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Cosmetic Laser Surgery Lawsuits Often Target Non-Doctors: Study

A new study highlights the growing number of lawsuits over cosmetic laser surgery complications that are being filed after the procedures are performed by non-doctors.  

In a report published in the medical journal JAMA Dermatology this week, researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) found that a growing percentage of cosmetic laser surgery lawsuits are targeting non-physician operators, such as nurses, medical assistants, technicians, and interns.

The study used an online national database of public legal documents which involved laser surgery to determine the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed and those filed which involved non-doctors.

Researchers found 175 claims that were filed from 1999 through 2012 for injuries related to cosmetic laser procedures, such laser hair removal. In nearly half of those cases, 43%, the error invoved a non-phsyician. The percentage of cases involving a non-doctor as an operator more than doubled from 2008 to 2011, with roughly 35% of the claims involving non-physicians in 2008, but that number jumped to nearly 78% by 2011.

Laser hair removal complications was the most common procedure identified in the lawsuits that involved an operator other than a doctor. One-third of laser hair procedures were performed by a non-doctor, but they faced more than 75% of laser hair removal lawsuits filed from 2004 to 2012. Laser hair removal lawsuits performed by operators other than doctors accounted for 86% of all procedures from 2008 to 2012.

Other popular laser cosmetic procedures include rejuvenation treatments, which reduce wrinkles and blemishes, treatments for scars, and laser treatments to reduce varicose veins were also commonly conducted by non-doctors.

The majority of these procedures are done in facilities outside of formal medical offices. Researchers say nearly 64% are done in facilities like “medical-spa” sites.

Dr. Hrak Ray Jalian from the UCLA department of dermatology, and study co-authors warn all laser procedures carry a risk.

Lasers are an intense pulsed light used to treat various ailments and may cause severe injury if too much light energy is released onto the skin. Patients can experience injuries like scarring, skin burns and cell damage; especially when procedures are performed by operators other than medically licensed doctors.

Currently different states hold different policies for regulating and operating lasers for medical procedures. In some states, lasers can only be operated by doctors; other states have no restrictions at all.

Researchers called for better supervision and training for operators who handle lasers during these procedures to help reduce the number of injuries and, subsequently, the number of medical claims.

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