Aesthetic lasers: should you buy new or used?

By Don Berryhill / 01 Jan 2015

Laser sales consultant Don Berryhill shares his advice on purchasing a reliable laser for your clinic

Many practitioners looking to purchase medical lasers are often confronted with the issue of deciding whether or not to buy directly from the manufacturer or possibly consider purchasing a used system from a broker.

This can be a daunting task for some, and I’ve spoken to many laser consumers over the years who have struggled with this decision. It is a little like trying to decide whether to buy a new or used car, however, most people are a bit more familiar with cars than they are lasers. Some buyers are obviously more comfortable purchasing a new laser for the peace of mind and perks that come with buying new and don’t mind paying a premium. Others are hoping to spend the least amount of money possible and just want to find a great deal. Each option has several issues to consider.
My aim is to make you a better-educated consumer and help you feel more comfortable when choosing a laser, whilst limiting the sometime unpleasant surprises that can arise. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but should give you a good idea of some important things to consider.

Advantages of buying a new laser

When buying new, you will get the latest and greatest version of whatever’s on the market. That can be very important, especially in an industry as dynamic as aesthetic laser treatments. Patients and consumers are often looking for breakthrough treatments so it can make a big difference if, in your clinic, you have the newest technology and most innovative treatments on the market. The other big advantage of buying from the manufacturer or the official distributor is getting up-to-date training, marketing support, and general ongoing support from the company and sales representative.
In regards to training, some lasers are more operator-dependent than others and the trainer supplied by the manufacturer or distributor should be more knowledgeable than anyone else. Certain cosmetic laser treatments are very much about the art of the treatment, as well as the science, so the practitioner needs to be trained well enough to be confident and somewhat artistic in their approach to getting the best results for patients. Each patient is different, so the practitioner needs to adapt their laser treatment accordingly. 
If you like to be an early adopter of new technology, the laser company should be willing to give you extra support in order to make sure you’re successful. For them, it’s important you give good recommendations of their laser to other potential buyers. I would advise having a number of face-to-face meetings with the sales representative to establish exactly what the company is willing to do to support you. Many options are negotiable before you make a purchase and you should remember; you’re the one in the driver’s seat. The price of a laser is likely to drop in a relatively short period of time so you should insist on getting the most for your money if you’re investing in a company’s newest technology.

Disadvantages of buying new

Cost: Buying a new laser is similar to buying a new car; as soon as you drive it out of the showroom, its value depreciates significantly. Even though high quality lasers are usually in the £30,000 range and up, they’re still not as expensive overall as they were 10-15 years ago and the quality is much better now. Having worked directly for a laser manufacturer and distributor for several years, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the costs that go into making a laser available for sale and the support needed after the sale. It’s a pricey operation to take a laser from the drawing board to the consumer. If the laser being bought is one that’s been around for a while, the pricing should be lower or more negotiable. If you’re considering purchasing a brand new model, sometimes it’s better to wait for the second version. There is then usually enough feedback for the manufacturers to see what needs to be changed and there’s also a good chance it will be less expensive. If you buy a company’s first laser model, you may want to try and negotiate some upgrade options over the first year. The company may not be willing to give it to you at no charge but you might be able to lock in a better price whenever a better version becomes available.
Obsolescence: Laser technology has consistently marched forward, with improvements made on a fairly regular basis. It’s somewhat 
like buying a computer. Within a couple of years many companies will come out with a modified or improved version of whatever it is you bought. Occasionally, it doesn’t even take that long because sometimes companies will push to clear out their initial inventory as there may already be another version in the works that they are preparing to launch. Even if a laser is considered obsolete, it doesn’t mean it has to be immediately carted off to the dustbin (unless you can no longer get parts for it). If the laser is still performing well and both the practitioners and patients are still happy, keep on zapping. The differences between many of the older lasers and the newer ones are usually speed, software, system size, hand piece options, or additional wavelengths. Hence the old lasers can still be effective for years to come, maybe just not as fast or as comfortable to use as newer versions.

Advantages of buying a used laser

Saving money: New lasers are expensive so if you can find the right deal, you could end up saving a bundle. If you already have a laser that you are comfortable with using and are just looking to add another one to your clinic, the used market may be the place to go. You will
need, however, to make sure it can be serviced by a third party if you don’t want to pay the extra fees most manufacturers now charge. Sometimes an older model may be better to consider because it’s likely to be a more basic system, making it easier to work on and get parts for. Also, there are typically more of them on the market and you can usually get a more reasonable price.

Disadvantages of buying used

Buying a used laser can either be a really good, or a really bad thing. I’ve seen it go both ways. Two big issues to consider when buying used are: Can you get the laser completely serviced? Is what you assume you’re buying, exactly what’s going to be delivered? Ask a lot of questions, get references, records of service, a checklist of any work that’s been done, and verify what you’re being told is true. There can be hidden pitfalls and unanticipated costs when buying used compared to buying new. Potentially the worst surprise someone buying a used laser may encounter is having to go back to the manufacturer for repairs and being hit with recertification fees that could cost anywhere from £1,000-£16,000. Unfortunately there are a few bad apples wherever you go. 

