The Evolving Faces of Diagnostic Centers and Medical Spas

| May 17, 2010 | 0 Comments | 306 views

A visit to the doctor is a scary occasion for many people. Hospitals and clinics are almost always painted in white to convey cleanliness and efficiency. Add to that the prospect of being subjected to diagnostic tests using machines and needles. Truly, medical facilities are the most unwelcoming of places.

This is probably the reason why diagnostic centers and clinics are reinventing themselves to make them more appealing to the patients. On the other hand, traditionally non-medical institutions like wellness centers and spas are also trying to gain credibility in an era where consumers are more health savvy and demand more scientific-based health services.

Many diagnostic centers have coined their facilities' official name to include the term "wellness." Wellness is a word associated by many with alternative medicine whereas spas conjures pictures of well-being and relaxation. The Diagnostic & Wellness Center for Women of Pacific Medical Center (PacMed), the Diagnostic and Wellness Center at Harbor-UCLA, and the Women's Diagnostic and Wellness Center of Coral Springs Medical Center in Florida are examples of this trend. Even the renowned Cleveland Clinic has its Florida Health and Wellness Center.

Many clinics are redesigning their facilities to make them less sterile and more relaxing. PacMed's Diagnostic & Wellness Center for Women in Seattle describes its setting as "spa-like", with interior decor in warm, soothing colors and furniture and fixtures one wouldn't normally find in a normal clinic setting. However, despite the spa-like atmosphere, this unique wellness center has all the state-of-the-art medical and diagnostic equipment as well as top notch medical staff necessary to perform diagnostic tests. "Our goal is to change the healthcare experience for the better and encourage people to take a proactive approach to wellness", according to a PacMed Center spokesperson. The Women's Diagnostic & Wellness Center at Coral Springs Medical Center in Coral Springs Florida calls its setting "home-like" to do away with the impersonal atmosphere that is associated with many diagnostic centers.

Spas on the other hand, have adopted the term "medical spas" or medispas" to emphasize the medical and health benefits of their services. In the same way, alternative medicine is trying to keep up with technology. Whereas traditional acupuncture uses manual stimulation, acupuncture centers use new technology for stimulation, from electrical impulses and lasers to moxibustion and heat.

While many clinics are generalists, that is, they offer diagnostics, screening and check ups for just about almost all health conditions, many of the modern, "wellness"-oriented clinics are specialized in certain types of disorders. Following are some examples of these so-called boutique diagnostic facilities and their services.

PacMed's Diagnostic & Wellness Center offers diagnostic services specifically for women's health. These tests, which are usually part of annual medical check ups, can include any of the following:

(1) Digital mammography which is especially helpful in screening patients with dense breast tissue.

(2) Diagnostic ultrasound which is useful as an adjunct for further evaluation of an abnormal mammogram.

(3) Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), again to check for breast cancer, especially in women who are at high risk.

(4) Biopsies to confirm suspicious-looking structures detected by the above imaging systems.

(5) DEXA bone scanning checks for bone health. As women age, they are at higher risk for developing osteopenia and osteoporosis.

(6) Therapeutic massages either as part of postsurgical rehabilitation programs or simply a relaxing massage to recover from the stress of the tests.

The Women's Diagnostic & Wellness Center at Coral Springs Medical Center in Coral Springs, Florida offers similar services from breast cancer detection to bone densitometry tests. In addition, it offers education and fitness programs which include lectures, fitness classes, support groups, nutrition, massage therapy, maternal classes, cholesterol & diabetes screenings, weight management and healing arts classes.

The Diagnostic and Wellness Center at Harbor-UCLA specializes in cardiovascular health screening. The center uses state-of-art computer tomography (CT) scanning and imaging technology to perform the following "wellness scans" including heart scan, lung scan, body scan, abdominal aorta scan, virtual colonoscopy, QCT bone density and carotid artery scans.

