According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), 1.1 million laser hair-removal procedures and 509,000 laser skin resurfacing procedures were performed in the U.S. last year. In light of these popular treatments, a new report published in JAMA Dermatology reinforces the “buyer beware” warning, especially when considering a cosmetic laser procedure.
A lot of people other than medical doctors, including nurses, medical assistants, technicians and interns, perform these surgeries, and although the number of lawsuits filed because of complications isn’t significant, the larger number of people doing the procedures increases the risk.
Lasers are intense, pulsed light beams used in the treatment of various ailments. They can cause serious injury if too much light energy is focused onto the skin. Complications can include scarring, burns and cell damage.
As described on AboutLawsuits.com, laser operation policies and regulations vary among the states; in some, lasers are allowed to be operated only by doctors, but others have no restrictions.
The JAMA Dermatology study examined a national online database of legal documents that involved laser surgery to determine how many medical malpractice lawsuits were filed, and which ones involved nondoctors.
From 1999 through 2012, in more than 4 of 10 claims filed for injuries related to cosmetic laser procedures, the error involved a nonphsyician. But the percentage of cases involving a nondoctor as an operator more than doubled from 2008 to 201l-about 1 in 3 claims involved nonphysicians in 2008, but nearly 8 in 10 did by 2011.
Complications from laser hair removal was the most common problem cited in the lawsuits involving a nondoctor operator. One-third of laser hair procedures were performed by a nondoctor, but they were named in more than 3 in 4 of those lawsuits filed from 2004 to 2012. Laser hair removal lawsuits performed by operators other than doctors accounted for more than 8 in 10 of all procedures from 2008 to 2012.
Other popular cosmetic procedures involving laser technology that often are performed by nondoctors are rejuvenation treatments to reduce wrinkles, blemishes and scars, and those to reduce varicose veins. Most are done in facilities outside of formal medical offices. The researchers described more than 6 in 10 such locations as “medical-spa” sites.
As we wrote last year, even physicians can be risky cosmetic surgeons if they’re not trained in the procedure you’re having-see our blog, “Docs Practice Cosmetic Surgery When They Don’t Know How.”
Anyone considering having a laser treatment, especially for cosmetic reasons, should know the risks. Learn about them, and how to minimize them, here and here. And see our backgrounder on cosmetic surgery.