Stay safe when choosing a medical spa

We’ve all seen the boom in medical spas over the past few years.  Maybe you’ve been to one and received great care. There are, however, some troubling trends here in Utah and in other states where physicians without any experience  or facial cosmetic training are performing and overseeing delicate procedures.  Most of these procedures, if not performed properly, can have dire permanent consequences.  A recent story that appeared on KSL and KSL.com, mainly dealing with laser skin procedures, highlights these dangers.

[Click here to read the story and see the video]

With regard to facial fillers and neurotoxins, like Botox and Dysport, there are plenty of places offering these services, but are the people performing these services qualified and do they have proper oversight?  In order for a spa to use the “medical” moniker, they have to have a medical director in charge or a physician who directly performs the procedures.  Most states, including Utah, don’t yet have strict laws regarding the qualifications of a medical director.  In most cases, they just need a medical degree.  There is no requirement that they have facial plastic surgery training.  This means physicians with no training in facial injections, and their possible complications, could be overseeing or performing your injection.  What are the risks?  Well, skin infections from Botox and fillers, while rare, can cause serious scarring of the skin.  Allergies to these medications also can result in serious local and systemic reactions. Is your provider prepared to deal with these occurrences? Improperly placed fillers can cause facial disfigurement may not always be reversible.  Even when they are reversible, an equally skilled injector must perform this procedure.

So what should you do to keep yourself safe? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be observant.  Here are  4 questions to ask before you make your appointment, and a few more things to consider while talking with the doctor and once you are in the chair receiving the procedure:

  1. Who is the medical director or doctor performing the service and what are their qualifications? (Look for a physician specifically trained in performing the procedure you seek.  Ask if he/she was trained in residency, received training at a weekend conference, or hasn’t received any formal training.  Obviously the more training the better.  You can also search out the doctor’s name for any good/bad reviews or look at their state licensing board to make sure they haven’t had any actions against them in the past.  This is good advice for anyone seeking out any medical care).
  2. If an auxiliary staff person (Nurse Practitioner, Nurse, Physician Assistant or aesthetician) is performing the injection, what is their experience and qualification? (There is a reason these medications are not available over the counter and must be dispensed by a physician.  Ensure the practitioners injecting have been trained and licensed).
  3. Will the doctor be present if they aren’t performing the injection? (Many “medical directors” are not present when procedures are performed and cannot easily respond to patients having problems.  They may also not be present because the nurse or PA knows more about the procedure than the doctor).
  4. If I have a complication, early or late, who can I contact? What about in the middle of the night? (Any physician in active care of patients is available 24/7 through an answering service, or has a call group in which other physicians cover for him when he’s not available.  If this isn’t the case with your medical director, look elsewhere).

Once you are satisfied that a trained physician is performing your procedure or directly supervising, consider the following:

  1. Is the doctor offering reasonable results and not watering down the potential risks? (It is always easy to glaze over the risks of a procedure while promising excellent results. Any physician experienced in cosmetic procedures knows that complications can and do occur.  Not mentioning them shows a lack of experience or interest in the patient’s welfare).
  2. Is sterile technique being practiced? (While you may not be totally familiar with what constitutes sterile technique, making sure the doctor washes his/her hands and wears gloves, uses new needles and properly cleans your skin with alcohol or other sterilizing solution.  These simple precautions make infections very unlikely).

Medical spas, when run with the patient’s best interest in mind, can be very calming and relaxing places to receive elective medical care.  Asking the right questions and being observant of the techniques used will ensure your spa is also a safe place for treatment.