Healthmark's Nate Wang shares what to know and ask before considering an aesthetic procedure
Photo: 123RF

Fat freezing, fillers and face lifts are just some of the aesthetic procedures that have crossed our minds at least once. Realistically, it’s hard not to be tempted by the thought of an enhancement, whether or not evoked by the barrage of beauty seen across TV screens or Instagram accounts displaying myriad interpretations of “perfection”—or the staggering variety of aesthetic treatments readily available on the market today.

Matching this demand is the amount of supporting content, which one has to go through with due diligence before even considering a procedure, let alone stepping into a clinic for a consultation. However, while reading write-ups or online reviews can be helpful, that’s still insufficient. Rising above the digital din of aesthetics are a new wave of information platforms founded and written by medical professionals who pen first-hand experiences, technical explanations, opinion pieces and recommendations without sugar coating.

We speak to Nate Wang, former clinic owner and founder of Healthmark, Singapore’s only medical SEO marketing agency and regulations consultant. Incidentally, his experience working with clinics for over 10 years has also helped Healthmark get appointed as the key regulations consultant for Ubiqi Health, a privately held medical infoportal. Here are some insights on how to sift through the information overload, and what you need to know (and questions to ask) before making that appointment.

Based on Singapore statistics, what are the top 5 aesthetic procedures in 2019?
In terms of interest levels, it’d have to be a combination of IPL or laser hair removal, mole removal, any form of treatment for acne scars, fat freezing and nose threads. This, however, doesn’t mean they’re the most highly sold. That’s down to sales talk and how serious patients think the condition is.

What are the dos and don’ts before visiting an aesthetic clinic?
Do ensure your doctor spends a lot of time talking to you and understanding your unique case. Do make sure the prices you pay match the value of the product or technology brand. Do be prepared to let the doctor have a few sessions before you judge him. Don’t select a clinic based on price alone. Don’t pay doctor rates for non-medical treatments done by therapists. Don’t believe everything a clinic tells you without doing your own research first.

Healthmark's Nate Wang shares what to know and ask before considering an aesthetic procedure
Nate Wang; Healthmark website

What are some of the questions patients neglect to—but should—ask during the first consultation with the doctor?
Patients often compare clinics based on prices. That’s a huge mistake. Different doctors have varying skill levels and approaches. Instead, ask for proof of the doctor’s past work and find cases similar to your own. We’ve ever met with a dental surgeon who wanted to be known as the master of Invisalign braces but has only ever done 3 cases. What you want is to find a doctor who has done many cases that are similar to yours. Also, always ask for the specific brand of product or technology he is recommending. Better products and technology can cost more than twice as much, but you’d also see vastly better results. Not all “botox” or “fat freezes” are created equal. If the clinic is using top-end, internationally acclaimed products, they will be proud to tell you the brand name.

What’s your advice for consumers who want to find the best doctor for treating a specific condition?
Read. Read. Read. Doctors, especially the younger ones, are starting to write a lot online. It might be trusted sites like Ubiqihealth and Health Ascent, or even the doctors’ own personal blogs. It doesn’t matter. Long articles give us an insight into what the doctor is like as a person, his approach to treatment, whether he likes to take things slowly or push more aggressive options etc. Reviews and blog posts can be one-sided, but doctor written content needs to be factual or they risk getting penalised by the regulatory authorities. Long form, technical articles also let us know how knowledgeable a doctor is on a specific topic. Although everyone graduates from medical school, medicine is a fast moving field and there needs to be constant learning. It is my personal belief that not all doctors are equally committed to lifelong learning and knowledge advancement. Reading personal blog posts helps consumers identify subject matter experts. Of course, there will also be masters that don’t ever write or post anything, so there’s no way for us to really research on such doctors.

You mentioned doctors are regulated in what they can reveal. Can you explain more?
Rather than doctors, it’s the clinics that are bound by a certain set of regulations from the Ministry of Health. These regulations help safeguard consumers from being bombarded by incredible before and after photos on giant billboards like the ones you see in Korea. Marketing is extremely strict and prevents doctors from soliciting for business. Let’s say you’ve decided to go for double eyelid surgery. You’d soon realise that there are no discounts or promotions available. You’d also never see clinic websites or advertisements showing you the doctor’s incredible past work. Some doctors decide to bend the rules to get more patients, but we won’t discuss that today.

Healthmark's Nate Wang shares what to know and ask before considering an aesthetic procedure
Nate Wang

Is there a specific example of what a clinic can, or cannot say?
Let’s take Botox as an example, since everyone is familiar with that. Why does the price of botox vary so greatly between clinics? Are certain doctors really charging that much more for their time? The truth is much simpler. There are many different brands of botulinum toxins. “Botox” is one of the most highly regarded with the longest safety track records. It can also cost twice as much as cheaper alternatives from Taiwan and Korea. Clinics that use more expensive and better products will obviously need to charge higher prices. However, clinics are unable to outright say the product they use has a much longer safety track record than other clinics. If they make this comparison, they violate the regulations. This leaves a lot of information asymmetry in the market and consumers are left wondering why Clinic A charges $200 while Clinic B charges $500. Choosing medical treatments based on price is a huge mistake.

What about “reviews” that we see on blogs and personalities’ platforms?
Sponsorship in return for publicity is illegal and Healthmark clients are advised against it. However, there’s nothing stopping happy patients from wanting to share their experience. It’s up to the viewer to decide which reviews are genuine. Bad reviews especially, are often faked to attack competitors, especially on forums and neutral platforms like Google and Facebook. We have a client now that gets 10-20 fake, negative reviews on Google every month. I personally wouldn’t trust written reviews much. Pictures, on the other hand, are real and great for knowing what the clinic interior and process is like or what kind of results the doctor can achieve.