Laser treatments are a key part of the medical aesthetics industry, and medical aesthetic facilities, medical spas, and laser centers offer a variety of laser procedures that can help patients deal with a range of skin issues. But the laws and regulations surrounding the use of lasers are poorly defined in many states, so it is important for physicians, owners, and operators to understand what they must do to provide these services in ways that help protect them from legal repercussions.
In most states, the majority of laser treatments are classified as medical procedures. This means that these treatments are subject to the same rules and regulations as procedures conducted at any medical office and typically must be administered by a physician or delegated to a trained practitioner, such as a physician assistant or nurse practitioner with a health history or good-faith exam preceding the treatment. Given that many facilities tend to function as retail outlets rather than medical offices, and that laser equipment typically seems easy to operate, this might seem to be holding these businesses to a very high standard. But the law is clear, so most laser procedures must be viewed as medical treatments.
This also means that facilities that provide laser procedures must make sure to abide by other regulations that are typically aimed at more traditional medical practices. For example, in most states, a medical facility must be owned by a physician or a physician-owned corporation, and all payments for medical treatments must be made in full to those entities. Therefore, a medical facility cannot pay an employee a percentage of the cost of a medical treatment as commission, which is illegal and referred to as fee-splitting.
The fact that there are very few state-sanctioned laser certification guidelines is a major issue facing the industry. Because of this, it is difficult to determine who qualifies to fire a laser from state to state. In Illinois, for example, the Medical Practice Act states that a physician can delegate laser treatments to licensed and unlicensed people, as long as they are properly trained and supervised. Essentially, this means that anyone can be hired as a laser technician—there’s no review process or requirement that a prospective laser tech needs to fulfill. This is a major deficit that must eventually be addressed. However, it is important to note that there are regulations that exist indicating that physicians, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants need to be on site when the procedures are being performed. And even though there has been a bit of movement to improve this issue, the industry is nowhere near solving this problem.
It’s also worth noting that despite the fact that lasers are easy to use, they are the top cause of lawsuits against medical spas and aesthetic and laser facilities. In fact, some lawyers actively seek clients who wish to sue, because laser burns do occur. Because of this, it is essential that physicians, owners, and operators understand and closely observe their states’ laws.
To that end, the industry must try to educate the public regarding what constitutes a compliant laser center. It can be very difficult for the average laser client to know what is and isn’t allowed in their state. Some self-regulation must be undertaken by medical aesthetic and laser centers so members of the general public know what to expect. They must understand that lasers are a medical treatment, and there is some risk involved. Laser centers and medical facilities that present this information to their clients in a straightforward manner tend to be the most successful.
It is probable that the push for certification will shape the future of the laser industry. New laser technology is made available constantly, and it is becoming clear that certification programs are a necessity. There should be some policing of these treatments, and an industry-wide certification program is certainly on the horizon. Medical aesthetic and laser center physicians, owners, and operators should do their best to train their laser operators now and should be prepared to comply with new regulations when they are enacted.