Going cosmetic? Start small—commit big

April 11, 2005

New Orleans — The biggest mistake most dermatologists make when they decide to start a cosmetic dermatology practice is trying to jump into things too fast. That's the message Joel Schlessinger, M.D., a successful cosmetic dermatologist from Omaha, Neb., likes to share with his colleagues who are considering that move.

"Starting a cosmetic practice is not necessarily going from zero to 60 in one leap," he explains. "Initially, it's going from zero to 10, then 10 to 20, 20 to 30, and eventually you'll reach 60 mph. But you can't do it in one second flat."

Dr. Schlessinger, board-certified in both dermatology and general cosmetic surgery, advises dermatologists on how to develop the cosmetic end of their practice from the beginning, and then how to advance it once they get started. He shared his message at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology here.

Those are good places to start, according to Dr. Schlessinger, because most dermatologists learned sclerotherapy or had exposure to it in their residencies.

"We now have a golden opportunity to transition into this field because there are several new competing filler substances, and most of the companies are quite willing to help out new physicians in observing or even training in these procedures, so that can be a good place to start."

Dr. Schlessinger adds that the risk is very low in these procedures if they are done correctly, and the reward will be happy people who will, hopefully, access your practice for other procedures and recommend you to their friends in the future.

One often-forgotten way for dermatologists to establish themselves as a cosmetic practice is through product sales, Dr. Schlessinger says.

"Once patients feel comfortable that the doctor is interested in explaining and recommending cosmetic products, they will see that you have the mindset that is effective for their cosmetic procedures."

Dr. Schlessinger uses a triannual newsletter to his patients to keep them up to date on the new procedures he is offering.

Growing a practice Many of his cosmetic patients tend to try one procedure and then when the office introduces a new procedure, whether it's a new laser or new procedure such as liposuction, they are happy with their treatments, so they transition to those new services. He says that's exactly what dermatologists want to happen - keeping in mind to start small and then build on the original services.

To get patients to actually start coming to a practice for cosmetic procedures is a function of customer service, Dr. Schlessinger explains.

"Customer service is the one most important things you can do in a cosmetic dermatology practice," he says. "Most people don't understand that. They think that just because they are offering the cosmetic services, patients are going to beat down their doors. The problem is, not only the practitioner, but the entire staff has to have the mindset that they need to use a different approach for the cosmetic dermatology patient."

Different viewpoint He gives the example that if a call comes in at 4:45 p.m. from a person who wants a Botox treatment before leaving town the next morning, it is essential that the phone be answered, and the staff may have to stay a few minutes late to get that patient in. That, he says, could assure a happy patient for many years. If that need isn't accommodated, he contends, it could easily be the last time the patient tries, because there are too many other practitioners who will make themselves available.