Building a cosmetic practice

July 1, 2006

National report - Expanding into the realm of cosmetic procedures can be very rewarding, financially as well as personally, for dermatologists whose practice currently has a medical and/or surgical focus, according to Susan H. Weinkle, M.D.

Dr. Weinkle, a dermatologist with a solo private practice in Bradenton, Fla., notes that she has been a Mohs surgeon for nearly three decades, and only augmented her practice with cosmetic dermatology services five years ago. Her own aging and limited ability to address queries from friends about cosmetic procedures stimulated her interest. Support for making the change came from her knowledge that she was well-equipped to educate patients and provide cosmetic services.

"There are lots of physicians performing cosmetic surgery, but dermatologists should be in the driver's seat because we know the most and can deliver the best quality of care. In knowledgeable, trained hands, these procedures can be performed with minimal risks and excellent benefits, and because they help patients develop a more positive self-image. I believe they are an important service with real value," Dr. Weinkle says.

She discusses her own philosophies and provides some tips on techniques for enhancing a cosmetic practice.

With regard to attracting a patient base, Dr. Weinkle notes she is a firm believer in the power of internal marketing, relying primarily on word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied patients and targeting existing medical/surgical patients with in-office materials.

Establishing a caring and knowledgeable office team to assure that patients always have a positive experience is also critical for building a successful cosmetic practice. That principle is applied to handling incoming calls, as well as to patients in the office.

"Patients calling in are delighted to be greeted by a receptionist who answers promptly rather than by a recording, and keep in mind that about two-thirds of patients who look into a cosmetic procedure and decide to seek care elsewhere do so because of staff discourtesy. So educate your staff and make sure they treat patients appropriately," Dr. Weinkle says.

Outfitting staff, office

To project the image that the patient is being cared for in a surgeon's office, all of the personnel in Dr. Weinkle's practice dress in scrubs.

One nurse is designated as the primary cosmetic dermatology contact person who is responsible for handling incoming patient calls in a manner that will gain trust, establish the physician's credibility and provide education. However, all of the staff receives continuing education to ensure they are well-trained in all new procedures, and they are all engaged in the goal of practice-building through commission/bonus programs that are offered as promotional incentives.

"That strategy is a win-win situation for everyone," Dr. Weinkle says.

In the reception area, the decor and environment are designed to cater to the senses and help the patients relax, while simultaneously stimulating interest in cosmetic procedures and building a positive impression of the practice. Background music, fresh flowers, comfortable furniture, educational brochures, before and after photos, recent magazines with articles highlighting available cosmetic procedures and assorted media communicating that the practice is on the cutting edge are all important elements in the mix.

Boosting satisfaction

Offering positive comments during the procedure can have a potent effect on patient satisfaction as can allowing patients to see results part way through, when possible, so that they can appreciate a difference compared with the yet untreated site.

For that same purpose, preoperative photography is also essential.