Medical spa safety

There are a number of medical spas popping up all over. The billboards and ads are everywhere and hard to ignore. So how does a patient decide on which one is best. As a plastic surgeon without a medical spa, I believe I can offer a good opinion without hidden agenda. On that note, the reason I do not have a medical spa is that I do not want to be lumped into this category until there is some standardization and legitimacy.

Most medical spas are sources of passive income for physicians who practice a variety of other specialties (family practice, Obstetrics, radiology, dentistry etc…) Their training is at best a weekend course about liposuction, laser treatment etc… These are not illegal, so long as they have a license to practice medicine. In fact, I as a plastic surgeon could do brain surgery or heart surgery in my office if I so chose. There are aspects of medical spas that are far from dangerous (massage, facial, microdermabrasion…) However the real “money makers” are laser therapy, injectables (Botox, Restylane etc..), and surgical procedures such as liposuction.

I went to an informal lecture regarding a laser liposuction platform (Smart lipo) last evening. Not that I am in the market to buy laser liposuction until there is evidence that it actually works, just informational.
The speaker was a buisness owner of a fairly large medical spa in my area. He and his wife, an OB doctor tired of Obstetrics after a couple of years, opened a medical spa under her medical license. He is the buisness manager and has no medical training (this is important).

In their practice they do a lot of injectables, laser treatment, and laser assisted liposuction. I drive past two large billboards on my 3 mile drive home from work every day. For example, one has a 100 lb bikini model wearing a fat man’s pair of pants (implying this degree of fat loss). He discussed his business model, which I felt was unethical, dangerous and bordering on illegal.

  • He does all of the consultations (not his wife, the OB physician).
  • He talked of his “patients” in terms like upsell, revenue, and conversion, rather than safety or satisfaction.
  • I was told that he goes by “doctor” and there is no intention to disclose otherwise to his “patients.”
  • When discussing procedures he used “I” quite frequently discussing how “he” did the procedure, although when questioned, he stated that his wife does all of the procedures – I am not convinced and believe that he is practicing medicine without a license.
  • He referred to liposuction as a very safe procedure in properly trained hands. When asked about he and his wife’s training, he admitted it was a weekend course by the laser manufacturer. I must have wasted six good years of my life learning what I did in residency or I must just be really slow if he could learn this in a weekend.
  • He gave a story of a gentlman who drove 4 hours today for his procedure but did not have anyone with him so the buisness manager dropped him off at his hotel. When asked about liability of dropping him off he said, “we are no longer liable once he leaves our office, unless I get in a car accident or something.”
  • This “patient” has a history of hepatitis and had a seven hour laser liposuction procedure with oral sedation. He was trying to make the point that this is such an easy and safe procedure, you can do a seven hour liposuction with oral sedation alone. The point he made to me is that he had better call that hotel and have someone check his patient to be sure he is still alive.
  • He had no idea how dangerous this was and the thin ice he was on. He said that because this was not “traditional liposuction,” it was safe. In actuality, he was using tumescent anesthesia, burning the fat with a laser and then removing it. Every bit as risky as “traditional liposuction” in skilled hands, and much more dangerous in the hands of someone untrained in the dangers of liposuction.
  • When asked how much fat was removed in seven hours, he said the amount was, I believe, about 500 ccs of fat! What were they doing for seven hours? Well, they did take a lunch break, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PROCEDURE!
  • This entire discussion was in front of three board certified plastic surgeons, including myself, and a host of prospective laser lipo clients. I can assure you that I roasted this individual and hopefully did my part in educating the non-surgeons in the room that liposuction is not something you dabble in and is certainly not an ATM.

This kind of stuff is starting to catch up with them. Just this month a physician was jailed for assault on a patient. He was a family practice physician in Canada and was doing procedures he was not adequately trained in. Also, a radiologist in Beverly Hills California fled the country after he was caught allowing his girlfriend to do liposuction on a number of patients leaving them disfigured.

If you are going to go to a medical spa, I recomend you find a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon who offers these services out of his office. The store front, buisness model, is interested in your money above all including saftety and results.

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