Feature

Surgeon’s license suspension spotlights hazards, ethics of live-streaming surgeries


 

The State Medical Board of Ohio has suspended the license of a plastic surgeon after she live-streamed surgical procedures on TikTok, potentially endangering patients. The surgeon has a large social media following.

In November, the State Medical Board of Ohio temporarily suspended the license of Katherine Roxanne Grawe, MD, who practices in the wealthy Columbus suburb of Powell.

Among other accusations of misconduct, the board stated that “during some videos/live-streams you engage in dialogue to respond to viewers’ online questions while the surgical procedure remains actively ongoing.”

One patient needed emergency treatment following liposuction and was diagnosed with a perforated bowel and serious bacterial infection.

“Despite liposuction being a blind surgery that requires awareness of the tip of the cannula to avoid injury, your attention to the camera meant at those moments you were not looking at the patient or palpating the location of the tip of the cannula,” the medical board said.

Neither Dr. Grawe nor her attorney responded to requests for comment.

Dr. Grawe, known as “Dr. Roxy,” has a popular TikTok account – now set to private – with 841,600 followers and 14.6 million likes. She has another 123,000 followers on her Instagram account, also now private.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Dr. Grawe had previously been warned to protect patient privacy on social media. The board has yet to make a final decision regarding her license.

According to Columbus TV station WSYX, she said in a TikTok video, “We show our surgeries every single day on Snapchat. Patients get to decide if they want to be part of it. And if you do, you can watch your own surgery.”

The TV station quoted former patients who described surgical complications. One said: “I went to her because, I thought, from all of her social media that she uplifted women. That she helped women empower themselves. But she didn’t.”

Dallas plastic surgeon Rod J. Rohrich, MD, who has written about social-media best practices and has 430,000 followers on Instagram, said in an interview that many surgeons have been reprimanded by state medical boards for being distracted by social media during procedures.

“It is best not to do live-streaming unless it is an educational event to demonstrate techniques and technology with full informed consent of the patient. It should be a very well-rehearsed event for education,” he said.

Nurses also have been disciplined for inappropriate posts on social media. In December 2022, an Atlanta hospital announced that four nurses were no longer on the job after they appeared in a TikTok video in scrubs and revealed their “icks” regarding obstetric care.

“My ick is when you ask me how much the baby weighs,” one worker said in the video, “and it’s still ... in your hands.”

Plastic surgeon Christian J. Vercler, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who’s studied social-media guidelines for surgeons, said in an interview that plastic surgery content on TikTok has “blown up” in recent years.

“Five years or so ago, it was Snapchat where I saw a lot of inappropriate things posted by surgeons,” Dr. Vercler said in an interview. “That may still be happening on Snapchat, but I actually don’t ever use that platform anymore, and neither do my trainees.”

Dr. Vercler cautioned colleagues to consider their motivations for live-streaming surgery and to think about whether they can fully focus on the patient.

“There are many potential distractions in the OR. We get pages, phone calls, nurses asking us questions, anesthesiologists trying to talk to us. Social media is just one more thing competing for the surgeon’s attention,” he said. “Every surgeon should strive to eliminate unnecessary or unavoidable distractions, so the question becomes, ‘who is best being served by me focusing my attention on recording this operation on someone’s phone so we can post it on social media? Is it the patient?’ ”

Dr. Vercler added, “There are many, many plastic surgeons using social media as the powerful platform that it is to build their brands, to connect with potential patients, and to educate the public about what they do. I believe that most are doing this in a way that is respectful to patients and doesn’t exploit patients for the surgeon’s benefit.

“Unfortunately,” he concluded, “there are some who do see patients as merely instruments by which they can achieve fame, notoriety, and wealth.”

Dr. Rohrich and Dr. Vercler disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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