Reporting Liz Collin
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — They offer everything from laser hair removal to pharmaceutical injections and use powerful tools for many medical procedures. But, a WCCO investigation found very few rules inside Minnesota’s medical spas.
A medispa is a mix between a medical clinic and spa. Years ago, the procedures would have only been performed by a doctor. Not anymore.
You spot them all over — if you know where to look. One woman didn’t want us to use her name in this story. She is still embarrassed after what happened to her at a medispa last year.
“We have to get these clinics off the street,” she said.
She admits she was looking to save some money and didn’t do much homework. The first two laser treatments to remove red capillaries around her nose went fine. The third, ended in terrible pain.
“I told her that my face felt like it was on fire,” she said.
Her nose ended up with burns on both sides and permanent scars.
The treatment happened at a medispa with no oversight from a medical director and no doctor on site. Estimates put the number of medispas around 40. Dozens more are incorporated in other clinics and off the radar.
As a Board Certified Dermatologist, Dr. Charles Crutchfield says he sees a few patients each month after a bad procedure at a medispa.
“People are trying to provide shortcuts and they are performing procedures they’re not qualified to provide,” Crutchfield said. “It’s not just the frequency but it’s the seriousness of the injury we are seeing, too.”
In Minnesota, a medispa doesn’t need any kind of license to be in business. Instead, it’s up to the people working inside them to get some kind of training but all to different degrees. There’s no set standard.
In many cases, medispas answer to a medical director or a doctor but they are not required to be on site.
WCCO went in search of the medical director at several different medispas.
Under state law, a doctor must buy a laser but a physician can hire and train anyone to use it. It works the same way with Botox and other prescription injections, a doctor buys it but after training, anyone can inject as long as they’re “properly supervised” though the laws are very vague as to what that means.
It’s not laid out like it is in other states. Crutchfield believes that should change.
“If you’re having prescription products and equipment and lasers that have to be used by physicians on site and you’re treating patients. You need to have physicians there,” Crutchfield said.
There are also no rules on just how many medispas that doctor or medical director can oversee.
Dr. Scott Jenkins has his name attached to a dozen medispas in the Twin Cities.
“You can say it’s not safe but you have to prove it,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins says he visits some of his locations at least three days a week. He says he has about 15 emergencies a year that he’s called in to handle. He told us he makes anywhere from $500 to $1,500 a month from each medispa, in exchange for his training and supervision.
“My supervision is there but you don’t need a doctor if you’re not doing medicine,” Jenkins said.
Dr. Chris Tolan from Midwest Facial Plastic Surgery considers it serious medicine.
“This has become a little bit of the wild, wild west. Anybody can do anything because there really isn’t any legislation preventing anybody from doing anything,” Tolan said.
He was one of a dozen doctors who met two weeks ago to discuss making changes to Minnesota law. Our cameras were rolling when Jenkins showed up to join them. Many doctors, consider him part of the problem by taking advantage of loose regulations.
After a verbal exchange of cussing from Jenkins, he was asked to leave the table. Jenkins says he came to work together to find a solution.
“To go down this path … we should be ashamed. We can’t air our stuff in public like this,” he said, later in an interview.
Maureen Hines owns a medispa in Woodbury where Jenkins serves as its medical director. She sees the fight as more of an issue about other doctors losing money to businesses like hers than any measurable safety concerns. She says training and safety are top priorities in her medispa.
“Safety is not really the issue here. I think it is economics,” she said.
The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice is responsible for protecting the public from doctor’s mistakes. It gets about 800 total complaints each year. It doesn’t track businesses like medispas, only taking complaints against employees inside. Patients can’t see malpractice awards in Minnesota like they can in other states, they can only see complaints if the board steps in.
The board has never taken any action against Jenkins.
The International Medical Spa Association is located in Minnetonka. It tracks more than 4,000 medispas across the country. It believes in regular training but doesn’t see new laws doing much since it says the vast majority are safe.
Crutchfield acknowledges that all practices have complications and says he doesn’t see medispas as direct competition. He wants to see the state take action and not see any more patients scarred by medispas.
“You don’t get the same quality treatment in a medispa as you do in a medical office or a hospital,” Crutchfield said.
He said patients should at least ask these three questions:
– Is a board certified physician performing the service or are they directly supervising it?
– Is a physician examining them before the procedure?
– Is a physician on site?
There is legislation in the works from both sides. A big focus of the doctors centers around the safety of lasers. The group wants patients to see a doctor within 30 days of getting some kind of laser treatment. Some in the medispa industry, don’t think a doctor’s appointment is necessary.