4 Things to Know Before Going to a Medi-Spa

4 Things to Know Before Going to a Medi-Spa, by Elisabeth Leamy

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When Dr. Oz asked me to investigate medi-spas, hybrids between doctor’s offices and beauty salons, I jumped at the chance. I started to wonder and worry about medi-spas a few years ago, after my dermatologist was late for an appointment with me and explained that she was held up “fixing” another patient who had been disfigured by a medi-spa.

It’s not that I’m holier than thou and against cosmetic procedures. After all, as an on-air person, I’m sometimes self-conscious about my aging face. Here comes the big confession: I’ve had a couple of minor procedures myself. Eek! Laser hair removal (best thing ever!), Fraxel laser resurfacing (I think it helped) and Botox (softened my crow’s feet but made me look not quite myself).

Here’s the difference: I had each of my treatments in a doctor’s office. The doctor herself performed the Fraxel and Botox. A nurse wielded the laser for my hair removal, but the doctor was right next door in case something went wrong.

At the six medi-spas we visited with hidden cameras, there was no doctor in sight or on-site. Most medi-spas told us the doctor only came in a couple of hours a week to sign charts. One technician said her medi-spa wasn’t affiliated with a doctor at all! I’m not comfortable with that. However, some medi-spas are better than others and I respect the fact that some women will still want to use them because there can be a cost savings. Here’s my advice for staying safe if you do go to a medi-spa:

Know the type of doctor. Ask what type of doctor is affiliated with the medi-spa. Plastic surgeons and dermatologists are the specialists most trained in cosmetic procedures, but any kind of doctor is allowed to do them. In our undercover research, we came across family physicians, gynecologists and even dentists doing cosmetic procedures on people’s faces. If the doctor is “board certified,” ask by which board and see if it is relevant.
Ask for a doctor first. For sensitive procedures like laser treatments, Botox and fillers, you should ideally see a medi-spa doctor first, even if someone else will be doing the treatment. The doctor should determine your treatment plan and put it down in writing. Treatment plans include details like the amount of Botox or fillers to be used or the strength setting of the laser treatment.
Check for accreditation. Ask if the medi-spa is an accredited outpatient surgery center, especially if you’re planning to undergo surgical treatments like liposuction. A few patients have died following liposuction procedures at medi-spas. Two credible accreditors are the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities and the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. Medicare also certifies ambulatory surgery centers.
Understand the emergency procedures. Ask the medi-spa how it is equipped to handle emergencies. Even laser hair removal carries risks. Some patients have died from allergic reactions to the anesthetic cream used. Will the doctor be on-site while you are treated? What lifesaving training do the nondoctors have? Before you undergo any cosmetic procedures, use MedlinePlus to find out what they are supposed to look and feel like so you’ll recognize abnormal pain or problems.

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