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With the current economic state, cosmetic surgeons need to prepare by performing an analysis of their practice offerings

Key iconKey Points

  • A poll of ASPS member surgeons indicated that 62 percent reported a decrease in overall cosmetic procedures between the first six months of 2008, compared to the same period in 2007.
  • Aside from diversification, another suggestion for surviving the downturn includes performing a critical practice analysis.

Dr. Wells' survival savvy: tips by career stage
As it becomes alarmingly clear that the economic downturn isn't going to end any time soon, cosmetic surgeons need to be prepared with solid strategies for weathering the storm.

Recent figures from the ASPS settle any doubts about whether cosmetic surgery is susceptible to economic swings, indicating that the current recession is indeed taking its toll on cosmetic patients' decisions. Meanwhile, a poll of ASPS member surgeons indicated that 62 percent reported a decrease in overall cosmetic procedures between the first six months of 2008, compared to the same period in 2007. The top surgical cosmetic procedures were down across the board, but as many as 73 percent of surgeons reported an increased or stable demand for procedures such as Botox, dermal fillers or chemical peels.

SURVIVAL 101 "The biggest mistake that cosmetic surgeons can make in tough times is to not diversify," says James H. Wells, M.D., a plastic surgeon based in Long Beach, Calif., and past president of the ASPS. "It's the same thing your stockbroker will tell you — you don't want to have all of your stock in one pot, and, likewise, you shouldn't have all of your practice in one pot," he says.

Instead, surgeons who expand into an area such as reconstructive surgery can not only have the gratification of uniquely benefiting patients, but can expect to be as busy as they wish. According to Dr. Wells, trauma, congenital deformities, hand deformities and cancer are the key areas in reconstructive surgery where people are not delaying care.

Aside from diversification, other important suggestions from Dr. Wells on surviving the downturn include performing a critical practice analysis. "Ask yourself what your practice is about," Dr. Wells advises. "As outlined in the book Good to Great [Jim Collins]...focus on doing the things that you're best at and for which there is a demand" rather than doing everything you're capable of doing.

Do you have too many employees (or not enough)? Do you spend a lot of money on products that only wind up sitting on the shelf? Do you have equipment that you don't use but contributes to your practice overhead?

PROGRAM RELATIONSHIPS Check out local hospital physician support programs, Dr. Wells advises, as hospitals may be able to offer benefits, for example, quicker access to the surgeon's patients and discounts on patient out-of-pocket costs.

Speak to your suppliers, he adds. Several product manufacturers have their own patient marketing programs and they may be willing to offer discounts or packages to help you promote their product, says Dr. Wells.

FINAL ADVICE Don't start performing new procedures without the necessary experience; instead, continue to do what you do best, and don't invest in marketing just because everyone else is. "Do what you normally do in taking care of your patients, only do it better," Dr. Wells counsels. "Provide service, be available, answer questions and make sure your staff is friendly with patients."

Also keep in mind that patients may have an interest in direct contact with the physician. "In my opinion, when surgeons have a lot of consultants standing between them and their patients, they're not serving their patients well," Dr. Wells says. "Patients want to talk to the physician — they want to get to know the individual who is making the incision."

Finally, surgeons need to be prepared for the fallout from what could be a much more serious and longer economic decline than any they've seen before.

"This recession is much deeper than others we've seen in recent decades," Dr. Wells says. "Other downturns may not have included the housing market or the energy market, or may have only affected a segment of patients. This one is across the board."

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