Mass. considers oversight of medical spas

The legislative move comes after a task force studied the issue and made recommendations to protect patients.

By Brian Hedger — Posted April 2, 2009

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A Massachusetts bill is calling for spas that offer medical procedures to be licensed by the commonwealth's Dept. of Public Health.

Under the proposal, laser skin procedures to remove age spots and tattoos would have to be performed by a doctor or nurse with special training. Physicians or nurses would be required to serve as clinical directors for medical spas. The bill also would create an advisory committee to deal with technological advances in the industry.

Most of the bill's provisions were recommended by a task force created in 2006 to draft standards and regulations on medical spas. The bill, introduced in February, would increase consumer safety, said state Sen. Joan Menard, who sponsored the measure and helped form the task force.

"The assumption is if you use the word 'medical' there is some kind of supervision or medical training involved, and that's not always quite true," Menard said. "We're not trying to interfere with people's businesses, but we do think that this is a responsibility that we have to assure the public they're protected."

The medical spa industry is not against regulation, but requiring physician or nurse supervision is not necessary, said Eric J. Light, PhD, president of the International Medical Spa Assn. "We can have indirect supervision," he said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be onsite, although that is always desirable."

According to the IMSA, there are roughly 2,500 spas, which is up from about 500 in 2004. Massachusetts is not sure how many spas are in the state, but there are enough to prompt this legislative effort, said Russell Aims, spokesman for the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine.

"It's all about patient safety," Aims said. "This is an attempt to look at what's happening in these sorts of facilities in a comprehensive way and determine who should be able to do what kind of procedure, and in what setting."

The Federation of State Medical Boards has no national guidelines on how state medical boards should regulate medical spas. But it continues to raise awareness about the issue through presentations at industry meetings.

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