Majority of Laser Surgery Lawsuits Involve Non-Physician Operators

Laser hair removal device on legs
Unsuperviced non-physician operators are cited in 75% of laser surgery lawsuits.

A study published in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery (March 2022), found that the majority of liability claims due to a cutaneous laser surgery device involved nonphysician operators (NPOs). 

The study set out to identify commom causes of injury and liability claims related to cutaneous laser surgery from 2012 to 2020 by searching online through the national legal database of public legal documents regarding cutaneous laser surgery litigation. 

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From 2012 to 2020, 69 cases of liability claims due to a cutaneous laser surgery device were identified. Of these, 49 (71%) involved an NPO, 12 (17%) incidents involved noncore physician operators performing the procedure, 6 (9%) cases involved a plastic surgeon operator and 2 (3%) cases involved a dermatologist operator. 

When looking at treatments with the greatest number of claims, laser hair removal was the most litigated with 44 cases (64%), followed by laser skin rejuvenation with 20 cases (30%). Thirty-six of the 69 cases had a discernible outcome with 53% (n = 19) rendering judgements in favor of the plaintiff, with a mean indemnity payment of $320,975 (range, $1,664 - $1.5 million).

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The authors noted that this research is consistent with previous findings in laser surgery litigations between the years of 1985 and 2012; both studies demonstrate that NPOs account for most cases of legal action with an increasing proportion of cases being performed by NPOs, highlighting the need for thorough training and supervision. 

In a press release following publication of the study, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association (ASDSA) noted that it opposes unsupervised nonphysician operators performing any laser or energy-based procedures of any type. Given the lack of consistent state regulations on the use of lasers, the ASDSA Position Statement on Laser Use provides protocols and safeguards to help protect patients.

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