Surgical errors using laser technology are on the rise, according to an article appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Dermatology (JAMA-Dermatology). The article notes that the number of medical malpractice claims arising out of use of lasers for dermatological procedures has skyrocketed in recent years, due to expansive use of this technology, often by inexperienced and unlicensed users.
Lasers are used in dermatology for hair removal and facial rejuvenation. However, they are also used in other medical specialties, like ophthalmology, surgery, radiology and gynecology. Federal law does not address who can use lasers for skin procedures or what type of training or supervision is required. So, the matter is left to State law, which is widely variable.
In Ohio, regulation of lasers by nonphysicians is sporadic at best. Ohio law provides the following regulations: dentists cannot delegate the use of lasers to dental technicians; optometrists are not permitted to do laser surgery; the State Medical Board can license cosmetologists to use lasers for hair removal (this certification is called a CT or licensed Cosmetic Therapist); employers must provide employees who use lasers with appropriate protective gear. That’s it.
There are a number of institutes that provide certificates such as “Certified Laser Technician” and “Advanced Laser Certification,” but some of these programs can be completed in as few as 11 days.
The JAMA Dematology article points some severe risks associated with laser surgery. Most commonly, laser mishaps involve burns and permanent scarring. However, the article describes two deaths, including one patient who died under general anesthesia for carbon dioxide resurfacing and another patient who died after excessive topical anesthesia was used during hair removal. Carbon dioxide resurfacing is rarely performed these days due to complications with its use.
If a minor problem arises from use of laser therapy, like a small area of lost skin pigmentation or a burn that heals without scarring, there is likely no claim for medical malpractice. However, a medical negligence claim may arise if a serious injury occurs, like permanent facial scarring, blindness or death. While laser hair removal clinics try to protect themselves from being held accountable in the face of surgical errors by having patients sign consent forms, waivers or releases, in Ohio, they cannot ask you to waive your right to sue in the event of negligence.