Debunking ‘Junk Science’: RealSelf 100 Doctor Richard H. Tholen on Answering Questions Online

Richard Tholen, RealSelf 100, Q&A

Dr. Richard H. Tholen: We may strive to give our patients all the information they want or need, but the very existence of RealSelf proves “It ain’t so!”

With millions of consumers turning to social media with questions about cosmetic surgery, doctors who take the time to provide answers perform an invaluable service. They not only help those consumers make safe, educated decisions; they also help the profession by debunking the “junk science” those consumers often encounter elsewhere.

At RealSelf, for example, the Ask a Doctor feature is such a lively forum that we recently created the RealSelf 100 to honor those doctors who have devoted thousands of hours to providing answers to the community. Having contributed more than 1,800 answers, Richard H. Tholen, MD, FACS, is rightfully among them, so we thought we’d ask him to share his thoughts on what consumers — and doctors, for that matter — stand to gain by joining the conversation. (MB): You were recently named to the RealSelf 100, an award given to only 100 doctors who are considered leading social media influencers. What is it about the RealSelf community that prompted you to contribute?

Richard Tholen (RT): RealSelf allows patients to ask questions anonymously, and get prompt, multiple answers from American Board of Plastic Surgery-certified plastic surgeons who can be unbiased, non-defensive, and who just might have better information than the patient asking a question has received thus far. There has to be a reason they are asking the question in the first place, isn’t there?

realself 100, social media influencers

MB: Beyond the information itself, why else do you participate in the RealSelf community?

RT: Myths are debunked; “Junk Science” is refuted and destroyed by fact, and BS (now there’s a medical term most of us don’t need specialized training to understand!) is shot down by a barrage of better information. RealSelf helps elevate our profession, and each of us in turn, by informing our patients.

MB: Speaking of the profession, you also suggest that patients aren’t the only ones who can learn in this setting. How so?

RT: RealSelf has also allowed me to learn from my colleagues, as each of us has our own strengths, areas of special expertise, and clinical experience. Their answers to real patients help teach me as well. Perhaps I have even helped one or two of my learned colleagues raise their own consciousness about a particular topic I am passionate about.

MB: In regards to the Q&A, how do you choose the questions you answer?

RT: I continue to marvel at the truly brilliant men and women I share this wonderful specialty with, and the depth and breadth of their training and expertise comes through in many of their answers. Some of these responses set a high bar, and I often find little to add of value. But when I can offer additional information, a complementary point of view, or even the occasional difference of opinion, perhaps just in different words that may be understood differently by some readers, that’s when I try to give a thoughtful answer.

MB: What do you say to doctors who may be interested in contributing to the conversation online but feel they’re too late?

RT: Many have answered more than I, have been part of RealSelf for longer, or provide more useful information. But in the past two-plus years that I have been a contributor to RealSelf, I have tried to live up to the standards of those colleagues who, frankly, I am honored to be included in the RealSelf 100 with — colleagues who have been deemed to be “special” contributors and who make RealSelf a site that patients can go to and trust.

MB: Other than engaging with patients you might not have otherwise, what would you say RealSelf has given you?

RT: The first thing that RealSelf gives me is a sense of humility — we may strive to give our patients all the information they want or need, but the very existence of RealSelf proves “It ain’t so!” I have changed how I interact with my own patients as a result, and most (not all, but truly most) patients want more and better information, science-based facts (not hollow reassurances), and accurate statistics about outcomes, complications, and how to obtain their own best results!

Richard H. Tholen, MD, FACS, joined the RealSelf community in 2010.  He has 26 years of experience providing cosmetic and aesthetic medical services, and is a member of American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS), American Society of Bariatric Plastic Surgeons, American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), Fellow, American College of Surgeons (FACS) and International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).  Dr. Tholen has hospital affiliations at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, North Memorial Medical Center, and Unity Hospital.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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