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With its carbon fiber frame and an array of four lasers, the Zerona fat burning machine resembles something straight out of science fiction.

Billings plastic surgeons Dr. Alan Muskett and Dr. Steven Grosso agreed to take a look at the machine for a short time to see if it lived up to marketers’ claims that it helps patients lose inches when the dancing lasers painlessly disrupt and melt away fat cells during a few 40-minute sessions.

Before offering any new kind of service to their patients at Billings Plastic Surgery, Muskett and Grosso took the machine for a test drive.

“We got all of us here with our spouses,” Muskett said. “We all tried it out, and we didn’t think it worked.”

So, Muskett and Grosso pulled the plug on the Zerona. It now sits unused in a corner of the medical building.

Muskett said medical providers across the nation are often approached by salespeople who are marketing high-tech-looking devices that claim to help patients lose weight and look young. It’s part of a growing field known as aesthetic medicine, where traditional health care intersects with the beauty industry.

Clinics that specialize in aesthetics typically deal in cash. In recent years a growing number of Billings physicians have been offering services that aim to help people feel better about themselves.

Botox treatment, dermal fillers and a variety of laser treatments are among the treatments being offered. Some offices also offer special lines of cosmetics and other skin care products.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic surgery, aesthetic medicine has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers and types of patients treated over the past decade. The group predicts that both aesthetic surgery and cosmetic medicine will continue to grow in the future.

Muskett, whose practice also offers aesthetic treatments that are less invasive than plastic surgery, cautions consumers to do their homework before plunking down their money.

“This is the Wild West of medicine,” he said. “This industry is fraught with expensive machines and fanciful ideas. There is a lot of hucksterism and a tremendous amount of advertising.”

Dr. Matthew Wolpoe also advises patients to do their homework as they consider aesthetic procedures. It’s especially important to make sure the person doing the procedure has proper credentials, said Wolpoe, who is board certified in Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and board certified in otolaryngology, ear, nose, and throat medicine. He recently moved his practice to the Billings Clinic.

Although Wolpoe is trained in plastic surgery, his practice also offers a variety of less invasive aesthetic procedures such as Botox injections, fillers, and other treatments. Wolpoe also continues to do ear, nose and throat procedures.

For Dr. Philip Tallman, adding a medical spa to the dermatology business was a logical extension. Tallman Medical Spa specializes in a wide range of services that include facials, massages microdermabrasion, chemical peels, laser treatments, Botox injections and dermal fillers.

Many services are provided in a spa setting that seeks to maximize relaxation and comfort. But sometimes clients are referred to the dermatology side if an area on the skin appears to be more than a mole or a birthmark.

The National Cancer Institute reports that more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year, a trend that keeps dermatologists busy.

Tallman, who is certified by the American Board of Dermatology, has been practicing in Billings since 1996.

and opened his dermatology business in 2001. The medical spa opened in 2005.

Careful evaluation of a patient’s wants and needs is essential to the process, Tallman said. “It’s easy to sell stuff, but the services also have to work.”

Dr. Julie Reil welcomed the opportunity to purchase Advanced Laser Center three years ago. She practiced primary care medicine, including obstetrics, gynecology, clinical medicine and hospital medicine from 2000-2007 as a board certified family medicine physician. She said the change was welcome because it allows her more time to be with her two young children.

“I have had the good fortune to enter the field of aesthetics after coming from an OB GYN background,” she said.

New technology is helping to improve the field of aesthetics, Reil said. Increasingly, lasers are used to treat toenail fungus, remove warts and remove unwanted hair. Advanced Laser Center also offers Botox treatments, dermal fillers and a special line of cosmetics.

Reil also offers a procedure that she has developed, called Genityte, which uses infrared light to help women who have problems with urinary incontinence.

“There is a lot of potential for medicine to advance more in the noninvasive direction,” Reil said. The goal of the business, she said, is to use procedures that help the patient “age strategically.”

But Reil said professionals must be careful about what kinds of procedures to offer.

“There are things that work well and are being marketed like crazy to doctors, she said. “But there are a lot of procedures that are being marketed using ‘slyintific’ data that isn’t real.”

As a board certified radiologist, Dr. Anne Giuliano spends so much time sticking needles into patients, and one staff member sometime refers to her as “Dr. Needles.” So it wasn’t a big change when she decided to receive training to administer Botox and dermal fillers.

“I was at a conference for the Society of Interventional Radiology and they had a lecture on cosmetic interventional radiology,” Giuliano said. “A lot of interventionalists are getting into aesthetics.”

Giuliano was intrigued, and began exploring the possibility of expanding her services.

“I do a lot of work with sclerotherapy,” a procedure used to treat varicose veins, Giuliano said. “Some of my patients even asked me if I did Botox.”

Botox has been around for more than 20 years and is effective for reducing wrinkles when it’s administered properly, Giuliano said. “It’s pretty subtle. It makes you look a little more refreshed, like you had a good night’s sleep, but it’s not a major overhaul.”

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