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February, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 02

Inside the Medical Spa Association: An Interview With Executive DirectorHannelore R. Leavy

By Editorial Staff

The Day Spa Association (DSA) recently announced the creation of a sister organization, the Medical Spa Association (MSA). Spa Today interviewed Hannelore R. Leavy, executive director of both associations, to learn more about the future of the MSA and its role in the burgeoning spa industry.

Spa Today (ST): How would you define "Medical Spa," as opposed to simply "Spa," and what does the Medical Spa Association hope to accomplish specifically in merging the two concepts?

Hannelore R.

Leavy (HRL): The two concepts are separate, but nevertheless related. Many treatments applied in a medical spa are also done in a day spa, and do not require the presence of a physician/healthcare provider. Business concerns are similar as well, although a medical spa will require a different marketing approach and networking venue. These and many other components of a medical spa do not apply to a regular day spa; as such, the formation of the MSA was essential to provide the medical spa industry with an official body that addresses those needs, and a voice to represent that segment of the industry.

The Medical Spa Association defines a medical spa as a facility whose medical program is run under the strict supervision of a licensed health care professional. Services are provided that integrate both traditional and nontraditional medicine and spa treatments.

The Medical Spa Association and its founding members have identified four very different types of medical spas:

Beauty/Skin: a facility owned by an individual or corporate entity with an office/treatment area of a licensed health care professional located on the premises. Included in the services are medically based consultations and treatments provided by the licensed health care professional or a medically trained aesthetician and therapists.

Therapeutic: a facility owned by an individual or corporate entity with an office/treatment area of a licensed health care professional located on the premises. The offered services include therapeutic modalities that focus on specific medical issues, such as cardiovascular disease and bariatrics.

Medical Centers/Hospital-Based: facilities that offer an advanced level of diagnostic services, employing conventional and complementary therapies delivered in a specially designed healing environment. Services include both Eastern and Western techniques of evaluation and treatment, integrated with a variety of spa services.

Wellness Centers: owned by physicians or entrepreneurs - and encompassing many of the same services as the medical/hospital facilities if physician-owned. If privately owned, facilities will have a licensed health care professional as the medical director.

ST: How did this project get started? What was the "birthing point," i.e., why the need for a Medical Spa Association in affiliation with the Day Spa Association? And why the need to distinguish/qualify "medical spa" from "spa"?

HRL: The original concept of a day spa was intended as an extension of a destination spa, i.e., with emphasis on health, rejuvenation, relaxation and lifestyle changes - in other words, continuing the healthy lifestyle one started on while at a spa vacation, combined with serious skin care. However, in the past six or seven years, the day spa concept has become that of an extended full-service salon and/or skin-care salon, with the emphasis more on beauty and pampering than on therapy, prevention, health, etc.

Adapting to this trend, more serious spas that do want to get away from this "pampering" image are now partnering with the medical community. I realized that there is a need for a separate body to help them in this quest. That is one of the reasons the Day Spa Association, as early as 1994, set guidelines, Essences of a Day Spa, to educate people on the different types of day spas available to them. We did implement an accreditation program according to these guidelines, and we are planning something similar within the medical spa industry. The spa industry also has to realize that the medical community (particularly plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, cosmetic dentists, chiropractors, and homeopathic and CAM practitioners) are starting to get quite interested in the spa concept, although many physicians are merely interested in tapping into this lucrative market: non-HMO-related treatments patients/clients are willing to pay cash for, require little paperwork and produce satisfied consumers. (Dealing with the healthy, vibrant and "forever" young-staying public is also a much more pleasant prospect, rather than dealing with the "sick.") The medical spas are part of this trend. Marketing trends that started with the Baby Boomers, including the evolution of the day spas and anti-aging treatments, have crossed over to the medical community. The DSA certification program administered by the Academy of Anti-Aging Research is a perfect example. The academy, run by Drs. Maria Sulindro and Michael Lam, has opened enrollment to nonmedical spa professionals, with certification courses now available through the DSA.

