THE DAYS of dreading a visit to the gynaecologist look set to disappear as the new trend of one-stop health-and-beauty shops catches on worldwide. It seems there's no need to fear an examination if it's followed by a foot massage and a facial. The medical spa - a spa that doubles as a medical clinic - is on track to become the biggest phenomenon in beauty in decades. In a trend that started in the United States eight years ago, traditional spas are joining forces with doctors and medical specialists, renovating their premises and introducing cosmetic treatments such as Botox, chemical peels and surgery. Not to be outdone, practitioners of a whole range of medical specialties, from gynaecologists to oncologists, are opening medical spas in their offices. 'I knew the trend was real when I got an e-mail from a neurosurgeon in Seattle who had patented a device for cellulite treatments. I thought: 'What's a brain surgeon doing thinking about cellulite?'' says Bruce Katz, owner of the Juva Skin and Laser Centre and Medi Spa in New York, the first of its kind. Katz coined and trademarked the term Medi Spa in 1998, forcing the growing number of operators who have followed to use the term Med Spa. A successful dermatologist, Katz says he opened Juva in April 1999 because it was what his patients wanted. 'They would go to spas for facials and body treatments, and while they said they came out feeling good, they didn't really notice any difference, or they would get a reaction to something. So we thought of doing something like a spa, but making it work for the skin,' he says. A third of the 5,000 sq ft facility in the heart of Manhattan - on the corner of 56th Street and Park Avenue - is a relaxing spa with ambient music, water flowing and hushed tones. Venture farther inside and an army of technicians offers everything from Botox to spider-vein removal. A patient's day may consist of a consultation with a nutritionist or psychotherapist, followed by an acupuncture or personal training session and completed by breast-enhancement surgery or a face lift. In the US, medical spas are regulated at state level. It is the job of individual state licensing boards to ensure each medical spa, all of which are required to be supervised by a doctor at all times, offers only the treatments it is licensed to provide. 'It's not just a matter of a doctor putting his name on the door,' says Katz. 'These are medical grade treatments and not just spa treatments that use moisturisers and cosmetics.' There are now 2,200 medical spas in the US, a figure that has doubled in the past two years and is expected to triple by 2008. The growth is being driven by two markets: spa-goers looking for more intense treatments and doctors and other medical specialists tired of dealing with complicated insurance policies. Medical spas do not generally fall under the purview of US insurance and managed care. 'Medical spas produce twice the profits of traditional spas because the treatments are more expensive and they can charge more,' says Katz. 'And doctors get out of managed care and insurance billings because this is all elective, pay-as-you-go.' Industry experts say the lines between pampering and medicine are blurring. 'Medical spas are growing like wildfire and everybody of every medical specialty is getting into it,' says Nancy Trent, president of Trent & Co, a New York-based marketing and public relations firm specialising in traditional and medical spas. At the recent Spa and Resort trade show in Los Angeles, Trent delivered a keynote talk on trends in medical spas. 'It's the hottest franchise out there, because more and more spas are interested in offering more invasive and medical treatments,' Trent says. 'Dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons were the first to get into it, followed by eye doctors. But now, you have cardiologists and gynaecologists opening medical spas. If a woman goes to a traditional spa for a facial and spends a few hundred dollars, her husband might query it. But at her ob-gyn's office, he won't even look at it.' And it doesn't end there. The dentist surgery has also undergone a makeover and been reborn as the dental spa. Dentist Lynne Watanabe opened her first dental spa in California in 2002 with the slogan 'your teeth, body and mind will feel great'. She nows offers everything from facials to fillings in New York and Michigan, too. Those who have already succeeded in the medical spa arena are now offering their services elsewhere. Mona Sappenfield, who owns the Mona Spa & Laser Centres in Tennessee, Mississippi and Michigan, is now helping doctors and spas convert their spaces into medical spas. 'We started franchising in the past two years and lately the business has taken a good, swift turn upwards,' Sappenfield says. 'I've been in the spa business for 26 years and have always seen the integration with the medical community. It's just a great blend of science and beauty.' She has consulted on 50 medical spa ventures across the US and is beginning to expand internationally, with interest from Britain and other parts of the world. 'We do a lot of surveys and focus groups on what the future is going to be in the spa arena. And what we're getting is that people don't want to go to a doctor's office to get laser hair removal. They want to be in a spa environment.' Spa owners wanting to incorporate medicine in their businesses need to make some changes, Sappenfield says. 'We have to change floor space, colour schemes, maybe work with fung shui,' she says. 'We suggest copper-backed mirrors so patients see a rosy glow. A great medical spa should be like a beautiful little boutique, where as you move back into the spa, more layers come off of you.' Sappenfield says medical spas are going to be yet another arm of the ever-expanding 'lifestyle arena'. 'Our customer base is urban and suburban. It's everyone. It's not just the spa-goer and it's not just the person who goes anywhere looking for extensive treatments. I always say that with a medical spa, one visit will make you feel better, two will make you beautiful and after ten, you'll be renewed.'