The Winmar Diagnostics Sleep Wellness Center in Fargo, North Dakota specializes in sleep diagnostics. It basically provides services to hospitals, clinics, and private practices to test for and diagnose sleep disturbances. Its facilities include a free-standing sleep center, a complete sleep laboratory, and state-of-the-art equipment and highly trained staff in the field of sleep medicine.

Wellness scans are the specialty of many centers, including the Medical City Dallas Hospital in North Texas. But what is a wellness scan? A Wellness Scan is a non-invasive CT test from the collarbone to the pelvis and covers the heart, lungs and abdomen. The specific areas scanned in the abdomen are the kidneys, liver, gall bladder, aorta, adrenal glands, lymph nodes, spleen and other certain pelvic organs.

Now, a medical procedure that scares many people is a dental check up. As the name suggests, dental spas cater specifically to the dental needs of patients. The Austin Dental Spa offers general as well as cosmetic dentistry. The center utilizes "only the highest quality materials and the latest technology available in a world-class spa setting." By using a "combination of spa amenities and personalized care," the Austin Dental Spa makes a visit to the dentist a stress-free, fear-free experience.

Day spas are centers which provide cosmetic treatment to women and men, ranging from hair removal to botox injections. They are cosmetic centers and usually do not have anything to do with medical check ups and screenings although their services may be medical-based procedures. There are also spas whose services are more inclined towards complementary medicine such as yoga, Pilates, and aromatherapeutic massages.

The newly opened Women's Health Center of the Bond Clinic in Winter Haven, Florida has combined the features of a diagnostic center and a day spa to form a real "medical spa", a wellness center which caters to the medical and cosmetic needs of the patients. The center considers itself as a "one-stop shop for women's health includes obstetrics and gynecology, women's diagnostic services and a medical spa." The spa includes a licensed massage therapist and facial specialist who offers a wide range of services from a relaxing hot stone massage to variety of facial treatments. The board-certified physicians perform cosmetic laser treatments for facial rejuvenation, hair removal, spider veins and broken capillaries, acne, Rosacea and age spot removal. Botox and other cosmetic injections for the treatment of facial lines and wrinkles are also available.

According Gwen Mayes at Medscape Today , "Until a few years ago, day spas limited their "medical" procedures to an occasional light chemical peel, Botox injection by a visiting dermatologist, or a postsurgical medical massage by a licensed physical therapist. Today, instead of contracting with physicians in the community to stop by 1 or 2 days a week to offer updated laser treatments and advanced aesthetic procedures, physicians are expanding their outpatient facilities or partnering with existing day spas to create a medical spa. Both sides have found a more formal merger to be a lucrative and well-received union. According to ISPA, the industry generated $234 million in revenues in 2003."

The Women's Health Center at the Bond Clinic has achieved the ultimate hybridization of a cosmetic and a diagnostic center whose goal is "to give women a place they can go for both their medical and cosmetic needs in a relaxing, comforting and state-of-the-art atmosphere."

The borderline between alternative and scientific-based medicine has gradually blurred in recent years as a more holistic approach to medicine has become popular. Thus, massages and acupuncture have become part of postsurgical therapy of breast cancer patients while those who practice yoga and Reike may also go for botox and liposuction. Spas also have become mainstream and not just pastimes of the rich and famous. The average person can now have access to a spa anytime, without being subjected to membership or member recommendation rules.

The term "medical spa", however, is a subject of controversy because many facilities call themselves medical spas or medical day spas although the services they offer actually resemble those of a normal day spa. In many of these centers, a medical doctor may be in attendance or may act as a consultant. However, no diagnostic and screening procedures are being offered. We can expect more facilities to follow the Bond Clinic's model resulting in the need to protect the interests of patient-consumers who can be confused by the names of the facilities as well as the wide range of services they have to offer. To this end, the Medical Spa Society was formed, a national non-profit organization that aims to look at the guidelines and standards of care of medical spas.

Indeed, diagnostic centers and medical spas have evolved and are continuously evolving. One word of caution, check with your health insurance about their scope of coverage!

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