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Is Online Shopping for Surgery Safe?

Shopping for surgery online is one way consumers can get the best deals on facelifts and tummy tucks, and soon, maybe even life-saving procedures. But can the Internet be a safe alternative to the real-life doctor-patient relationship?

Dr. Joseph Fins, Director of Ethics at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill-Cornell Medical Center, discussed some Web sites where surgery is for sale, and concerns for potential patients, on The Early Show today.

One site, Medicine Online, offers "reverse auction" bidding on 36 elective surgical procedures like cosmetic and foot surgeries, and corrective eye surgeries. Consumers post requests for the kind of surgery they want, and also fill out a health history form.

Doctors then respond with bids that include information about their credentials, qualifications, and the procedure cost, and then it is up to the consumer to verify the information or consult with their doctor on a decision.

PatientWise is another site, which will be up and running this summer. It will require patients to submit a diagnosis and referral from their doctor, and it will enable consumers to compare different doctors and institutions.

Critics question both the quality of the care delivered by these sites, and the motivation of doctors participating in the sites, Fins says. Without an established doctor-patient relationship, people might receive low-quality health care that they don't need in an unregulated environment.

There is no substitute for a doctor who knows you and your health history, Fins says, and the transfer of details like past allergic reactions and other complications that the patient may not be aware of could be distorted.

Decisions on health care should be a collaborative effort between patient, primary doctor and specialist, and the patient should not decide alone, Fins says.

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