There has a been shift in Australia's cosmetic surgery landscape with the implementation of revised guidelines designed to prioritise patient safety and ensure ethical practices across the industry. These guidelines, introduced by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) in collaboration with the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) aim to raise the standards of cosmetic procedures and safeguard the well-being of patients seeking cosmetic enhancements. This article explores the key features of the changes and their potential impact on the industry.

Why the changes?

The reforms are off the back of public consultation undertaken in December 2022 and recommendations made by an independent review which was commissioned in November 2021 by the MBA and AHPRA to review patient safety issues and how to strengthen regulation in the industry. The review was published on 1 September 2022.

What areas of cosmetic surgery are affected?

The reforms will apply to doctors who practice in two key areas:

1. Cosmetic surgery – this involves procedures where the doctor cuts beneath your skin and including breast augmentation, facelifts, and liposuction, and;

2. Non-surgical cosmetic procedures this includes procedures where the skin is pierced but doesn't cut beneath it and includes procedures such as injectables, thread lifts and laser treatment.

What has changed?

1. Restriction on advertising and marketing

From 1 July 2023, to address concerns about misleading advertising and deceptive marketing tactics, the new guidelines impose stricter regulations on how cosmetic procedures are promoted. Doctors and clinics are now required to present accurate information about the risks, recovery, potential outcomes, and realistic expectations of the procedures they offer. Negative body language is banned, and cosmetic advertising must be identified as adult content. This measure aims to protect vulnerable individuals from making impulsive decisions based on misleading claims and to encourage transparency in the industry.

2. Patients require GP referral

From 1 July 2023, the new guidelines emphasise the importance of obtaining informed consent and understanding the patient's motivation for surgery. Requiring a GP referral from patients before any cosmetic procedure provides better protection as the GP will have a better understanding of a patient's medical history and any motivations to undertake surgery.

3. Improved patient assessment

To prevent inappropriate or premature cosmetic interventions, the guidelines introduce minimum age requirements for specific procedures and better patient assessment generally using Body Dysmorphic Disorder assessment tools. Cosmetic doctors are now obliged to assess the mental and emotional maturity of patients and consider the potential long-term effects of cosmetic procedures on their patients' physical and psychological well-being.

4. Safety measures and higher cosmetic facility standards

The AHPRA has outlined specific safety measures and facility standards that cosmetic clinics must adhere to, ensuring optimal patient care and reducing the risk of complications. These measures include maintaining a sterile environment, utilising state-of-the-art equipment, and implementing standardised post-operative care protocols. Compliance with these guidelines will help minimise the occurrence of adverse events and ensure the highest level of patient safety. Accreditation of cosmetic surgery premises is against the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) standards, and required from 1 July 2023.

5. Continued professional development requirements

The new guidelines underscore the importance of continued professional development for cosmetic doctors. This provision encourages doctors to stay up to date with the latest advancements and best practices in the field, enhancing their expertise and competence in delivering safe and effective cosmetic procedures.

6. Mandatory accreditation for cosmetic doctors on track

One of the core elements of the new changes is new registration standards for cosmetic surgery endorsement. Health ministers have approved the new registration standard and they are expected to be published soon. The accreditation process involves stringent assessments of a surgeon's qualifications, training, and experience to ensure that only skilled and competent professionals perform cosmetic procedures. Additionally, the AHPRA will maintain a registry of accredited doctors, which will be accessible to the public, empowering patients to make informed decisions about their chosen surgeon.

The introduction of new and updated cosmetic surgery guidelines marks a pivotal step toward ensuring patient safety, ethical practices, and transparency within the industry. By mandating accreditation for doctors, restricting advertising practices, promoting informed consent, and implementing other stringent measures, the MBA and APHRA aims to instill public confidence and protect the well-being of those seeking cosmetic enhancements. These guidelines are expected to raise the bar for cosmetic surgery standards in Australia and contribute to the overall betterment of the industry.

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