Racial disparities in plastic surgery limit health care accessibility and quality. The aim of this study is to determine if racial disparities exist within patient-targeted advertising materials on academic plastic surgery practice (APSP) Web sites and if disparities are more pronounced in specific categories within plastic surgery.
Throughout May 2021, 3 independent reviewers analyzed the Web sites for APSPs and identified all photos, videos, and graphics with visible skin. For each image, the Fitzpatrick skin tone scale was used to classify the skin tone as “White” (I–III) or “non-White” (IV–VI). The images were further categorized based on the type of procedure depicted. Comparisons were made to publish US census data using χ2 tests and linear mixed effects models.
In total, 4615 images were analyzed from 100 APSP Web sites. Seven hundred eighty (16.9%) portrayed non-White skin tone, which was significantly less than expected based on US census data (23.7% non-White race) (P < 0.001). Online representation had the starkest disparity in hand surgery (8.65% non-White) and adult craniofacial (9.74% non-White). The only categories that showed no significant difference between representation and demographics included implant-based breast reconstruction (P = 0.32) and pediatric craniofacial (P = 0.93). Overall, the marketing materials demonstrated significantly lower representation of non-White skin compared with the census demographics by an absolute difference of −4.71% (P < 0.001).
Non-White patients are significantly underrepresented in advertising materials published by APSPs, indicating systemic racial biases. Patient-targeted advertising can be improved to promote equality in representation for patients seeking plastic and reconstructive surgery.