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CST Web Exclusive: Change in consumer expectations necessitates medspa marketing makeover

Article-CST Web Exclusive: Change in consumer expectations necessitates medspa marketing makeover

Medspa market shift

Change in consumer expectations necessitates medspa marketing makeover

Nancy A. Melville
Staff Correspondent

National Report — As recently as 2004, the number of facilities in the U.S. calling themselves medical spas, or medspas, was estimated at about 250, according to the  International Medical Spa Association (IMSA), and the main marketing challenge was simply making the public comfortable with receiving noninvasive cosmetic procedures in a spa setting.

As of 2007, that figure has skyrocketed to an estimated 2,500 or so as entrepreneurs have seen the potential for big profits and have eagerly hopped on the medical spa bandwagon. But with all of the heightened new competition and shifting consumer perceptions, the medspa industry is still very much a work in progress, and the challenge to rise above the fray increasingly takes much more than an office stacked with the latest and greatest in technology.

Of course, that’s not what laser manufacturers would have you believe, Eric Light, president of the International Medical Spa Association, tells Cosmetic Surgery Times.

“Most medspas were created according to data provided by laser and equipment manufacturers and not based on consumer research that considers the total market perception,” says Mr. Light, who is also president and CEO of Strawberry Hill Consulting in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Laser companies may present lots of data indicating how many people want hair removal, for instance, but we know that there is a much bigger picture regarding consumer preferences.”

An emerging market
Recent surveys, in fact, show that as many as 87 percent of consumers say they would rather feel beautiful on the inside than look beautiful on the outside. “That doesn’t mean the 13 percent [who prefer to look better on the outside] don’t generate a lot of money, but it means many medspas are ignoring the other 87 percent,” Mr. Light says.

In fact, that largely ignored 87 percent represent an emerging market of results-oriented consumers who look to medspas for more of a holistic skin and body care program, rather than just singular solutions. Being aware of those shifting expectations presents the opportunity for savvy medspas to truly differentiate themselves.

“Most medspa ads look the same, pitching the same laser equipment and services,” Mr. Light says. “The marketplace is so filled with these facilities that there’s going to be a shakeout, and it’s going to be driven by the consumer.”

Thanks largely to the Internet, consumers are already taking the upper hand by showing up armed with much more information and education on what they want than ever before, says Alexander Z. Rivkin, M.D., a facial plastic surgeon and founder of the Westside Medical Spa in Los Angeles.

“Previously, people would walk into a doctor’s office not knowing what they were going to have done, and the doctor would sort of lead them down this road and there was an imbalance of information,” he explains. “Now people walk into the office knowing what they want and how they want it to happen.”

Attitude shift
Add to that much more coverage of the topic on cable TV programs, and consumers are not only more informed about the pros and cons of procedures, but the general stigma of cosmetic work is fading fast.

“Between the reality shows and the Internet, there’s really been a fundamental kind of attitude shift in the population,” Dr. Rivkin says. “It’s now okay to say, ‘I want to improve this’ and consumers don’t feel like they’re being vain and stupid because it’s so much more acceptable.”

Dr. Rivkin adds that offering consistently good results and being onsite for his patients is enough to set his medspa apart from the rest, and the prospect of having to compete isn’t even an issue.

“I don’t advertise and I don’t do price wars. I just concentrate on our own Internet site more than anything else,” he says. “I think in any business the best thing is word of mouth. If you do a good job and people are happy with what you’re doing, that should be enough.”

“Plus, I’m the doctor. I’m here every day and people have no difficulty in reaching me, and that really differentiates this place from many others. In some of these medspas the consultation is handled by someone who has no medical training whatsoever and is simply a consultant.”

The issue of professionalism — and safety — is the bottom line for most consumers, and plenty of efforts are underway to make consumers aware of the issues to consider and questions to ask before having procedures done at a medspa, says Hannelore R. Leavy, executive director of the International Medical Spa Association.

“Consumers are advised to be diligent in finding out the credentials of medspa staff and asking questions such as how often the staff person has performed the procedure they’re having done,” she says. “They need to know that this is not just like going in for a lunchtime massage.”

Consumers in control
The IMSA is working on a set of consumer guidelines and questions consumers should ask of medical spas that will soon be posted on its Web site, and organizations including the American Society of Plastic Surgeons already have such guidelines on their sites. (See sidebar: Consumer Tips.)
To give consumers an extra level of assurance that a medspa is operating with the proper training and licenses, the IMSA is putting together an accreditation program for medspas. The program will be based largely on criteria required by medical spa malpractice insurance companies, Ms. Leavy explains.
The organization is also compiling a CD for members that will include state-by-state medical spa regulations so that members are aware of laws that pertain to their operations.

Medspas that combine a strong reputation for safety and expertise with an emphasis on shifting patient expectations should complete the picture for success, Mr. Light says.

“We see as a hallmark of success a facility that doesn’t focus on things like how many lasers they have or how many Botox treatments they do, but on programs of care and long-term relationships.”
“The trend should play out as medspas begin marketing less based on technology and more based on the results they offer and helping consumers to understand their skin care needs.”

