Laser and light device treatments are infiltrating cosmetic and medical dermatology, causing many in the specialty to consider starting or growing laser practices. While the decision to go into the laser side of dermatology works out well for many, it can be a costly mistake for those who don’t do their homework, experts warn.
It was 1990 when Tina S. Alster, M.D., started her laser practice.
Dr. Alster says she knew of no other laser practice in the world at the time. She called it the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, even though she only had one laser.
“… That was a pulsed dye laser that we used to treat port wine stains and hypertrophic scars,” says Dr. Alster, who still directs the laser practice in Washington, D.C.
Since then, Dr. Alster’s practice and laser technology applications in cosmetic and medical dermatology have flourished.
“I’ve pretty much added at least one laser a year since I opened my practice,” Dr. Alster says.
Bruce Katz, M.D., opened the Juva Skin and Laser Center in downtown Manhattan, New York, in 1998. Since then, the practice has grown to more than 50 lasers.
“Laser technology is so sophisticated now that if you don’t have lasers in your practice you’re not going to be treating a lot of conditions as effectively. We know these devices are very effective at what they do,” Dr. Katz says.
Growing one’s practice
Another dermatologist and pioneer in the world of lasers: Michael H. Gold, M.D., medical director of Gold Skin Care Center and Tennessee Clinical Research Center, Nashville, Tennessee, says the laser practice he started some 23 years ago features more than 40 devices today.
“I started in the laser business through a chance meeting with the head of the then ESC Medical who asked me if I would be interested in trying to remove hair with pulsed light. That was a novel concept many years ago. From there … I began working with many of the technologies that we have on the market today,” Dr. Gold says. “Lasers and light sources were a way to introduce my skills and my practice to the people in middle Tennessee, and this was very helpful in growing my clinical practice.”
But things have gotten more complicated since the pioneers in dermatology started their laser practices.
Finding the financial wherewithal to start a laser practice with one laser in 1990 was hard enough, says Dr. Alster, clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, D.C. Today, laser and other device options are vast and the costs associated with owning or leasing the technology can financially strain dermatology practices.
Starting a laser practice takes planning and requires dermatologists don’t try to cut the wrong corners, Dr. Katz says.
“There are specific technologies for specific conditions. The problem people get into is they buy one or two devices and try to use those for things they really aren’t indicated for. That ends up backfiring on them because they’re using the laser inappropriately,” Dr. Katz says.