Increase patient wellness, and your practice’s bottom line, one beam of light at a time using laser healing therapy
THE IDEA OF USING LIGHT WAVELENGTHS TO IMPROVE PATIENT HEALING while also reducing pain, inflammation and swelling is a relatively young science, beginning in the 1960s. It was during this time that Hungarian physician Endre Mester discovered that beams of light were capable of stimulating healing in mice.
From there Mester went on to test the validity of these early laser devices to see if they had the same positive healing impact on humans. They did. Thus, the practice of using low-level laser healing therapy — or photobiomodulation, as it is now officially known — was born.
The advancement of laser therapy
Technically there are several different types of lasers used within a medical setting. However, for our purposes, we’ll be talking specifically about the therapeutic lasers utilized within the chiropractic field.
These lasers work by “delivering red and infrared wavelengths (colors) of light which penetrate to various depths in the tissues to stimulate phytochemical effects,” explains Phil Harrington, DC, CMLSO, FASLMS, clinical manager, human medical director and laser safety officer at Summus Medical Laser.
These effects include positively impacting collagen formation, healing speed, tensile strength and stress, mast cell numbers and rate of degranulation, and flap survival, according to research published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery.
The reason these lasers are called low-level dates to the mid-1970s, says Harrington, when R. Glen Calderhead coined this term “to distinguish the therapeutic effects of laser from those of the ablative or surgical lasers.” Harrington adds, “some people use the terms to refer to the power output of the laser itself, which is incorrect and only leads to confusion.”
Laser science, chiropractic and the FDA
Studies have confirmed that laser therapy offers beneficial effects. The American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery Inc. shares that among them are pain relief, decreased inflammation, and faster recovery from sports-related injuries.
DCs specifically are using lasers to help their patients ease a variety of musculoskeletal issues. A few of the most common include chronic neck and shoulder pain, says Charlie Shanks, vice president of Erchonia Corporation, though they’ve also recently received market clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use lasers to treat low-back and overall body pain, broadening the scope of treatment even further.
Just as Harrington states that there has been some confusion around the definition of low-level laser healing therapy, Shanks says that FDA market clearance has suffered from misperception as well.
In order for a laser to be granted FDA market clearance, it has to meet certain success criteria, says Shanks. While most people believe that this criteria is all about safety, it’s not. The laser manufacturer has to prove efficacy, too.
“This is why they are so stringent on what they can say,” says Shanks, referring to the claims that the FDA says DCs can make when it comes to marketing laser therapy. If research has not proven that a particular laser can treat a specific condition, it cannot be marketed in that way.
This is critical, Shanks says, because in order to get FDA market clearance, comprehensive studies must be conducted, most of which take a minimum of 2-3 years to complete. And the process is getting more difficult as time goes on since this federal agency has added more investigators and is becoming more stringent.
While more control from governing bodies is typically frowned upon, Shanks says that this is a positive in the laser industry as “if they [the FDA] put tighter criteria on devices that are approved, it’s a win for everyone.”
Harrington adds that, in addition to laser-based research studies being extremely lengthy, they are also costly since “a basic human study on a certain condition starts at $150,000.”
But as policy makers attempt to resolve the opioid crisis, photobiomodulation “is getting more attention” as an alternative therapy, Harrington says, with the National Institutes of Health now awarding grants for studies involving these devices.
DCs can also use low-level lasers to help patients obtain non-invasive fat loss, says Shanks, and though they are not yet an FDA-cleared treatment for aging, lasers can be beneficial for effects that are associated with the typical aging cycle. This includes increasing range of motion, decreasing pain and increasing collagen production.
Implementing laser therapy and ROI
For those considering adding laser healing therapy to a chiropractic practice there are a couple of factors to consider. The first is cost.
If the intention is to conduct laser therapy as a pain management treatment, laser therapy devices can run anywhere from $7,900-$40,000, says Shanks.
Additionally, lasers designed to provide aesthetic results, such as non-invasive fat-loss lasers, are generally even more expensive, costing $50,000-$100,000 or more each.
Though this type of price tag may sound daunting, both Harrington and Shanks indicate that the cost can easily be recouped. For example, if your device lease payment is $200 per month and you charge $30-50 for an individual treatment, the expense is recouped in as few as four sessions. Anything over and above is your profit.
In addition to cost, Harrington further stresses the importance of researching the clinical effectiveness of the device before making a buy.
“If a laser does not work, it will sit on the shelf collecting dust and the ROI [return on investment] is zero,” he says. “I hear of DCs who thought they were saving money by buying inexpensive (low-end) therapy lasers and, in a short time, regretted the decision.”
In short, Harrington says, do your own due diligence regarding research.
“Ask colleagues who are using a laser,” he suggests. “Seek out laser providers in other parts of the country. Ask them what they are using the laser for, how successful it is, whether patients come in asking for the laser treatments, the number of referrals and repeat customers the laser generates, etc.”
Shanks agrees, adding that, “When you look at any device, it should be backed by sound research.”
This means considering only lasers that have utilized an independent review board, which means the lasers were measured against real devices versus placebos.
Marketing your new laser therapy
Successfully adding laser therapy to your practice requires that you market the new treatment option in a way that both educates and excites your target audience, which isn’t always easy.
“I think getting patients to understand the efficacy of laser and the overall impact they can have is one of the biggest challenges,” Shanks says.
To help overcome this challenge, Harrington shares that marketing laser therapy strategies to consider include:
- Educating staff and getting them excited about the new treatment option, potentially by demonstrating laser therapy with them. This enables staff to share their own positive experiences with patients, generating additional excitement.
- Sharing the value of laser therapy via all marketing avenues. For example, give patients brochures that help them better understand what laser therapy is, how it works, and how it can help them. Use digital mediums by posting information about laser therapy on websites and social media pages.
- Talking to existing patients about low-level laser therapy and offering the service to them. Share how it could positively impact their specific conditions in a way that gives them the opportunity to ask questions.
- Collecting and sharing testimonials from those who have engaged in low-level laser therapy and had a positive experience. These testimonials can be obtained in writing or by video and shared on marketing platforms.
- Offering lectures about laser therapy on a community level, sharing your knowledge and passion with larger groups of potential patients. Hold them in your office or at a local event where others will already be gathered.
The future of laser treatment
Where will lasers go from here? When it comes to the devices themselves, Harrington says that he sees lasers “optimizing the parameters to deliver the safest, most effective treatments for our patients. This could mean new wavelengths in the red and near-infrared spectrum.”
Additionally, although continuous wave is the gold standard, solid scientific evidence appears to support various pulse frequencies, according to Harrington.
“Future research will indicate which pulse frequencies are most effective for specific tissues or pathologies,” he says.
The relatively young laser healing therapy field has come a long way in a short time, and is already supplying chiropractors with a new income stream from patients looking to speed their healing with a safe non-drug alternative.
“We see such a bright future,” says Shanks, referring specifically to research his company is conducting on the neurological effects that lasers potentially offer. “Results early on are pretty amazing.”
CHRISTINA DEBUSK is a freelance writer who specializes in content related to natural health and wellness, personal development and small-business marketing. She can be contacted through ChristinaMDeBusk.com.