections. There’s a large new guideline about the consent process, so that before there is a procedure, a patient needs to fully understand the pros and the cons of the procedure. There’s an introduction of what we call a “cooling off period,” so that the patient is given time to consider their options and then maybe come back and ask any further questions they want to ask. That’s really particularly important in under 18 year olds, where there are some very firm guidelines about a longer cooling off period and making sure under 18s are making intelligent decisions. There are some guidelines about the standard of training that’s going to be required and doctors disclosing their degree of training, some guidelines around disclosure of the expense of certain procedures, and then a big improvement on where those procedures are going to be performed in terms of surgeries having to maintain a high enough standard, in fact, the same standards that are required of a full hospital.
Trish: So, we’re going to be safer with respect to, number one, where the procedure’s going to be done, so it’s going to avoid things like we saw recently in the media where someone’s doing surgeries upstairs in her little apartment, somewhere in the middle of Sydney?
Dr. Hunt: Absolutely. In the last twelve months, there have been some really ugly reports in the media about things happening in all the wrong places by people who may be not as qualified as they should be to be doing that procedure. These guidelines are really designed about allowing the patient to make an informed decision about which doctor is doing the procedure and then making sure the procedure is done in a place that’s safe. So, really, it’s a great thing for consumers, because they really will be more protected and they really will get better results.
Trish: Great. Another safety is the fact that the doctors are going to have to disclose their qualifications, because I’ve heard of lots of stories where doctors will say they’re a plastic surgeon when they’re actually, in fact, not really a plastic surgeon. They will just have to disclose that. How will they disclose that?
Dr. Hunt: It’s an interesting little rule in Australia in the medical board that means it’s not illegal for a non-surgeon to perform a cosmetic surgical procedure. The problem is that the patients were not necessarily being told what the doctor’s qualifications were. The new guidelines really mean the doctor has to sit down, explain what the procedure is, what the costs of the procedure are going to be, who’s going to be performing the procedure, what their qualifications are, and then the standard of the facility that the procedure’s going to be performed in. Really, it’s quite comprehensive. As plastic surgeons, we think it’s great, because it’s the sort of standard we’ve been maintaining now as standard by the code of ethics for the Society of Plastic Surgeons. It really does mean that the practitioners who don’t meet the standards we require have to lift their game.
Trish: Great. The last one was the consent. Because I’m very much a person who gets caught up in the moment, and if there’s something that I think is going to make me better, I’m going to want to have it done and then I want to have it done straight away. There’s a cooling off attached to that now. Can you tell us how long the guideline, what that means?
Dr. Hunt: We all get a little bit excited at times and we all make spontaneous purchases, a pair of shoes on eBay at 3:00 in the morning, that’s one thing, but a surgical procedure’s another thing, so the Medical Board is very keen for people to have time to sit down and then reflect on it. For major surgical procedures, there’s a guideline of seven days as a cooling off period, and then for under 18 year olds, there’s a guideline of three months, which means there’s adequate time for both the doctor to consider whether this is the right thing for the patient, and for the patient to then consider if this is the right thing for them.
Trish: Great. So, if I book in for a procedure I think I want, which is something I did a few years ago, and say, “Yeah, I want to have this done. I’ve paid my deposit,” and then thought about it after I left, within three or four days, and thought, “Oh my God, No. I don’t want to do this or I’m not ready now at the moment,” I’m entitled to get my deposit back because it’s within that seven day cooling off. Is that kind of what it’s about?
Dr. Hunt: That’s sort of where they’re going. They’re going to need to sort of feel their way through the guidelines a little bit, but I think what they’re hoping is that patients will not need to pay a deposit necessarily until they have actually had the opportunity to consider whether they want to proceed or not, so that, hopefully, I think their aim is that deposits will not be paid prior to the consultation, and then every practice will be left to determine what its refund policy is if they adhere to those guidelines. I think there will be little bit of the feeling the way, but the principal is really that patients are free to make choices unencumbered, which is a great thing.
Trish: That sounds great. Thank you so much. If you’re listening out there and you’ve got any questions to do with the AHPRA guidelines, you can just drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you through a link to download them yourself. Thanks very much, Dr. Hunt.
Dr. Hunt: A pleasure, Trish, always.
Trish: Leave you back to your patients now.
Dr. Hunt: I’ll leave you to your busy job, too.
Dr. Hunt: I’ll talk to you soon.
Trish: Thanks a lot.
Dr. Hunt: Thanks so much.
Dr. Hunt: Bye bye.