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John Jesitus is a medical writer based in Westminster, CO.
Interested in getting into the body contouring game? Dr. Kathleen Welsh offers advice on how to get started.
Just as many body-contouring devices work best in focal areas, practices that enter this market must plan and target their efforts for maximum efficiency, according to one expert. Contrary to some opinions, it's not too late for board-certified dermatologists to plant their flag in the body-contouring turf.
That’s according to San Francisco-based dermatologist Kathleen Welsh, M.D., who advises any dermatologists who think they've missed the body-treatment boat to take heart. "Many dermatologists are afraid to get into this because they think, 'I'm late to the game. Everybody on my corner has this device. Maybe I shouldn't join in.'"
However, says Dr. Welsh, dermatologists must remember that many of these competing practices are chains run by business people, not doctors. "We have a huge advantage in getting into this space in that we can properly evaluate the technology. We have the patients. These patients want to see someone they can trust. And if they have the opportunity, they want to see us," says. Dr. Welsh who spoke on this issue earlier this year at the Generational Dermatology Palm Springs Symposium.
Deciding whether to add a body business starts with looking at one's patient base, she says.
Dermatologists usually have robust medical patient bases whose trust they have earned, and who would likely welcome new services, according to Dr. Welsh. "But you might want to take a brief poll of your patients and see how many might be interested in body services." She also recommends surveying the local competition and considering how to distinguish your offerings.
Next, consider costs of additional equipment, space and personnel. "We do a very simple return on investment calculation: my office is open about 200 days a year. If I were going to buy a $100,000 piece of equipment, I divide it by 200. Then my overhead is about 50%. So I would have to make $1,000 a day on that piece of equipment to pay it back in one year."
Next steps include writing a business plan and investigating available technology. Dr. Welsh prefers manufacturers whose other equipment has worked well in her practice. She also scrutinizes the objectivity of a company's clinical research and researchers. Talking to investigators and peers helps as well, but she advises avoiding a customer provided by the manufacturer. "You don't know if that person has received compensation for talking to you. You need an unbiased opinion."
Dr. Welsh began providing body contouring in 2009 with CoolSculpting (Allergan). Being the first adopter of new technology provides a local competitive advantage, she says. "But there's also a disadvantage to being first in that you're doing all the marketing for that device. If you're in the second wave of adopting a new technology, other people have already done that. There's already a buzz."
Internal Marketing Is Key
Although Dr. Welsh's practice pays for Google AdWords to boost its search status, most of its marketing is internal. "External marketing is very expensive." And your billboard advertises for everyone in town who provides the same service, she says.
Questionnaires are an internal method that allow staff members to determine if existing patients are interested in specific types of body contouring. If so, they see Dr. Welsh's body consultant during the same visit. Because physicians cannot drop everything and do impromptu consultations, Dr. Welsh suggests having a well-trained, dedicated body consultant. Additionally, providers verbally ask patients they're treating for facial concerns if they're interested in body treatments.
"We try not only to get our patients interested, but also to have them talk to their friends and family about it. That's given us a very high yield - much higher than when we've invested in radio or newspaper ads or billboards." As for patient reviews, Dr. Welsh says she prioritizes Yelp over RealSelf because the former is a more significant search engine where reviews come up quickly.
Additionally, members of Dr. Welsh's body practice ask patients who are willing to share their results for before-and-after pictures to post on the practice's website. "When you have a body business, having a large number of your own before-and-afters is a highly effective marketing tool. When people look at your website, they don't want to see the same pictures that have been taken from manufacturers' materials." For consistent photo quality, the practice uses a dedicated photography room and system.
The practice also displays patient photos in poster-sized light boxes. "We have before-and-afters that we change frequently, prominently displayed. And underneath we might say, 'ask Dr. Welsh about her own arm results.' That's been a very effective way to personalize it." Likewise, each exam room contains a video monitor that plays a loop of patient photos, including some provided by the practitioner for whom the patient is waiting.
To support her marketing efforts, Dr. Welsh capitalizes on comarketing dollars available from equipment manufacturers. "If you buy a certain number of their widgets, they'll give you back a certain number of dollars which you can use for marketing - e-mail campaigns within your practice, posters in your office, Google ads or newsletters. We utilize those comarketing dollars pretty extensively."
Consultants commonly say that print newsletters are outdated, adds Dr. Welsh. But that hasn't been her experience. "We do two print newsletters a year, and we have patients coming in clutching that newsletter." Patients inquire about featured services and grab copies for family and friends. "We try to make our print newsletter extremely educational and downplay the marketing aspect. It's been a very successful strategy for us. People look forward to it."
Twice yearly, the practice hosts body events where patients can get on-the-spot consultations and discounts for pre-purchased treatment series. "We'll also do mini-treatments on patients with some devices. For example, we had an open house where we let patients try our new eMSculpt device (BTL) for five minutes, and then sign up for a series of treatments."
Once your body business is running, Dr. Welsh advises keeping current with technology and techniques. "If you buy a device and a new handpiece that works faster or better comes out, make sure you're investing in new technology because everybody around you will have the newer, better device." By the same token, she says, ongoing staff training, including advanced manufacturer training, helps keep your practice at the top of the field.
Dr. Welsh has been a speaker for BTL (honoraria) and is an Allergan shareholder.
Kathleen Welsh MD. "How to Build a Body Business," Generational Dermatology Palm Springs Symposium. March 23, 2019.