Patients sue non-doctors because of complications from cosmetic laser surgery

Patients sue non-doctors because of complications from cosmetic laser surgery
Patients sue non-doctors because of complications from cosmetic laser surgery

The number of lawsuits alleging cosmetic laser surgery complications is growing. Researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) began to question the credentials of those being sued, so they performed a study. The results showed that the lawsuits are frequently directed at non-physician operators, such as nurses, medical assistants, technicians and interns. Findings, published in JAMA Dermatology, were reported on by Aboutlawsuits.com.

Using an online national database, researchers used public laser surgery legal documents to determine how many medical malpractice lawsuits were filed and how many were filed against non-doctors. They found 175 claims filed from 1999 through 2012 for injuries related to cosmetic laser procedures. In nearly half of those cases (43 percent) the error involved a non-physician. (In some states, lasers can only be operated by doctors; other states have no restrictions at all).

Of note is that the percentage of cases involving a non-doctor as an operator more than doubled from 2008 to 2011. Thirty-five percent of the claims involved non-physicians in 2008; that number jumped to nearly 78 percent by 2011. One factor in this dramatic lawsuit rise may be the rising popularity of laser hair removal.

For non-doctor operators, laser hair removal was the most common procedure identified in the lawsuits. Even though only one-third of laser hair procedures were performed by a non-doctor, the non-doctors faced more than 75 percent of laser hair removal lawsuits filed from 2004 to 2012. Laser hair removal lawsuits performed by operators other than doctors accounted for 86 percent of all procedures from 2008 to 2012.

Laser surgery can be used to erase fine lines and wrinkles; smooth and tighten eyelid skin; improve crow's feet; soften frown lines; remove brown spots; improve splotchy, uneven skin color; improve and flatten scars and repair smoker's lines. But along with these capabilities, all laser procedures carry a risk. Lasers are an intense pulsed light that can 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.

The moral of the story: find a physician who is board-certified in an appropriate specialty, like plastic surgery, to administer your laser treatment.