Most veterinarians are now aware that laser therapy has a multitude of therapeutic and surgical applications. Nearly 80% of patients would benefit from laser therapy in some way, which is why many DVMs charge for it as part of the standard office visit.
Like any new modality, your goal when purchasing a therapy laser should be to spend the least amount of money on a laser that has the features your practice needs to optimize the clinical results and maximize your return on investment. With so many lasers to choose from, though, accomplishing that goal is no easy feat.
In this article, we’ll examine the primary factors that affect the price of a therapy laser and help you separate the features you need from the frills that increase the cost without adding value for your practice.
- Power Output
- Value-Added Features
- Multiple Wavelengths
- Sophisticated Software
- Patient History File System
The most common veterinary therapy lasers commercially available fall into two classes: Class III and Class IV. Class III lasers produce less than a ½ watt of output power and range in price from $6,000 to $12,000. On the upside, Class III lasers pose virtually no risk to personnel or patients with the exception of direct eye exposure; however, it takes a longer time to accumulate penetration of therapeutic doses of clinically relevant treatment volumes, so they are only effective for superficial wounds.
Class IV lasers are able to deliver up to 1,500 times more power than Class III lasers. As a result, they reduce treatment times and offer greater penetration. Class IV lasers range in price from $12,000 to $30,000.
Class IV therapy lasers are available in a range of power outputs, with weaker lasers producing 1 to 3 watts (Thor, Cutting Edge, e.g.) and more powerful models producing up to 12 or even 15 watts (Companion’s CTC & CTX, K-Laser’s K-CUBEs, and SOUND’s® doctorVet).
The typical veterinary practice needs a laser that can produce up to 12 watts of power to treat its usual caseload. Very few if any lasers prescribe 15 watts of power for any treatment protocol. This output is clinically unnecessary and increases the risk of discomfort or injury to the patient. Unless the technician has extensive experience and evidence that 15 watts would somehow benefit the patient, that power output should be avoided, and if used, the handpiece must be moved very quickly to avoid injury to the patient.
Therapy laser companies have gone to extremes to convince veterinarians that their product is somehow superior to their competitors’. Unnecessary frills might set a particular laser apart from the pack, but they’ll cost you extra without adding any value for your practice. An example is the feature of built-in patient history databases that do not sync with Practice Management Software, and so would require double data entry to be clinically useful.
Wavelength is one of the primary factors that determine the efficacy of a therapy laser. When light encounters a surface, such as the skin, water, or other tissue-types, the wavelength determines which percentage of the light is scattered or absorbed.
In order to optimize the clinical benefits of laser therapy, the wavelength used must be weakly absorbed by water and melanin within the skin yet strongly absorbed by hemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that can be targeted with laser therapy to release oxygen) and the mitochondria (where oxygen is metabolized into energy).
There is only a small window in the wavelength spectrum where these processes can take place: from about 800 nm to 960 nm.
To reduce the manufacturing cost, some laser companies offer a single wavelength (Thor, Grady, SpectraVet, e.g.). Although these lasers tend to be less expensive, they might not offer the same clinical efficacy as lasers with multiple wavelengths.
Most veterinary therapy lasers that offer multiple wavelengths and sufficient power (10 to 12 watts) range in price from about $17,000 to $30,000.
Software development is expensive, and in an effort to reduce manufacturing costs, some therapy laser companies have replaced the push-button interface with a series of knobs that are turned to set treatment parameters. This, however, prevents the technician from modifying the parameters during treatment.
Why is this important? Well, we now know that the varying tissue-types in the body respond differently to varying light intensities, wavelengths, and pulse frequencies. If a single treatment involves multiple tissue-types—which is the case more often than not—adjusting these parameters intra-treatment tends to yield better clinical results.
On the other end of the spectrum, some lasers have overly sophisticated interfaces that require the technician to make myriad selections, some of which are unnecessary. The purpose of such an interface is to make the tech more confident in the precision of the laser by adding a few extra button-presses, but for example, requiring the user to select the weight of a dog that is to be treated for a wound is obviously unnecessary.
At the end of the day, the most efficient and effective lasers employ software that optimizes precision through only a few screen touches. These lasers tend to sell for about $17,000 to $30,000.
Patient History File System
Some lasers come with robust databases that include time-stamped, patient and protocol information that can be referenced before administering treatment. Although this is a handy feature, none of these databases sync with practice management software (PMS). That means your practice would have to maintain two different data systems, which is cumbersome, time consuming, and ultimately unnecessary. Also, the current Patient History Files databases do not allow techs to write notes, which greatly reduces their value.
Who will train you and your technicians to administer laser therapy? Will it be a laser expert or a salesperson? Will you receive a one-off training session, a few days of on-site training, or ongoing training until you and your staff have mastered the laser?
Training is just as important as the price, software, technology, and any other factor you consider when purchasing a therapy laser. If your technicians are not well-trained, they might not feel comfortable recommending laser therapy to clients, which would defeat the point of purchasing the system in the first place. Also, if improperly administered, laser therapy will be less effective or, in rare cases, could cause discomfort or hurt the patient.
Learning the “art” of laser therapy is a continual process that takes time and dedication. The better the training, the better results and the greater your return on investment. Lasers with superior training courses tend to cost about $17,000 to $30,000.