For more information
Eric Light
[email protected]

Alexander Z. Rivkin, M.D.
[email protected]

Hannelore R. Leavy

Consumer tips

Patient Safety Advisory on Medi-spas

Reprinted with permission from the ASAPS.

Medi-spas, locations that can offer everything from facials and hair removal to pharmaceutical injections and other medical procedures, are proliferating across the country. Medi-spas may be located in a physician's office, or in non-traditional locations such as shopping malls, store fronts and beauty salons.

There are many excellent and convenient Medi-spas that offer safe, physician supervised treatments. However, for those providing treatments outside of the physician's office, there are no national standards for medi-spas, no recognized definition of what constitutes a medi-spa, and no oversight organizations that provide the information you need to make an informed, safe choice for your medi-spa experience.

As advocates for patient safety and healthy outcomes, The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) have created the following questions you should ask before committing to any procedure or medical treatment in a spa or non-traditional facility. It is important that you do your homework as you should on anything that can affect not only your appearance but your health and safety as well. We suggest obtaining the following information:

About the facility:

  • Is the Medi-spa located within a physician's office?
    While problems are infrequent, physician's offices generally have medical personnel available if a problem develops.
  • Is the Medi-spa located outside of a doctor's office in, for example, a mall or salon?
    If so, ask the name of the physician responsible for oversight and when they are available for consultation or questions before having any injectable, deep peel or laser treatment. Also ask about the training of any other medical personnel. This is vital to protect your health and insure an optimal outcome. These are generally safe procedures with minimal recovery, but do have real risks.

About medical supervision and personnel training:

  • Does your medi-spa have a physician who can help in determining your goals, provide a treatment plan and direct your care?
  • What are the credentials of the physician supervising your treatment in the medi-spa?
    Injectables (such as Botox and tissue fillers), skin treatments (such as laser, intense pulsed light, and radiofrequency) and deep peels should be under the supervision of board-certified plastic surgeons or dermatologists. Ask to see these credentials. Doctors in other specialties, designating themselves as “cosmetic medicine physicians” may lack the comprehensive training that is needed for administering drugs and treatments to the deeper levels of the skin and lack the experience necessary to achieve optimal aesthetic results or to manage potential complications. Just as you wouldn't see an allergist if you were having a baby, it's in your best interest to see a physician who specializes in plastic surgery and dermatologic care when seeking cosmetic medical procedures.
  • Who is performing the injection?
    Depending on the state you're in, injections and deep peels may be performed by a nurse, physician's assistant or nurse practitioner. However, never allow a nonmedical, unlicensed person to perform a medical procedure and be sure that the procedure is supervised by a physician board-certified in plastic surgery or dermatology. Your health and safety depend on it.

About efficacy and risk of procedures and realistic expectations:

  • How effective are facial injectables and what is the right product for me?
    Injectables are generally very safe and effective treatments. There are a wide range of products on the market that are FDA approved and provide good outcomes. However, be sure to ask your provider the following questions:
  • Is the product FDA approved? Is it approved for this use?
    If your provider is reluctant or does not directly answer this question, don't proceed with the treatment. Don't be afraid to ask to see the manufacturer's label for any injectable product.
  • Can a medication, filler, or a device be used for a purpose different from which the FDA originally approved it?
    In the United States, FDA regulations do not prohibit physicians from prescribing approved medications, fillers and devices for other than their original intended indications.
    Good medical practice and the best interests of the patient require that physicians use legally available drugs, biologics and devices according to their best knowledge and judgment.
    If physicians use a product for an indication not in the approved labeling, they have the responsibility to be well informed about the product, to base its use on firm scientific rationale and on sound medical evidence, to fully inform the patient that it is being used “off-label,” and to maintain records of the product's use and effects.
  • Will injections last and prevent the need for a facelift in the future?
    In most cases injectables are temporary solutions and will not give the long-lasting outcome of a surgical procedure.
  • Have you been fully informed of the possible benefits and side effects of the proposed treatment and have you been apprised of possible options?
  • Have all of your questions been answered and are you are fully aware of the risk and rewards of the procedure?
    All medical procedures, whether they are injections or surgery carry some risk. If you are not fully informed of all risks and requirements for after care, find another provider.
    These procedures should never be performed in someone's home, hotel room, or at a party. This is not only unethical and legally risky for the injector, but unsafe and potentially dangerous for you.

About taking control of your own treatment options:

  • What do I expect from my medical procedure?
    Discuss your expectations with your provider. If you are promised unqualified, 100 percent success, it is probably best not to proceed.
    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Am I taking the procedure seriously?
    Surgical deep peels and injectables like soft fillers and Botox are not the same as getting facials or other superficial beauty regimens. Make sure you have done your homework on the treatment you seek and be aware that these are medical procedures.
  • Am I basing my decision on the best treatment option and not on price?
    Medical care of any kind is not a commodity. Be sure you have based your decision on the credentials and experience of the practitioner, not on price.
  • Have you asked to see before and after pictures?
    They can be very helpful in determining with your provider the right treatment for you.
  • What if I'm unhappy with the result?
    A qualified practitioner can provide you with appropriate revisional or aftercare. Make sure you ask this question before the injection or treatment.
  • Have you been told who holds financial responsibility for any revisions or if complications arise?
    You don't want any surprises later!


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