Plastic Surgery Center or Hospital, What's Best For You?

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Jill Daniels, Freelance Medical Writer

Jill Daniels is a freelance health writer based in New York City. She spent several years writing for WebMD, including their Weight Loss Clinic and Fertility Center programs. Jill has also written/reported for publications including InStyle, People and Women's Own. She received a degree in journalism for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


July 11 2008

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You've made the decision to have plastic surgery. Now it's time to decide where to have it done. Not that long ago all surgery was performed only in hospitals or medical centers. But times have changed and many types of surgery are performed outside of a hospital setting. Outpatient plastic surgery centers are becoming increasingly popular and many doctors have surgical suites right in their offices. With several options to choose from, it's important to gather the facts to figure out which location is the right one for you.

The complexity of the operation and your plastic surgeon's recommendation should definitely play into your decision. For cost reasons and convenience, more and more procedures are being performed in outpatient centers such as freestanding surgical facilities and doctors' offices. But hospitals are definitely still the venue of choice for many people.

Hospital Hospitality

For certain plastic surgeries, hospitals are the wisest – and sometimes only – viable option. A hospital guarantees that there will be medical staff around you at all times, which can be particularly important if the procedure you're considering is complex, if you have any prior health issues, or if you need to stay the night in the facility. If you are having more extensive types of surgery (such as a full tummy tuck or a body lift) or if you have any health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, your surgeon may require you to have your surgery in a hospital.

However, if you are going to be treated in a hospital you need to keep in mind that it may hurt you a bit in the pocketbook. There is a lengthy list of services and equipment that will likely be charged to your bill, ranging from your room charge to wound dressings to operating room time. And don't be surprised to see separate charges from each doctor involved in your care. Insurance might cover the charges, depending on the reason you are having plastic surgery, but you shouldn't take any chances. Make sure to talk to your doctor AND your insurance carrier to see what you can expect when the bill comes.

Examining the Plastic Surgery Center

A less expensive alternative to the hospital, a plastic surgery center (also known as an ambulatory, freestanding, or outpatient surgical center) has equipment and a trained staff of physicians, nurses, and technicians who perform a variety of same-day cosmetic surgery procedures. If the facility is properly accredited, you can be sure that skilled, licensed personnel will administer and monitor your anesthesia, treatment and recovery. These centers often provide a more intimate and pleasant setting than a hospital. If you opt for a surgery center you won't have to pay the cost of a hospital stay, which can be considerably more expensive. However, there are several things you need to keep in mind:

  • You should ask around and focus on plastic surgery centers that have a well-established track record for excellent service and good results.
  • Before you decide on an outpatient facility, make sure it's safe, reliable, and has the proper credentials.
  • The facility should be licensed by the state and accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency. (See below for more on accrediting agencies.)

Considering the In-Office Surgical Suite

It's no longer uncommon to find an accredited surgical suite right in a surgeon's office. This is very often the most comfortable, personal, convenient, and economical place to have plastic surgery performed – as long as the procedure you are having done can be performed in such a setting. If you are weighing this location option, you should consider the following pros and cons:

  • Don't assume the physician has the right credentials or the right equipment to ensure your safety in the office. Check out the anesthesiologist or anesthetist, too, and make sure he or she has the proper training.
  • Patients who have adverse reactions to anesthesia, heart emergencies, internal bleeding, or other complications during surgery may not have the necessary type of care around them if they are in a doctor's office.
  • An in-office surgical suite typically offers less risk of contracting some types of infection, which can be spread by sick hospital patients.
  • Hundreds or even thousand of dollars may be saved because doctors typically charge low or no facility fee – costs that can really add up.
  • Physicians can control the schedule of their surgeries, use their own staff, and can cater more to your needs at an in-office surgical suite.

All About Accrediting Agencies

Accreditation is a key factor to look for when you're deciding where to have your plastic surgery done and it is generally a good indicator of quality. In order to receive accreditation, a facility needs to meet rigorous standards and strict guidelines for staff, equipment, general safety, hospital access, and anesthesia administration.

In 2002 the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery issued a statement requiring that all plastic surgery procedures conducted under anesthesia, other than minor local anesthesia, need to be performed in a surgical facility that falls into one of the following categories:

  • Is accredited by a state or nationally recognized accrediting organization such as the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, Inc. (AAAHC), the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), or the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF)
  • Is licensed by the state where the facility is housed
  • Is certified to take part in the Medicare program under Title XVIII (which would indicate that the facility meets certain requirements)

You can find information on whether or not a facility is accredited by contacting any of the agencies listed above. Phone numbers and information can be found on their websites at www.aaahc.org, www.jointcommission.org, or www.aaaasf.org.

Remember, doing your homework is incredibly important because this choice concerns your health and your safety.