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Protect Your Spa From Risk

Jesse Cormier February 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
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Most have heard of Murphy’s Law—if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. This bit of humor serves as a reminder that no matter how careful you are, the potential is always there for something to go awry, even if it’s not as bad as pessimistic old Murphy predicted. The expression that may be more applicable to skin care is: “When it comes to risk, business is brisk.”

It isn’t necessarily a poor reflection on you for something to go wrong in your treatment room. The majority of skin care claims come from people who have never made a claim and likely never will again. Most, however, find one claim to be plenty, even with appropriate insurance and a satisfactory outcome. It’s nobody’s idea of fun.

Common and uncommon claims

For example, a ruined wedding—if you caused a burn or peeling on a bride—is one nightmarish scenario. Yet, the most frequent claims are rather mundane and include the following:

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Reduce Your Risk

Avoid possible insurance claims by adhering to the following practices.

Stay within your scope of practice. Although a piece of equipment may have several uses, under your scope of practice, you may be allowed to perform just one of those functions. This should be considered when deciding whether to purchase certain equipment.

Complete forms and analysis. Make sure to fill out comprehensive intake and health history forms, and perform a thorough skin analysis before beginning any services. Do this even if your place of employment does not require it. Refresh the information on follow-up visits, and treat it as if it were Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-protected.

Take photographs. Make it a standard practice to take before-and-after photographs of each client. Not only does this help you track your clients’ progress, it may be helpful legally should a client file a claim against you.

Buy occurrence-form coverage. Purchase occurrence-form coverage instead of the cheaper, less comprehensive claims-made insurance. Claims-made insurance expires when your policy lapses, even if you were covered at the time of the incident.

Follow directions. Carefully follow the directions for the use of your equipment and products. Do not mix products unless they are meant to be mixed according to manufacturer instruction. Have procedures in place for reporting to your manager and calling 911 if there is a concern. Always err on the side of caution.

Stay put. Do not leave clients unattended for long periods of time during treatments.

Understand your coverage. Make sure you and your staff understand what’s covered by your insurance plans—both individual and business. There are no restrictions on who can be named in a lawsuit. One case named the receptionist as a party to a lawsuit because she had booked the unhappy client’s appointment. That may sound ridiculous, but an attorney’s costs to combat even a frivolous lawsuit will probably be in the thousands of dollars.

Keep records. Keep accurate records of the treatment and products used, at least until the statute of limitations for your state expires. Back up your electronic records.

Do tests. Do patch tests even for treatments your client has had on previous visits.

Give instructions. Give complete home care instructions in writing, and have clients sign off that they have received them.

Document safety checks. Document safety checks for your equipment and practices. For example, tighten the bolts on your table at specific intervals and document that you’ve done so. This kind of record-keeping for many of your safety procedures can help you in court should something go wrong.

Be careful. Take extra care with wax pots and space heaters. Unplug your equipment when not in use. Don’t use candles or incense, period. Drapes can go up in flames and clients’ clothes can catch on fire. Use battery-operated candles or low lights. Heat sources, such as hot stones, require caution as well. Claims have been made regarding hot stones from all ages and skin types, especially older clients with thinner skin.

Build relationships. Build strong relationships with your clients. Display sympathy if something goes wrong, but don’t admit guilt. Your reaction will greatly influence a client’s decision whether to sue or not, so don’t come across as dismissive. Get pictures of the injury and document the incident in detail, keeping in mind that your documents could become evidence examined in court. Stick to the facts. Contact your insurance company immediately.

Be cautious. Be cautious about unconventional treatments. For example, estheticians have been told they can perform teeth whitening if they allow the client to insert the product into their mouths themselves, rather than the esthetician doing so. However, this can still aggravate existing dental conditions and cause burning or other problems, leaving the esthetician in jeopardy.

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