Aesthetic Dermatology

Experts recommend slow, steady approach to reopening laser and cosmetic surgery practices


As laser and cosmetic dermatologists mull over the best ways to reopen their practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic, experts advise taking deliberate baby steps.

Participants in the May 5 American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery webinar on how to open practices safely and effectively. American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery

Participants in the May 5 American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery webinar on how to open practices safely and effectively.

“People talk about reinventing the wheel,” Jeffrey S. Dover, MD, codirector of SkinCare Physicians in Chestnut Hill, Mass., said during an hour-long webinar on May 5 sponsored by the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. “In this case, we’re inventing the wheel; no one’s ever done this before – not in our lifetimes. The last pandemic was over 100 years ago, when there wasn’t aesthetic medicine.”

Dr. Dover joined a panel of four other experts from around the country to discuss how to reopen practices safely and effectively. Paul M. Friedman, MD, director of the Houston Cosmetic Dermatology & Laser Center, moderated the event.

Dr. Paul M. Friedman is director of the Houston Cosmetic Dermatology & Laser Center.

Dr. Paul M. Friedman

In Florida, which reopened certain businesses on May 4, 2020, Jill S. Waibel, MD, plans to start at 25% capacity at Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, and build from there. “We’re trying to take care of skin cancer patients first,” said Dr. Waibel, a dermatologist who owns the practice. “Then we’re going to start doing less aggressive cosmetic procedures like injectables, nonablative procedures. We’ll move into the more aggressive procedures as we ease back into it. We really want to see what’s going to happen 2-3 weeks down the line now that things are starting to open up.”

In Maryland, where state officials announced on May 6 that guidelines would be issued to allow for nonmedical procedures, Elizabeth L. Tanzi, MD, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care in Chevy Chase, expects things to “look very different” once her practice reopens. “We are taking it very slowly,” she said. “Teledermatology for acne and other follow-ups is not something we did before, but it is certainly something that we’ll continue.”

Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, director of Capital Laser & Skin Care in Chevy Chase, MD.

Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi

The way she sees it, having the proper personal protective equipment is a key part of any reopening discussion. “I am not going near anyone’s face without an N95 mask that fits well, and without a face shield,” she said. “If you’re delegating these procedures to people that you don’t trust to be wearing the PPE correctly, then you shouldn’t be delegating them, because a key is the PPE. You have to assume that everyone has the virus at every time.”

Dr. Eric Bernstein,of the Main Line Center for Laser Surgery, Ardmore, Pa.

Dr. Eric Bernstein

In Ardmore, Pa., the Main Line Center for Laser Surgery remains closed because of current state regulations. When practice director Eric F. Bernstein, MD, gets the green light to reopen, patients will undergo a consultation by phone or videoconference and pay their bill before they set foot in the office. “We’re on the second floor, so patients can take a stairwell and avoid the elevator,” Dr. Bernstein said. “They’ll come in, not check in at the desk; go right to the room. There will be one treater and one assistant. If the patient doesn’t come in with a mask, we’ll supply one. It’s going to be a very different process. People are setting their hours longer because they’re going to be seeing fewer people. There will be no sitting in the waiting room.”

Dr. Roy G. Geronemus of New York

Dr. Roy G. Geronemus

In the COVID-19 epicenter, Roy G. Geronemus, MD, director of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, has been performing Mohs procedures and treating children with vascular malformations, but everything else is on hold. “Once the governor [Andrew Cuomo] lifts the stay-at-home restrictions, we’ll ease into things,” he said. “The issue of performing more invasive procedures – like ablative fractional resurfacing – is something that we are concerned about. I’m concerned about any laser that has environmental plume. For example, with our tattoo-removal procedures, I intend to treat every patient through a gel for the short term, and perhaps even for the long term. One can do that safely, and that eliminates the plume altogether.”

At the center, Dr. Geronemus added, “we do a fair amount of ablative fractional resurfacing and some fully ablative resurfacing. I intend to use large facial shields with these patients. We do use vacuum in each room as it stands right now, not only with electrosurgery, but we’ll be adding that to laser procedures as well. That will be helpful.”

Dr. Jeffrey S. Dover, codirector of SkinCare Physicians in Chestnut Hill, Pa.

Dr. Jeffrey S. Dover

In Chestnut Hill, Mass., Dr. Dover and his colleagues plan to practice what he termed “universal COVID precaution” by wearing a face mask, goggles, or a face shield, gloves, and protective clothing when necessary. “We are not going to do any ablative procedures, no procedures with plume, and we’re going to try and eliminate risk as much as we can,” he said. “We will have no waiting room; the patients will walk right to an exam room. They’ll be prescreened on the phone. The only thing they’ll have done when they first come in is to have their temperature taken, and they’ll be checked in and out with the doctor and the nurse in the room, and that’s it. There will be no other extraneous people to help to eliminate risk. We’re cutting our schedules down by 75% so that we can socially distance within our practice,” Dr. Dover said.

