The Wall Street Journal reported today the shutdown of the cosmetic surgery chain Lifestyle Lift. Will this leave a gaping hole in the facial rejuvenation universe, or is this Darwin cleaving the weakest member of the herd?
The answer is the latter: Lifestyle Lift is a shopping-mall bargain basement embarrassment to the plastic surgery universe whose loss will not be eulogized by anyone other than the owners and staff. Started by an osteopath trained as a “facial” plastic surgeon in 2001, it had bloated into a national embarrassment
of over fifty offices and one hundred physicians poorly trained in the high art of surgical facial rejuvenation. A journey through the Wikipedia listing of Lifestyle Lift reviews the lawsuits, dissatisfied patients and deaths associated with the organization.
I am a double-boarded plastic surgeon fully trained and certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, with over twenty-five years of experience in facial rejuvenation surgery. The marketing of Lifestyle Lift is so slick and pervasive that even at my level of practice, my sophisticated universe of patients often ask me about Lifestyle and how inexpensive it is with such beautiful results. It prompted me to look more deeply into the company, and here’s what I found:
Any physician who has familiarity in surgery can participate. They don’t need to be plastic surgeons, or facial plastic surgeons or cosmetic surgeons. They just have to follow the instructions and guidelines given them by the company: do it fast, do it cheap, do as many as you can in a day. The patients are awake, and are given injections of local anesthesia into the face. They recover at home. Speed is the keyword- one hour. Even if the surgeon is capable and competent, good surgery takes time and that is not allowed in the corporate formula.
As the economy faltered after 2008 (coincidentally the same year Lifestyle Lift began), and as competition between cosmetic surgeons increased, Lifestyle Lift was able to entice some board-certified plastic surgeons into their ranks. Not because the surgeons wanted to, but because the income was easy and there was no overhead: they were paid employees. This included former heads of departments and training programs. I do not fault them for joining as much as I do Lifestyle Lift for creating an environment where they felt forced to join.
Why do the ads look so good? I asked a former employee of the organization. She told me that the beautiful photos were former employees who probably didn’t actually have a true Lifestyle Lift- they had a properly performed procedure. As for the reviews: fake. “In 2009, then-New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that Lifestyle Lift had agreed to pay $300,000 in penalties to settle claims that its employees published fake, positive consumer reviews on the Internet.” (The Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2015). The Journal also reported that “in 2013, Lifestyle Lift agreed to a settlement with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to change its marketing practices, including no longer referring to its services as a ‘revolutionary procedure.’”
There was never a revolution here- only deception. Things that seem too good to be true usually are. All the surgeons will have to go home, or back to their original offices, and practice medicine the “hard way”- without national ad campaigns, deceptive photography and faked testimonials. As I have always told my patients, “It’s about outcome… not income.” The gangrenous limb has been amputated- we hope- and the proper practice of surgery can move forward.