Transitioning practice: General derms should look to existing patients first to expand services

September 1, 2008

Incorporating cosmetic dermatology into a medical dermatology practice is made easier if clinicians offer the cosmetic procedures to their existing patients. Internal marketing and a pleasant support staff ensure the success of expansion to cosmetic dermatology.

Key Points

"The cost of attracting a new patient to your practice is much higher," said Dr. Dover, speaking here at the annual meeting of the Canadian Dermatology Association.

"You have to make an appointment with a new patient, create a new chart, and have a consultation with a new patient," he says.

"Your existing general dermatology patient may indicate that she or he just found out that you perform Botox (botulinum toxin, Allergan) injections, and ask for the procedure that day. It is more cost-effective than looking for new patients," he says.

Marketing

Dr. Dover distinguishes between marketing and advertising, advising dermatologists to engage in the former, but not the latter.

"We never advertise," Dr. Dover says. "We market, and the marketing is mainly internal marketing.

"It may be that the patients in your waiting room don't realize that you do all the procedures that you do. It has happened to me where patients went across the street to have glycolic peels done, because they didn't know they were done in our office."

Brochures

Dr. Dover suggests that dermatologists make brochures available in their waiting rooms and examination rooms that detail the cosmetic procedures that they offer in their practice. Any other written information will also enhance marketing efforts.

Web site

A physician's Web site can be used to complement information found in a brochure or newsletter.

"It is important to provide information to patients already in your practice, as well as to attract new patients who find you through a search on the Web," he says.

Patient referrals

Generating new patients for dermatological procedures will happen through referral from other patients, Dr. Dover says.

"If patients are happy with the results and the service they got, they will tell one or two other people," he says.

Support staff

Having support staff who are pleasant and attentive is key to keeping patients in your practice, ensuring repeat visits, and branching out to offering cosmetic procedures, according to Dr. Dover.

Availability, affability and accessibility are qualities that will see patients are retained in a dermatological practice.

"The staff is an extension of you," Dr. Dover says, noting front desk receptionists and other staff who answer phones have key positions in the office.

Making the transition

Dr. Dover says modifying one's practice from general or medical dermatology to cosmetic dermatology should be done in a gradual fashion. He suggests starting with a half-day of cosmetic dermatology as a good first step.

"Many dermatologists think they can add in cosmetic dermatology sessions and keep everything they have in their practice, as well.

"Unless you wish to lengthen your office hours, you can't do that. You are best to carve out a half day of your general practice and fill that space with cosmetic dermatology," Dr. Dover says.

The success of incorporating cosmetic dermatology into a general dermatology practice will depend on a practitioner's level of commitment and how many of his medical dermatological patients will follow him, says Stuart Maddin, M.D., F.R.C.P.C., clinical professor of dermatology, department of dermatology and skin science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

"It's better to underpromise and overachieve," says Dr. Maddin, past president of the Canadian Dermatology Association. "You have to take the time to get proper training."

Dr. Maddin says that because patients are paying out-of-pocket for cosmetic procedures, factors such as availability of parking, the office layout, and the professionalism of staff will affect the patient's overall satisfaction.