Inside the Medical Spa: What to Expect

"What I tried to create is a mix between a spa and a medical office.  Where patients can stop by, say hello and feel comfortable."  That's how Dr. Alexander Rivkin sums up his philosophy behind the Westside Medical Spa, which he opened in the Los Angeles area in October of 2003.

The practice is just one of a number of such facilities where you can go in, enjoy a little pampering in a nice relaxing environment, and take care of your cosmetic medical needs such as getting laser hair removal or adding a little fullness to your face with various injectables like BOTOX or Restylane.

Medical spas are the fastest growing segment of the spa industry and the newest spin on the cosmetic surgery and anti-aging world.  Medical spa franchises are offering enterprising entrepreneurs the opportunity to get in on this growing market, existing day spas are adding medical procedures to their list of offerings, and cosmetic surgery and dermatology offices are creating spa-like atmospheres to get in on their share of the market.

With such varied types of businesses, it's not hard to imagine that there aren't strict regulations or defined rules for the medical spa market.  As Dr. Rivkin puts it, "the medical spa industry is the wild west at this point... It's a buyer beware kind of field."

So What Qualifies a Business as a "Medical" Spa?

Here's the skinny; a medical spa has to have a medical director that is a licensed physician, and the people that inject the BOTOX or perform the Mesotherapy to help you get rid of cellulite have to be licensed and trained to do so.  Basically, that's it.  The medical director does not have to be present, or even necessarily in the same state as the medical spa, and only needs to be on call in the event that problems arise.

Of course, even if the medical director is on the premises at all times, there is no guarantee that the doctor will actually perform the procedure.  In either case it is important to know the credentials and training of whoever is performing your procedure.

Safety Concerns

So of course the dermatologists and surgeons that own their own spas are cautioning patients about franchised facilities with no doctor on the premises while such franchises say that those concerns are unfounded.

Dr. Rivkin tends to side with others in his position.  While he says that medical procedures can sometimes turn out fine in these situations, he has heard and seen his share of undesirable outcomes when patients don't do their homework and let their medical needs take a back seat to their want of welcoming comforts.

So as you venture toward that local medical spa, ready for some hot towel treatments and aromatherapy to help you prepare for your session of microdermabrasion, remember to keep your health as the number one concern.  Whether or not the medical spa you choose is physician owned, Dr. Rivkin's advice is to make sure that your medical interest is put above financial concern for the business; "your consultation should be with a physician or a nurse, not a salesman...You've got to ask 'where's the doctor'."