ST: Your advisory board is quite a distinguished panel, as is your medical advisory board. Comment on the selection process.

HRL: To be eligible for either board, members must be committed to helping us shape these organizations, and be willing to apply and share their expertise within the medical or spa industry to help us achieve this. We are holding weekly teleconferences to establish the guidelines, code of ethics, benefits, programs, and more. Members must agree to be guided by our strict code of ethics:

  1. A member of the Medical Spa Association and staff will provide competent care; delivered with respect for its clients' dignity and rights.
  2. A member of the Medical Spa Association and staff will provide only those treatments, products and services that are safe, effective and of the highest quality.
  3. A member of the Medical Spa Association and staff will uphold the highest standards of professionalism, be honest in all professional interactions, and shall not engage in fraudulent, deceptive or unethical practices.
  4. A member of the Medical Spa Association and staff will make a commitment to ongoing education; to the application of that knowledge toward improving services and treatments; and to making the most accurate information available to its clients and the public as a whole.
  5. A member of the Medical Spa Association and staff will respect the rights of its clients and staff to confidentiality and privacy.
  6. A member of the Medical Spa Association and staff will adhere to the laws, rules and regulations governing the provision of treatments and services as required by the state in which it operates.
  7. A member of the Medical Spa Association and staff will respect and value the community in which it operates, and look for opportunities to actively support and improve the health and well-being of that community.

We are in the process of forming committees to address many different areas the MSA is planning to concentrate on, including helping to educate the esthetic industry on how to detect melanoma, in conjunction with the Melanoma Research Foundation, which will be available to members and nonmembers alike.

ST: What would you say is the ultimate "goal" of the Medical Spa Association?

HRL: To bring the spa industry to the medical profession, i.e., the education of health care providers to include spa modalities in the treatment of their patients. And to help spa professionals understand how to work with the medical community.

ST: Who do you plan on networking with in the future? (other spa associations, medical associations, medical facilities/hospitals/institutions, etc.?)

HRL: You are absolutely right - we need to widen the horizon of the spa industry to reach out to other associations, institutional organizations and other business entities and professions to introduce the spa and medical spa concept. This includes assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, pain clinics, the fitness industry and others. This is one way to grow the spa industry beyond where it is now, along with the education of the consumer, which is dear to me, and both the DSA and the MSA can play a role. It is sad that the spa industry has not yet been able to unite to come up with concepts to make more consumers aware of and introduce/educate them to the benefits of spa treatments (for example, an awareness campaign such as the one carried out by the American Dairy Association). Consumers need to be made aware of how important it is to check the training and licenses of spa therapists, the same as they would check the licensure and certification of their doctors. Complicated licensing requirements, which, as in the massage industry, vary from state to state, and county to county, make this a near-impossible task. We do get quite a number of complaints (and many compliments) about spas, which mainly come in via our questionnaire on our Web site ( These comments are passed on to spas, members and nonmembers alike. I'd like to be able to carry this concept over to the MSA. Protection of the consumer is an important part of a trade organization, and there needs to be a national body that monitors the industry and acts as a sounding board and clearinghouse. This is the primary mission of the MSA.

ST: At this point, is the Medical Spa Association considered a separate entity from the Day Spa Association (in terms of funding, scope of operations, etc.) working with DSA, or is the former an offshoot of the latter?

HRL: The MSA is a separately funded organization. Because of the aforementioned reasons (see my responses to questions 1 and 2), the close relationship between day spas and a medical spas, and because I founded and run both organizations, it is appropriate to use the word "in affiliation with." Many of our day spa members, as well as our allied members (companies who supply the industry with products and services - including your publication), are choosing to upgrade their DSA memberships to become members of the MSA. The Day Spa Directory 2003 will incorporate the Medical Spa Directory, but I am certain that as the MSA grows in membership and obtains sponsors, these directories will be separated.

For more information on the Day Spa Association or the Medical Spa Association, go to or call 201-865-2065.


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