Conference Coverage

Maintaining credibility when evaluating new dermatologic technologies



A healthy dose of skepticism is reasonable when evaluating new technologies to potentially use in your practice, but being overly critical can backfire, according to E. Victor Ross, MD.

During a virtual course on laser and aesthetic skin therapy, he noted that dermatologists may be evaluating new technologies in roles as an investigator or provider, or as a provider who buys the equipment outright, without any direct compensation from industry. “If you’re doing investigative work, you’re already in a conflicted situation because you’re trying to serve two masters,” said Dr. Ross, who directs the Scripps Clinic Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology Center in San Diego. “You’re trying to advance science and to make sure your reputation is intact and maybe even enhanced, but you’re also kind of at the whim of industry, because they have a goal. Sometimes the goals are similar. Your goal is to advance the technology and advance patient care, but they have a goal of selling equipment. Those goals should be compatible, and they should be in the same pathway; they should be parallel.”

Being too critical as an investigator/researcher of new technologies can hinder further interactions with industry. “Sometimes your criticism can be premature, and small changes in the technology and/or waiting for results can validate the technology,” he said. “Maybe it’s a skin-tightening technology, or maybe there’s something you don’t like about it; you have a prototype and you say: ‘This is not so great,’ but these are studies that take a long time to evaluate, like hair removal. Generally, if you’re a big critic, after a while, nobody wants to hear it. So, you can’t be overly critical. I think you can be skeptical, but not overly critical.”

On the other hand, Dr. Ross continued, if you cheerlead for the device industry, your reputation may be sold to the highest bidder. “You may compromise your ability to be trusted in future work or presentations. I’ve regretted some things I said many years ago, not because I was being dishonest but because I really wasn’t as skeptical as I should have been about the types of results I was getting. You do tend to get on a bandwagon; you want everything to be positive,” he said, adding: “The other thing that can happen is, if things don’t work out with other buyers, they’re going to say, ‘I can’t get the same results.’ If somebody can’t replicate what you’re doing, it’s going to put your reputation on the line to some degree. So, you have to be very careful.”

Before agreeing to evaluate a new technology as an investigator or in your own practice, Dr. Ross recommended asking yourself if the intervention makes sense on a gross or microanatomic level. “There should be a physical basis for how it works, and ideally there should be some histology that backs it up,” he said during the meeting, which was sponsored by Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Wellman Center for Photomedicine. “Where is the data to support the outcomes? If it is your own data, how skeptical have you been in its acquisition and assessment?”

When evaluating a new technology, Dr. Ross recommended starting with test spots and low settings. “It behooves you not to be too aggressive because there are some untoward things you may not see right away.” He advised evaluating short- and long-term outcomes and being wary of devices that heat very deeply and rely on long-term outcomes, such as hair removal, acne improvement, scar improvement, and skin tightening – all of which require long intervals for assessment. As one of his “Ross Rules” states: “The deeper the heating and the less focused the heating, the less we can expect results.” Another Ross Rule calls for being skeptical about technologies without an immediate finding that can be “seen” on routine histology. “To me, the deeper the procedure, particularly if it’s not fractional, the confidence of my outcome is diminished,” he said. “The exception is any intervention that relies on selective photothermolysis.”

Using new technologies in practice

Dr. Ross also offered tips on how to properly incorporate newly approved technologies into your practice safely, including the use of visual endpoints. “That’s tough for technologies like laser liposuction or fractional technologies, where we rely more on ‘guidelines’ than endpoints,” he said. In addition, he recommended gradually increasing settings and using test areas to stall and/or hone techniques. “It’s exciting, but you’re like a test pilot. You want to be careful that you are doing things that are not likely to risk the patient. Try some off-the-face applications first. When you’re using a new technology, push a little harder with each patient so you can find a safe zone for that technology. You don’t have to get it all in one treatment session. Be conservative. Anticipate that you may be underassessing the immediate response.”

Above all, be careful. “Use your judgment more than laser company-prescribed settings,” he said. “Most companies have the go-by settings on the low side for patient protection, but sometimes efficacy suffers. Use cautiously on friends and family. If you treat a spouse or a friend and things don’t go perfectly, that’s always a recipe for a problem.”

Dr. Ross reported having received financial grants and research grants from Candela, Cutera, Lumenis, and Lutronic; consulting fees from Palomar; and honoraria from Cynosure, Cutera, and Lumenis. He has also received research funding from Venous Concepts, Pulsed Biosciences, and Cynosure.

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