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Energy-Based Litigation Trends Highlighted in Study

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In a cross-sectional study of malpractice and medical liability claims for cutaneous energy-based device procedures, the most litigated health professionals were plastic surgeons, and the most commonly affected anatomical sites were the face, head, and/or neck.

“The utilization of laser and energy-based devices (LEBD) has grown substantially,” corresponding author Scott Stratman, MD, MPH, and coauthors wrote in their study, which was published online on June 19 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. “This has led to a rise in practitioners, both physicians and nonphysicians, who may lack the requisite training in LEBD procedures. Subsequently, procedures performed by these untrained practitioners have resulted in more lawsuits related to patient complications. As the demand for LEBD procedures and the number of practitioners performing these procedures increase, it remains paramount to characterize the trends of malpractice cases involving these procedures.”

Stratman, a dermatology resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, and colleagues queried the LexisNexis database from 1985 to September 30, 2023, for all state, federal, and appellate cases that included the terms “negligence” or “malpractice” and “skin” and “laser.” After they removed duplicate cases and excluded cases that did not report dermatologic complications or cutaneous energy-based procedures, the final analysis included 75 cases.

Most of the appellants/plaintiffs (66 [88%]) were women, a greater number of cases were in the Northeast (26 [34.7%]) and the South (23 [30.7%]), and the fewest cases were in the Midwest (12 [16%]). The most common anatomical sites were the face, head, and/or neck, and 43 of the cases (57.3%) were decided in favor of the appellee/defendant or the party defending against the appeal, while 29 (38.7%) were in favor of the appellant/plaintiff or the party appealing, and three cases (4%) did not report a verdict.

In other findings, plastic surgeons were the most litigated healthcare professionals (18 [24%]), while 39 of the overall cases (52%) involved nonphysician operators (NPOs), 32 (42.7%) involved a physician operator, and four cases (5.3%) did not name a device operator. The most common procedure performed in the included cases was laser hair removal (33 [44%]). Complications from energy-based devices included burns, scarring, and pigmentation changes. Statistically significant associations were neither found between verdict outcome and appellee/defendant type nor found between energy-device operator or anatomical site.

The authors acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including the fact that the LexisNexis database does not contain cases handled in out-of-court settlements and cases that underwent third-party arbitration.

“Physicians must recognize their responsibility when delegating procedures to NPOs and their role in supervision of these procedures,” they concluded. “Comprehensive training for physicians and their agents is necessary to diminish adverse outcomes and legal risks. Moreover, all practitioners should be held to the same standard of care. Familiarity with malpractice trends not only strengthens the patient-provider relationship but also equips providers with effective strategies to minimize the risk of legal repercussions.”

Mathew M. Avram, MD, JD, director of laser, cosmetics, and dermatologic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, who was asked to comment on the study, said that it “reaffirms previous studies which show that laser hair removal continues to be the most litigated procedure in laser surgery, and that nonphysician operators are most commonly litigated against. It further reiterates the importance of close supervision and expert training of procedures delegated by physicians.”

Neither the authors nor Avram reported having relevant financial disclosures.

Source : Medscape

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