Laser hair removal lawsuits rising dramatically
Laser hair removal is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures in the United States, with cosmetic and dermatological surgeons performing it on 1.6 million Americans in 2011, according to research from the University of California, Los Angeles.
However, an increasing number of laser hair removal treatments are being performed by non-physicians, as well as by physicians who are not licensed cosmetic surgeons or dermatologists, and that has led to a dramatic rise in lawsuits, especially against those who have not received medical training to perform the procedure.
Part of the problem is that there aren’t any federal guidelines governing laser hair removal, and the same goes for other cosmetic skin laser procedures. Although laws regulating the practice are being drafted at the state level – and practitioners are being warned to be aware of these state laws – a new study, published this month in JAMA Dermatology, says there are inherent dangers of ambiguity with these state laws.
As the researchers note, different states have different laws; thus, it's important to know the laws in your state as they pertain to laser skin surgeries.
"For example, in Maine, only a physician may operate a laser for hair removal. At the other end of the spectrum, Nevada as of June 2011 had no regulations regarding the use of a laser," said Dr. H. Ray Jalian and his research team.
Because different states having different laws, choosing a qualified laser hair removal practitioner can be tricky.
Dr. Michele Zormeier, a double-board certified cosmetic surgeon in Indianapolis, Indiana, says a healthy dose of common sense is helpful.
“You may want to start by asking your primary care doctor for recommendations," said Dr. Zormeier. "And if you choose a physician to perform laser hair removal, make sure they're board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), which is the only Board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) to certify doctors in the specialty of plastic surgery.”
Dr. Zormeier offers a variety of hair removal procedures, including IPL (intense pulsated light) and Active FX, which is a more advanced laser that also removes sun spots, facial scars, fine lines and wrinkles, while also rejuvenating the skin. Active FX is performed in one 30-minute office visit, and downtime is just a few days, compared with older lasers that take up to 2 weeks to recover from.
However, these more advanced lasers require training that makes them more suitable for physicians to perform, although non-physicians who are properly trained can perform the procedure, depending on which state they live in and that state's particular laws governing the use of laser skin procedures.
Put simply, if you're having a more advanced laser hair removal procedures, a board-certified cosmetic surgeon would be your best bet.
Indeed, a doctor's board-certification is the best indicator of his or her training within a particular medical field or surgical specialty. You can verify their certification independently by contacting the American Board of Plastic Surgery at www.abplsurg.org.
As for where your laser hair removal is performed, you have an ever-increasing number of options. As a result of the booming popularity of the procedure, it is being offered at more and more so-called "medical spa's" and other facilities that have a doctor or nurse available who can perform anesthetic procedures.
While these locations offer laser skin removal surgery that is supervised by medical doctors, many of the procedures are actually performed by non-physician practitioners with different levels of certification and training, depending on their particular state’s laws and regulations.
Due to the emergence of varying state laws regarding skin laser surgeries, researchers for this study wanted to find out how many medical professional lawsuits were due to procedures performed by non-physician practitioners. They started by examining data gathered from a national database of public legal documents during the period from January 1999 to December 2012.
As a result, they found 175 cases of injuries from skin laser surgery. Of those, 43 percent or 75 of the procedures were performed by non-physicians, and laser hair removal was the most common procedure, with one-third of them being performed by a non-physician practitioner.
What they found to be particularly noteworthy was that the number of liability claims against non-physicians was 75 percent of the total lawsuits filed between 2004 and 2008, but that number rose to 85 percent from 2008 t0 2012, revealing a dramatic increase in laser hair removal suits filed against non-physician operators, referred to as NPOs.
"A dramatic increase in litigation has been filed against NPOs performing cutaneous [involving skin] laser procedures in medical and non-medical office settings. This has important implications for the safety of patients undergoing these procedures," concluded the researchers.
SOURCE: JAMA Dermatology, Litigation and Laser Surgery by Nonphysician, H. Ray Jalian MD, Chris A. Jalian JD, Mathew M. Avram MD, JD; JAMA Dermatology, published online October 16, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.7117