A recent study performed by Dr. Rima Abraham of Albany Medical College in New York caught my eye, and confirmed what many experienced facelift surgeons have long suspected: Thread Lifts, which purport to lift the soft tissues of the face through the use of barbed sutures inserted under local anesthesia, don’t really work, and shouldn’t be used at all. (See the Reuters story here).
This is yet another example of a new Plastic Surgery technique promoted to an unsuspecting public by the lay press and a number of overeager, under-informed physicians. It goes something like this:
- New technique is developed, often with backing of large technology corporation
- With aggressive advertising, both to the public and physicians, buzz is generated regarding said new technique
- New technique is featured on Oprah/Today Show/local news
- Patients begin requesting this technique from their surgeons, who may or may not choose to perform it
- Non-surgeon physicians, enticed by the lure of self-pay patients and the aggressive nature of the marketing campaigns aimed at them, (“why let the surgeons do all the facelifts?”), may take up the new technique with gusto
- Many patients will be treated, by surgeons and non-surgeons alike
- Limitations of the technique begin to appear, and physician/patient enthusiasm may wane
- Actual research into the effectiveness, safety, and durability of the results derived from the new technique is done
Now, in some cases, the new technique has real merit, and gets added to the armamentarium of many surgeons. In others, however, the results are not what were promised and the technique falls into disuse. In the case of Thread Lifts, the study showed that newer was not better. Complications were relatively common and included dimpling of the skin, visible threads, and facial asymmetry. More significantly, the improvements in facial shape that were seen were short-lived.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Our challenge, as physicians first and purveyors of procedures second, is to make sure that any procedure we offer our patients has been proven both safe and effective by independent research and that the procedure is right for that particular patient. If we stray from this standard, we risk both patient safety and our own credibility. Early adoption of new technology can have its benefits (our iPhones really did change our lives) and we are delighted to learn and use the latest surgical techniques – after we’re sure they work.