Cosmetic medicine is one of Australia’s fastest growing consumer markets, yet the AUD $1 billion1 consumer market is largely unregulated. On the surface it may appear to be a lucrative business with low barriers to market entry, however consumer risks have identified a need for regulation. This presents an opportunity for those operators within the industry who already adopt sound business practices and adhere to high standards of patient care to move ahead of their competitors.

What are the proposed regulatory changes?

The Medical Board of Australia is currently seeking submissions to assist with the creation of a national framework to address the critical need to minimise consumer risks in this industry.2

Following its 2012 review,3 the Medical Board of Australia is suggesting four options to create a uniform national approach with draft guidelines that include:

  • transparency and detailed information regarding costs of cosmetic medical procedures
  • a minimum seven day cooling-off period from obtaining informed consent and paying a deposit on, or undergoing, a major cosmetic medical procedure
  • the requirement of referral for psychological assessment before a minor under the age of 18 can undergo any cosmetic medical procedure
  • a minimum three month cooling off period from obtaining informed consent before a minor under the age of 18 can undergo any cosmetic medical procedure
  • improved after care procedures, including written care instructions and post-procedure follow-up
  • prohibition on prescribing Schedule 4 injectable cosmetic medications via a telephone, email or video-conference consultation
  • prohibition on advertisements and offers that could be construed as incentives to undergo cosmetic medical procedures.

Guidelines for registered practitioners is one of the first steps in the industry overhaul by the Australian Health Minister’s Advisory Council (AHMAC). Change is already underway with recommendations for nationally uniform regulation of lasers and IPLs and a national review of regulating unregistered practitioners.4

Why are the regulatory changes necessary?

According to consumer advocate, Choice, Australians are spending more on cosmetic medical procedures per capita than consumers in the United States of America.5

Cosmetic medical services include a variety of invasive procedures such as liposuction, face lifts and rhinoplasty, as well as popular non-invasive procedures like laser hair removal, anti-wrinkle injections, dermal fillers, skin rejuvenation and chemical peels.

The popularity of these elective procedures drives a highly competitive consumer market. While there are many well trained, ethical operators providing quality services, it can be difficult for consumers to understand which service providers to trust. In an unregulated market, price isn’t always indicative of superior service.

Increasingly, consumers are reporting the harm suffered from the services provided by mediocre operators.  Reports of adverse outcomes from poor services have included pain, bleeding and infection, burns, scarring, nerve damage, gross deformity and severe psychological distress.6

The reported adverse outcomes are largely attributed to:

  • irresponsible advertising and unreliable consumer information
  • lack of controls over operator training, qualification and experience
  • poor patient selection including the provision of cosmetic medical procedures to minors
  • low standards for procedure facilities.

How are businesses affected by increased regulation?

A uniform national framework creates a barrier to entry into the market by imposing guidelines and restrictions on the provision of services and this is a step toward improving the outcomes for consumers with a national regulatory scheme.

Raising the standards and distinguishing good practice by operators who offer cosmetic medical services, provides a clear distinction for consumers about what to expect in relation to quality services.

By its nature, guidelines and regulation present opportunities for businesses that provide superior services to thrive.

What do you need to do?

Whether you are the owner of a multi-clinic network, a medical doctor, a nurse, a beauty therapist or simply an astute business investor, if you are in the business of providing these services, you need to be aware of the current regulatory issues and how to best position your business in order to adjust to an inevitable regulatory change.

As an operator in the cosmetic medical industry, regardless of whether or not you are already adhering to high standards of customer care, you should be asking questions about key commercial and consumer issues:

  • What representations are you making to consumers about your business and services?
  • Does any of your advertising material exaggerate the benefits and ignore the risks of your services?
  • Is your advertising material compliant with the restrictions on advertising certain classes of medications?
  • Does your advertising material identify both the risks and benefits of undergoing procedures?
  • Do you have a privacy policy for managing customer’s personal information?
  • Will your current operator licensing agreements for the use of laser or IPL devices be restricted under a new national scheme?
  • As an owner operator, will you be suitably qualified under the proposed regulatory changes?
  • If you operate a franchise:
    • How will your business be affected by variable state-based regulations?
    • How will a national regime limit your interstate operability?
    • How are you going to ensure that your licensees and franchisees are complying with the regulations?
    • To what extent are you liable for the actions of your franchisees, particularly if your franchisees are not adequately trained or qualified?
  • Will your staff be adequately qualified to ensure your business continues to operate?
  • If your business relies on sub-contractor’s qualifications, how might this restrict your commercial viability?
  • Are you in partnership with unqualified operators and therefore subject to joint liability?