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Green space: Reclaiming value for your physician-owned medspa

Article-Green space: Reclaiming value for your physician-owned medspa

Key iconKey Points

  • Medspa business is tied to physician commitment to its development
  • Physician owners need a clear and compelling message to create medspa distinction

"Physician discontent" is one phrase that's never made much sense to me. It sounds more like a herald of retreat. And yet, it's been professed to have spawned the march of many physicians from their capitated practices into the retail medical marketplace-perceived utopia for the insurance weary. I caution from experience: this medspa market is no place for the faint of heart. However, it may be just the place for physicians to begin to exercise some muscles that haven't been used much in the past several decades.

Paul L. Hester, M.D., M.B.A.
I can claim the familiar story of overworked, underappreciated...yet, when it comes right down to it, I feel blessed to have a medical education, specialty training, a medical license and a community of patients that values my services. I receive cash for the services I provide, like many of you, so my livelihood is dependent upon the perceived value I provide my patients. Sound familiar? Like any small business owner? Damn right. Well, except for the board of medical licensure that governs my practice, and the safety regulations and accreditations that define my office space as compliant, and the CME that supports my board certification, and the liability premium I carry for my patients, and the hundred plus thousand dollar loans I serviced for my eight plus years of graduate education. No sir. I'm not parading sour grapes here. These are simply the most obvious competencies that I can carry into the medspa marketplace. But how will prospects know my value? Let's look at the medspa business and the rest of the market.

RETAIL MEDICINE I had an opportunity to work with several panels of distinguished cosmetic surgeons during a day-long workshop entitled, "Medspas: Reliable Revenue Stream or Perilous Wave?" From our collective experience we extracted many pearls. My summation goes like this: A medspa is not a decoration. It's a business that requires physician attention and a specific purpose. And when a medspa is separated from the practice mission, brand or location, its multi-headed lasers are likely to rise up and devour all that is noble and good. There was more. I recall something about the pure evil that lurks within the laser sales force and that laser spelled backwards predicts the future of your whiz-bang, upgradeable, single-platform system: "resal(e)." Maybe the latter quips were part of the cocktail hour. I digress. In my opinion, medspas are good fits for some core practices and ruinous additions to others. Some key determinants include physician attention, customer satisfaction and practice personality. The medspa business can only be as strong as the physician's commitment to its development, and only as successful as the comments from its least satisfied patient. It will reflect the character of its associated practice. That's the nature of small business and the market we're reclaiming as physicians in retail medicine.

TO MARKET, TO MARKET So let's go to market. Have you ever noticed that Grape Nuts have neither grapes nor nuts as ingredients? Sounds good, natural — even healthy. Yet no grapes, no nuts. Well, it turns out that in many of our states, there isn't much "med" in medspa! And that's a real problem for your prospective patients, Doctor. Not because patients will choose them over you, but because they already think they've chosen you! You see, your prospective patient was seduced by the white lab coat, procedural certificates and nifty waiting room she was introduced to at "Advanced Poseur Medspa" down the street. But once she experienced cosmetic enhancement in the hands of the student that may have been in your biology class, but was definitely not in your medical school class, she lost her appetite for medspa services. In fact, she thinks cosmetic enhancement is a rip-off and she sees no reason to trust the services again. No grapes. No nuts. She has made a market decision.

MUSCLE FLEX Gee, why didn't she come to me in the first place? What about all those competencies I bring to the market? How will I communicate them? First, let's accept the given. The term "medspa" is never going to convey your governance, medical licensure, regulatory compliance and level of proficiency. Second, in some medspas, there are unqualified persons practicing medicine without a license, prescribing without legal authority, failing to obtain informed consent and actively engaging in consumer fraud. These acts should be reported to law enforcement. Third, we need idea development: Is your medical board willing to help you communicate your medspa distinction? Are you ready to support the creation of an accrediting body for physician-owned medspas? Are you willing to ask your colleagues to refuse requests to act as "name-only" medical directors for medspas?

The future value of physician-owned medspas is unclear. With luck, the strength of an established brand and great reputation will keep your medspa income statements healthy into the future. What's becoming clear is that more physicians are boldly venturing into retail medicine. Here, they may not find utopia, but will find a chance to flex marketplace muscle. And yet, just how successful will we be in distinguishing our place in the market? Physician owners need a clear and compelling message. Stories of our discontent are in the past and should remain there. In order for medspa or any other cash-based retail medicine to be a part of our future, we must reclaim physician opportunity in the marketplace.

Paul L. Hester, M.D., M.B.A., a primary and critical care physician for over 15 years, is dual board-certified by the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine. Following a graduate fellowship in physiology and biophysics, he earned his M.D. from the University of Kentucky where he continues as a faculty preceptor for UK's Colleges of Medicine and Allied Health. He is founder and Medical Director of BE MediSpa, the first medical spa in Lexington, Kentucky and may be reached at [email protected].

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