National report — Las Vegas plastic surgeon Michael C. Edwards, M.D., watches daily for opportunities he and his staff might be missing.
“There are missed opportunities in virtually every aspect of our practice. If we keep our eyes open and pay attention to what’s going on, you can see everything,” he says.
Simply put, listening to how the staff answers the phone and interacts with patients often exposes untapped opportunities. A breast augmentation patient checking out, he says, might make the comment that she bought a skincare product that she doesn’t know how to use. Brushing off the question because it doesn’t have to do with breast augmentation or directly with the practice is a missed opportunity.
“You have to look at these (questions and comments) as ways to educate patients,” Dr. Edwards says. “Whether you get a patient experience out of that is not the main (goal); rather, the goal is to provide total patient care.”
Being in-tune with patients, listening and taking opportunities to educate those who ask questions requires training, Dr. Edwards says, regardless of the staff member’s job title.
A cosmetic surgeon who hires a receptionist to answer the phones should view the job as much more than that one task. It’s the first interaction that people have with the practice.
“If somebody calls the office and there’s no answer or that person doesn’t have good phone skills or good people skills, (the staff member) is representing you and turning away patients that you could see and possibly work with,” he says.
The same is true for the rest of the staff — the nurse, esthetician, office manager and others. Everyone in the practice represents the office and should have some understanding of the procedures offered.
Dr. Edwards uses each staff meeting as an opportunity to educate his staff about something new, such as a laser, a treatment or a timely news story impacting plastic surgery. His goal is to arm the staff with the information they need to be able to interact with and respond to patients’ needs.
One recent topic was deep vein thrombosis. He talked about what patients might experience and which symptoms require immediate attention.
When staff members are knowledgeable, they know when to alert Dr. Edwards. Then he, in turn, has the opportunity to treat issues in earlier, more treatable stages.
“My staff always knows that I will never give them grief for asking questions. The same is true for any patient,” he says.
Cosmetic surgeons often don’t get involved with the skincare side of the business. Some have nurses inject Botox (onabotulinumtoxinA, Allergan) and other fillers. This is a mistake, according to Dr. Edwards, because the surgeon isn’t getting involved with what could be loyal, long-term patients.
“Sometimes, doctors are so busy they don’t want to talk about Botox and just blow off (patient’s questions),” he says. “I had a patient who was in for a two-year follow-up from breast augmentation. As I was about to walk out the door, she said, ‘I have a quick question about Botox.’ If I had just not taken the time to come back and sit down and talk about it, it would have been a missed opportunity.”
Understand today’s patients
Responding to patients’ needs means understanding those needs and looking beyond what’s obvious. Cost, for example, is not the only factor important to people impacted by the tough economy. Time often is as valuable to today’s patients, according to Julius W. Few, M.D., a plastic surgeon who practices in Chicago.
“The number one thing I hear is, ‘I can’t afford to be away from work too long.’ And I’ve never heard that more than now. There’s fear that they could lose their jobs; they’re scared they won’t be making that money for their family or they’ll miss that big opportunity for a bonus,” Dr. Few says. “So I think the days of doing big procedures or doing a combination of big surgeries that result in somebody being out of commission for a month are rapidly diminishing.”
Many of today’s patients would opt for a limited dissection facelift combined with fillers, toxins and/or lasers rather than a traditional facelift. The total cost of the procedures might be similar, according to Dr. Few, but the combination approach offers less downtime.
“What’s important is (that) cost is comprised of many things. You have the material cost of that treatment, but the other components of cost are pain, recovery and downtime,” Dr. Few says. “So I can offer a product that even though the actual cost may be similar (if you’re purely looking at the dollars and cents of what they are buying), the net cost is significantly less.”
Capturing opportunities that might otherwise be missed helps more than the business’s bottom line, according to Dr. Edwards.
“It’s important not to miss opportunities in terms of good overall patient care. (By missing opportunities) you miss the chance for your practice to grow; you miss the chance for income; you miss the chance for education,” Dr. Edwards says.
Note: Drs. Edwards and Few were panelists on the “Re-designing Your Aesthetic Practice — How to Get Beyond Today” session at The Aesthetic Meeting, May 2011, Boston.