Ask a lot of questions, get references, records of service, a checklist of any work that’s been done, and verify what you’re being told is true

Some brokers selling used lasers have virtual inventories and work by getting a deposit from you and then searching for a laser that is similar to what was originally advertised. Sometimes what shows up is substantially different from what you thought you ordered; be cautious and ask the right questions. I’ve known of a few instances where no product is delivered and the broker has avoided all phone calls and kept the consumer’s deposit. As a consumer, you should know exactly who you are dealing with and make sure you have more than one way to contact the seller if need be.
Some brokers stock their inventory and have their own service specialists inspect and repair the lasers before selling them. You may pay a bit more for this service but it could be worth it. Their inventory may be limited but it is possible that they can still find you a suitable product, which can be serviced prior to sale – something you should insist upon. Some may claim they have the resources to fix any problem you might have with a laser, when in reality they can’t. Ask detailed questions about how any service issues will be addressed. Will service just be a phone call from a technician trying to walk you through a fix? If you’re not comfortable working on equipment, it would be wise to figure this out up front.

Financing

Obtaining finance can be difficult so it’s a good idea to get approved for a loan before you begin your laser search. I’ve seen many practitioners who decide what they want, then get
the unpleasant surprise of not being able to get funding when they are ready to buy. Another good reason to get your financing approved upfront is that it will put you in a better negotiating position if you’re buying new. If you’re buying used, that killer deal on a laser you just found could go quickly, so you’ll want to be able to make the purchase straight away. 


Compliance with laser safety standards

Laser protection advisor, and director of Bioptica Laser Aesthetics, Mike Regan explains that there are particular standards that lasers must adhere to in order to be classed as safe. He says, “Recent years have seen a significant amount of work being done by the various international and European bodies responsible for the definition of laser product safety standards. The main International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard for medical?and aesthetic laser products is IEC 60601-2-22.” Regan also explains that, with regard to?laser safety eyewear in Europe, the standardisation body is CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) and the relevant standard required is EN 207.

Laser consultant and technical officer at Lasermet, Peter Fishwick, details what these standards mean for practitioners looking to buy a laser. All laser products that are introduced for sale in the UK must comply with various?standards. The current laser standard is BS/EN 60825-1:2014 ‘Part 1: Equipment classification and requirements’. Medical laser products must comply with the additional requirements?in BS/EN 60601-2-22:2013 ‘Medical electrical equipment: Particular requirements for basic safety and essential performance of surgical, cosmetic, therapeutic and diagnostic laser equipment.’

These standards are functionally identical to the international standards produced by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) of the same number. This means that products that comply with the international standard will also comply with standards in the UK. As?the United States is not a signatory of the IEC, devices made in the US do not necessarily comply with BS/EN 60825-1 and 60601-22. In theory, the standards are enforced by various enforcement bodies such as Trading Standards to detect non-conformances and intervene where necessary. However, as manufacturers are able to self-certify it is very difficult for Trading Standards to find non-compliance in products that are coming in from overseas unless a product is reported to them by a consumer. When buying a laser these are the type of things you should be looking out for:

What class is it? All laser products are classified from Class 1 to Class 4, where Class 1 is safe under normal operating conditions and Class 4 is potentially hazardous to both direct viewing and diffuse (scattered reflection). Class 4 is the most hazardous class and a large number of medical lasers fall into this category. Lasers in Class 1C, 3B and 4 will require additional training and safety infrastructure (LPS, LPA etc.)

Is it correctly labelled? All lasers should have labelling or user information that details the output of the laser. This should include the wavelength and power as well as any pulse information (if required). Along with the class of the laser this information should be available to you before you buy the laser.

Does it have the required safety features? For example, for a class 3B or 4 medical laser these include: interlock connectors, emission indicators, and requirements for any foot- operated switch. There are also requirements for a remote interlock connector and key control. Viewing optics must have an emission below the Class 1 Limits, and there must be a Laser Ready indicator to tell you when the device is powered up, as well as an emission indicator to tell you when the device is emitting.

The laser must have a target-indicating device and, if this is another laser, it must be less than Class 3R (Class 2 for Eyes). Also required are “Stand by/ready” controls, an emergency-stop facility, and a means of identifying emission levels. Approved laser safety enclosures are required to prevent unintentional exposure.

Eyewear for laser protection should meet EN 207 and the wavelength and power density of the laser will determine the type of eyewear required. Consequently, different lasers require different eyewear and advice should be sought from a laser safety specialist.

Certain products will require more training and an increased safety structure. Advice from an LPA, LPS or LSO should be sought when buying a Class 1C, 3B or 4 Laser. This will ensure you are compliant with the Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work regulations.

If you need to know if a product you own, or are looking to buy, meets these standards you should contact Trading Standards or a UKAS approved test house that specialises in IEC 60825-1 and 60601-2-22. Many products are certified through test houses such as UL, ITS, SGS and BV, and these test houses will make sure that any product that bears their ‘mark’?will meet the required standards. Independent test houses such as Lasermet will provide information to both consumers and manufacturers alike.


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