By Renee E. Coover, JD, ByrdAdatto
Medical spa laws regarding physician supervision can be critical to a practice’s compliance plan, particularly if the practice utilizes nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse injectors, laser techs, or other non-physician providers to administer treatments.
Given the current economic landscape for medical practices, an increasing number of physicians are seeking alternative sources of revenue outside the traditional practice of medicine. Many physicians are turning to medical spas as an additional or alternative source of income, not wrought with the same Medicare/Medicaid and insurance issues currently plaguing the healthcare industry. But as physicians flock to medical spas in the hopes of making an easy income, many overlook the fact that a certain level of supervision is still required for all medical treatment. At the end of the day, the physician is responsible for every patient and if something goes awry, the physician’s license is on the line.
Recently, our law firm has exploded with calls from physicians and med spa employees asking questions about physician supervision like:
- Does the doctor need to be present at all times?
- Does the doctor need to see every patient?
- What if the doctor consults with the patient over Skype- is that allowable?
Of course, the answers to these questions, and many others, depend upon your particular state’s laws and regulations. AmSpa members can check their state’s medical aesthetic legal summary to find the answers to their med spa compliance questions.
The Practice of Medicine
First and foremost, it is crucial to know what med spa services require physician supervision in your particular state and what constitutes an adequate amount of supervision. In California, for example, all medical treatments – including Botox and laser hair removal – require physician supervision. Although a physician may delegate medical treatments and initial patient consults to nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs), the physician must be involved and available to patients in the event of an emergency.
Ultimately, the physician is responsible for each patient that walks through the door of a med spa. Some states have additional oversight requirements as well. In Illinois, a medical professional must be onsite at the med spa at all times when medical procedures are performed. This means that if a physician owner only has one other employee and that individual is a non-medical professional, the physician must be onsite at all times to supervise the medical procedures.
Many physicians don’t realize, at least not right away, that treating patients in a med spa is just like any other practice. Most medical spa treatments by and large are still considered the practice of medicine, and the physician must assume ultimate responsibility for all of the patients that are seen and treated at the med spa. The physician must ensure that proper protocols are in place, oversee treatment plans, and safeguard patient confidentiality. While many of these tasks can be delegated, it is the physician, not the med spa owner or the employees, who is going to be held responsible if something goes wrong.
Experience and Training
One pitfall is the physicians’ notion that they can supervise medical tasks outside of their specialty practice, but in most states a physician in a med spa must specialize in, or at least have experience and training in, aesthetic medicine. In other words, the physician overseeing the medical spa and whose license is ultimately on the line, must actually practice aesthetic medicine.
Frequently, general practitioners, OB/GYN’s and emergency room physicians are quick to sign on as “medical directors” of med spas even though they have no experience or training in injectables, laser treatments, or any other aesthetic procedures, but this can get them in trouble fast. Even dermatologists and plastic surgeons should seek out training in these types of medical treatments in order to properly supervise the aesthetic treatments being offered at the med spa.
For more information on medical spa supervision and delegation requirements watch AmSpa’s medical spa webinar on the topic, presented by Michael Byrd, JD, partner at ByrdAdatto.
With the advent of telemedicine, physicians frequently want to know if they can use real-time interactive communication on programs like Skype or Facetime to consult with and examine patients instead of meeting each new patient in-person, but this remains a gray area in the law. There is a fine line between giving generic health information over a smartphone and actually diagnosing or treating a patient. Telemedicine is viewed as a cost-effective alternative to the more traditional face-to-face method of providing medical care and in some states it is being cautiously embraced. In Oklahoma, for instance, the state medical board recently passed telemedicine rules exempting physicians from face-to-face meetings with patients if certain criteria are met. Not every state is on board with this and only time will tell if telemedicine will be the future of medicine. Read more on telemedicine in medical spas here.
The bottom line is that physician supervision in the medical setting is a key component to running a successful and legally compliant med spa business. If you are unclear about the level of physician supervision required in your state, you should seek legal guidance from an experienced attorney immediately. AmSpa members can take advantage of their 20-30 minute annual compliance consultation with an attorney from ByrdAdatto.
For more ways to build and run your medical spa practice legally and profitably attend an AmSpa Medical Spa & Aesthetic Boot Camp and be the next med spa success story.
Renee E. Coover, JD, is an associate with ByrdAdatto, a law firm focusing on business, healthcare, and aesthetics. She has a unique background, blending litigation with healthcare law. A former litigator in high-stakes employment cases, Renee has extensive experience with counseling and representing businesses in employment matters, policies, and contract disputes, and defending business owners in state and federal trials. She has also served as General Counsel for the American Med Spa Association, advising health care professionals on regulatory and legal issues governing the medical spa industry.