Dr. Dover served as lead author on “A path to resume aesthetic care: Executive summary of Project AesCert guidance supplement – practical considerations for aesthetic medicine professionals supporting clinic preparedness in response to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak,” which was published online in Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine (2002 May 5. doi: 10.1089/fpsam.2020.0239). His coauthors included a facial plastic surgeon and three infectious disease experts.

Dr. Dover said, “We took the advice of these experts in infectious diseases, who said, ‘we don’t know all the right answers [to resuming aesthetic care]. We can mitigate risk, but we cannot eliminate risk. You have to treat every patient in your office as if they’re COVID-19 positive. If you do that, you’ll have a safe office. It’ll be the safest place in your world, safer than a grocery store, where you have no idea who you’re standing beside.’ ”

“The problem with this virus, compared to, say, SARS-CoV-1, is that these patients are positive and shedding virus 2-3 days before they get a fever,” he added. “With SARS-CoV-1, they had a fever first and then they shed virus. What I learned was, treat everybody with universal precautions.” The document includes tips for communicating with patient about expectations for office visits, clinic schedule management, cleaning procedures, PPE, treatment room set-up, and employee health screening and training.

During the webinar, an ASLMS member posed a question to the panelists about their comfort level in performing mechanical microneedling and radiofrequency (RF) microneedling procedures as aesthetic practices begin to reopen. “Generally, there’s no plume with microneedling with or without RF,” Dr. Geronemus said. “Depending upon the procedure that you’re doing, some of the microneedling procedures are very bloody; that may carry a risk unto itself. Other procedures where you’re using a thermal component have less bleeding. I’m more inclined to proceed with an RF with microneedling procedure and less inclined to proceed with a bloody, more aggressive microneedling procedure.”

Dr. Jill Waibel is the owner of the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute.

Dr. Jill Waibel

Dr. Waibel emphasized the importance of disinfecting the microneedling device between uses. “If you have disposable needle cartridges, I think it’s a lot safer than if you have to clean [them],” she said. “We know that COVID-19 can live up to 3 hours, at least in a lab scenario, so you don’t want to transmit it from patient to patient. If someone has COVID-19 on their nose, and you microneedle over it, and that’s not completely disinfected, you could spread it to the next patient. We have really amped up our cleaning in between rooms. We have a whole crew that cleans every surface with [disinfectant wipes] and 90% alcohol.”

With reported shortages of N95 in many health care settings, some panelists said that they plan to reuse masks until the supply chain improves. Dr. Dover said that one option is to “use a mask, label it, number it, drop it in into a paper bag or into a [sealed plastic food container] upside down without touching the front of it,” he said. “If it sits for a week and you see patients 5 days a week, that mask will be dried out and highly effective a week later. That’s what we’re going to do until there is a big supply of them.”

The pandemic has also thrown a monkey wrench into aesthetic and medical dermatology clinical research efforts. According to Dr. Dover, many aesthetic studies have been shut down, “and most companies are giving us little guidance,” he said. “As they figure things out, they ask us to do things over and over again. So, I hope that clinical research will improve because of COVID-19 in the long term, but in the short term, it’s been a bit of a nightmare.”

Dr. Geronemus added that, in order to fulfill criteria for most studies, clinicians are required to see patients in a certain number of days. “We’re out of protocol in many different studies, so we’re requesting that protocols be amended and that the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and the sponsors will consider opportunities to make those changes,” he said. “We’ll do as much as we can virtually, but if you’re studying an acne scar, you really need to see the patient [in person].”

Strict social distancing measures are also disrupting agreements that dermatologists may have had with trainees and fellows before the pandemic hit. “We’ve had to send letters and e-mails to people who were planning visits and preceptorships,” Dr. Dover said. “Even with our fellows, we’re going to have to figure out a way to practice so as not to complicate the issue in the room. The more people in the room, the more risk there is for transmitting disease. It’s really an issue.”

Dr. Tanzi limits everyone in the room during procedures. “We’re screening patients beforehand and telling them no family members, unless there’s a disability; no kids, unless it’s a kid coming in for acne treatment and they have to bring their parent; no drivers – they can wait outside,” she said.

Another ASLMS member asked the panelists if they plan to incorporate an informed consent form for COVID-19 risk into their practices, similar to the one developed by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “That’s a tough one,” Dr. Waibel said. “Before patients enter our practice, we take their temperature and ask them several COVID-related symptoms and contact questions – which they validate as true.”

Dr. Geronemus said that he will consider the idea. “The downside is logistical,” he said. “Patients sign so many forms already; they’re complaining that it takes so long to get into see me, and my hand is tired from signing so many forms.’”

Dr. Dover said that he and his colleagues are planning to use a COVID-19 risk consent form. “I’d err on the side of yes rather than on the side of no, because you’re better off overdoing it than underdoing it,” he said. “This is not the time for shortcuts.”

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