Cosmetic laser surgery targets certain cells without harming the surrounding skin — it’s a quick, effective way to make tattoos, unwanted hair, wrinkles, and other marks disappear. But, if it’s not done properly or on the right skin type, it can cause serious burns and scars.
A recent study published in JAMA Dermatology showed that an increasing number of malpractice cases are related to injuries from laser surgery, mostly by “untrained, non-physician operators.”
Regulations for Laser Surgery Practitioners
In some states, only doctors can use lasers for hair removal and other techniques. Maine law doesn’t prohibit non-physicians from performing laser surgery, however, the Board of Licensure has determined that when a doctor prescribes a laser treatment for a medical procedure, a doctor must either be present or ensure that “sufficient protections are in place to reasonably protect the patient.”
According to the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS), non-physicians should perform laser surgery only under direct, on-site supervision following written procedures and/or policies established by the specific site where the procedure will be done. Doctors who let improperly trained assistants perform laser procedures breach standards of care. Doctors should be involved in the treatment process rather than delegate other tasks, such as an initial consultation for surgery, to an assistant.
The JAMA study also revealed that a significant number of doctors offer or supervise laser treatments outside the scope of their specialties. Undertrained or unqualified physicians—not just non-physicians—are more likely to harm their patients.
For proper treatment, and to determine if someone is a good candidate for laser surgery, the provider must take a history of the patient and a doctor must do a physical exam.
As part of informed consent, the doctor must explain the risks and benefits of the treatment and discuss any safer alternatives. It’s not enough to have a patient sign a consent form in the waiting room.
Safety Tips for Laser Skin Treatments
- Ask questions
What are the risks? What is the cost? How long is the recovery period? Which post-treatment care will be required? Who will perform the procedure (doctor, nurse practitioner, etc.) and what are that person’s credentials and experience? If a physician won’t do the treatment, make sure a supervising physician is present and readily available to address any potential problems.
- Discuss your medical history with your doctor
Mention any pre-existing medical conditions, prior medical or cosmetic procedures, current medications, including herbal remedies and vitamin supplements. A history of scarring and of infections like herpes can affect treatment outcomes. Diabetics, who tend not to heal quickly from wounds, and people who are prone to keloid scars can be vulnerable to complications.
- Ask if the laser is right for you and for your treatment
Has the laser been approved for your skin type and hair color and for use on the area of the body to be treated? Laser hair removal attacks the pigment (called melanin) in a patient’s hair; people with dark skin have more melanin, therefore, they have a higher risk for injuries because the laser won’t just target their hair, but also their skin.
- Request a patch test
If you have sensitive skin, ask your physician to perform a test spot. It will be much easier to treat a complication on a small patch of skin than on a larger area.
- Manage expectations
Discuss with your doctor the results you can reasonably expect. Will your condition improve after one treatment or will you need multiple treatments for optimal results?
If you experience pain, discolorations, or unexpected side effects from a laser treatment, call a doctor immediately. And if you suspect a case of malpractice, call a lawyer. For the best results, you need the best Maine medical malpractice lawyers. Let Berman and Simmons be your advocate: call 800-244-3576 for a free consultation.
The American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery, Inc. Safety Tips for Patients Considering Cosmetic / Dermatologic Laser and Energy-Based Device Procedures. 13 April 2008. Accessed 21 Aug. 2017.
Rabin, Robin Caryn. “Laser Hair Removal’s Risks.” The New York Times. 6 January 2014. Accessed 22 Aug. 2017. <https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/06/laser-hair-removals-risks/>.
Jalian, H. Ray, et al. “Common Causes of Injury and Legal Action in Laser Surgery.” Jama Dermatology. Vol. 149. February 2013. Accessed 22 Aug. 2017. <https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/eb2b/0eb31ae5b90ce3863d508df8a46a818f4b21.pdf>.