ThE LASER REVOLUTION
Lasers were first developed by the US military as weapons and guidance systems for planes and rockets in the early 1960s. At about the same time, lasers were introduced for industrial uses like the precise cutting of metals and plastics. During the next 20 years, laser design and engineering were advanced to better focus and separate the light beam and to produce short individual pulses of light energy – necessary for their use in medical care. Today, lasers have revolutionized patient care in medical disciplines as diverse as dermatology, ophthalmology, oncology, urology, and dentistry, to name just a few. In fact, laser therapy has become the gold standard of care for a wide range of medical therapies and aesthetic conditions.
From corrective eye surgery, skin rejuvenation, and vein disorders to early detection of breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and degenerative disorders, lasers and other energy sources offer patients an effective solution which is less invasive and reduces patient recovery time. In many instances, laser and related technology have allowed procedures to be performed in a physician’s office using only topical or local anesthesia, eliminating the need for general anesthesia. Other benefits of laser therapy include enhanced precision, less bleeding and faster healing than is generally the case with conventional surgery. The laser revolution has also helped to make certain treatments affordable and accessible to consumers from every walk of life.
LASER DESIGN AND ENGINEERING
New advances in photonics and laser design are being developed on an ongoing basis to better serve the needs of medical professionals. Similar to consumer electronics, laser and related technologies are driven by the demand for miniaturization. For example, diode laser technology replaced bulky equipment, making utilization by physicians easier and more precise. Advances in lasers and related technologies are also being made to improve patient safety and comfort. Devices and accessories that cool the skin surface and make skin flatter or more transparent allow for superior laser penetration. New designs also lead the way to new applications. For example, lasers for pigmented lesions, photoselective vaporization techniques for enlarged prostate symptoms, and laser treatment to reduce vision loss associated with glaucoma are now available for patient care, thanks to the scientific developments and technical progress emerging from laser and related technology engineering labs and research centers.
GUIDELINES FOR LASER SAFETY
The ASLMS was among the first organizations to develop practice guidelines and safety standards for the use of lasers by physician and health personnel in hospitals and office settings. The Society recommends training devoted to the principles of lasers, their instrumentation and physiological effects and safety requirements. An initial program should include clinical applications of various wavelengths in the particular specialty field and hands-on practical sessions with lasers and their appropriate surgical or therapeutic delivery systems. Further, the ASLMS promotes prudent selection of both procedures and patients appropriate for office-based and institutional laser procedures. To ensure safe and effective selection, ASLMS asserts that a comprehensive knowledge of the disease process and experience in management of patients with the disease is essential. In addition, each patient should have at minimum a brief history and physical examination by the physician. Medical records and the highest level of quality assurance should be maintained.
THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR LASER MEDICINE AND SURGERY (ASLMS)
The American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, Inc. (ASLMS) is the world’s preeminent resource for laser research, safety, education, and clinical knowledge. Founded in 1980, ASLMS promotes excellence in patient care by advancing product engineering and clinical applications of lasers and related technologies. Currently, ASLMS has over 4,200 members, including physicians and surgeons representing more than 51 specialties, physicists involved in product development, biomedical engineers, biologists, nurses, industry representatives and manufacturers. More information can be found on the Society’s website: www.aslms.org.