The results of a study designed to identify the incidence of medical professional liability claims stemming from cutaneous laser surgery performed by nonphysician operators (“NPOs”) in the United States that was published online in the journal JAMA Dermatol on October 16, 2013 showed “a clear trend [that] demonstrates a dramatic increase in the number of lawsuits associated with NPOs performance of laser surgery.” NPOs include nurse practitioners, registered nurses, medical assistants, electrologists, and aestheticians.
Laser Hair Removal Injury Claims
Laser hair removal is the most common laser procedure performed in the United States and was the most commonly performed laser procedure subject to injury claims (followed by rejuvenation claims (which involves intense pulses of light on the face) and injury claims involving laser treatments for scars and leg veins). While only one-third of laser hair removal procedures were performed by NPOs in 2012 (the remaining two-thirds were performed by physicians), 85.7% of the laser hair removal lawsuits from 2008 to 2012 involved NPOs (from 2004 to 2012, 75.5% of the laser hair removal lawsuits involved a NPO; from 2010 to 2012, the percentage was 90.0%).
From 1999 to 2012, 64.0% of laser injury lawsuits involved NPOs in non-medical practice settings. From 2008 to 2012, 68.6% of laser hair removal injury litigation involved NPOs in a medical spa setting. From 2008 to 2011, laser procedures performed by NPOs in medical spas represented nearly 80% of the injury lawsuits. In 2011, 90.9% (10 out of 11) of the laser hair removal injury lawsuits involved NPOs, which the study’s authors interpret as reflecting that some inherent increased risk of injury exists with NPOs performing laser hair removal procedures.
The study’s authors conclude that “the overall trend in increased litigation for laser surgery is in part explained by greater numbers of NPOs performing these procedures, in particular those practicing without direct supervision in the medical spas.”
The study looked at 175 laser injury cases related to cutaneous laser surgery from January 1999 through December 2012. Of the 175 cases, 42.9% (75 cases) involved NPOs. From 2008 to 2011, there was an increase in the percentage of cases involving NPOs from 36.3% to 77.8%.
A medical expert who has reviewed the study results stated, “It certainly makes us consider the need for better supervision and training. Even fairly common, well-established procedures like laser hair removal are not inherently safe. They are lasers, they have a variety of risks including eye injuries (and) burns.”
A dermatologist who has studied the issue of state-regulation of laser hair removal procedures found that, “There’s a lot of variation and some policies don’t make sense. This is likely the tip of the iceberg. There are probably many, many other (claims and incidents) that are being settled or not even going to litigation.” For example, Maine requires that only physicians may perform laser hair removal procedures but Nevada provided no restrictions on who may operate the lasers as of June 2011. The lead author of the study stated, “You literally can have no certification, no training and just hang up a shingle.”
The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association’s position is that when laser procedures are done: “A physician who delegates such procedures should be fully qualified by residency training and preceptorship or appropriate course work prior to delegating procedures to licensed allied health professionals and should directly supervise the procedures. The supervising physician shall be physically present on-site, immediately available, and able to respond promptly to any question or problem that may occur while the procedure is being performed. Any licensed allied health professional employed and designated to perform a procedure by a physician must be under the direct, on-site supervision of the physician. For each procedure performed, the licensed allied health professional must have appropriate documented training in the physics, safety, and surgical techniques of each system. The licensed allied health professional should also be appropriately trained by the delegating physician in cutaneous medicine, the indications for such surgical procedures, and the pre- and post-operative care involved in treatment.”
An earlier study reported in JAMA Dermatol in February 2013 that investigated 174 cases related to injuries stemming from cutaneous laser surgery from 1985 to 2012 found that of the preventable cases, the most common was failure to obtain an informed consent. Of the 120 cases with public decisions, 50.8% (61) resulted in decisions in favor of the plaintiffs with the mean indemnity payment in the amount of $380,719.
If you or someone you know has suffered burns or other significant injuries as a result of laser hair removal in the United States, you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your laser injury claim for you and represent you in a laser hair removal lawsuit, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website to be connected with laser hair removal injury lawyers in your state who may assist you with your claim. or call us toll-free at 800-295-3959.
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