As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word consultation describes ‘a meeting in which someone, such as a doctor, talks to a person about a problem, question, etc’. While accurate, it is a very limiting and narrow interpretation since the potential for this single interaction is far greater than just problem solving. In medical practices, consultations are the defining pillar of building the physician–patient relationship. This interaction sets the tone for a long-term partnership based on trust, expertise, and customized care. A well-executed consultation allows the physician to expand beyond a monotherapy solution, to provide a comprehensive, phased treatment plan for long-term patient engagement. The question then remains how can the consultation be leveraged to attain this goal? Successful, complete consultations are composed of five key attributes, which I shall cover in this article.
Get the full skin and aesthetic history
While patients may schedule a consultation for a primary skin need, their concern is rarely an isolated occurrence. The patient may not always understand the complexity of their skin condition, nor are they aware of the relevant background information which should be provided. That is why it is critical to capture their full skin and aesthetic history prior to the skincare consultation.
To begin with, it is important to understand your patient’s history with aesthetic procedures to not only treat their present concern but to also give you a complete sense of their aesthetic involvement. In learning about your patient’s previous procedures it is important to understand a few critical pieces. First, when were these procedures last done? Often this will allow you to develop the patient beyond the initial consultation scope. For example, a patient may have scheduled their consultation to discuss body contouring, but the aesthetic history in-take shows he/she has had neuromodulators in the last four months and is due for a touch-up. This opportunity allows you to engage in your patient’s full aesthetic needs by providing the proper patient education. Secondly, it is important to understand how your patient’s skin responded to the procedure and his/her level of satisfaction with the results. This will help ensure that your treatment recommendation reflects the appropriate procedures for your patient’s skin needs and expectations. Finally, it is important to understand your patient’s current skincare regimen. Again, not only will this be an indicator of the patient’s aesthetic involvement, but it will also give you the opportunity to discuss appropriate at-home care to complement the recommended procedures — a need that over 60% of patients expect from their physicians according to recent market research.
Since capturing the full aesthetic history could possibly take an entire appointment, it is important to compile all the relevant history prior to your consultation. There are a few opportunities within the practice to do this. First, the patient can be emailed an aesthetic history questionnaire to complete prior and bring to their appointment. Alternatively, the patient could fill out similar paperwork upon checking in, or your medical assistant/nurse can capture and note this information in a quick 5-minute introduction as the patient is being settled into the exam room. The latter arrangement is preferred as it gives your staff the opportunity to begin getting to know the patient and ensures all history details are captured. Prior to meeting the patient, you should be briefed by your medical assistant/nurse or look through the history notes so that your consultation time is maximized.
Understand the patient profile
Beyond learning the patient’s aesthetic history it is important to understand your patient’s profile so that your recommended treatment plan is reflective of his/her lifestyle, habits, and budget. First, it is important to gauge the patient’s current aesthetic involvement. If the patient has a moderate history of aesthetic treatments and at-home care, then it is reasonable to develop a treatment plan that may reflect more advanced therapies. However, if the patient has had limited exposure to aesthetics it is important to ease the patient into the world of in-office procedures, regardless of their skin need or condition. Too often these types of patients will be recommended more invasive therapies for an expedited visual transformation. Yet a 50-something-year-old patient with no history of procedures may have apprehension to starting with a course of fractional resurfacing laser, fillers, and neuromodulators. A phased approach, with a gradual build-up in treatments, will be more effective by encouraging comfort and trust.
It is also important to understand your patient’s lifestyle, habits, and even comfort with downtime to ensure compliance and satisfaction. If the treatment recommendation cannot successfully integrate into your patient’s daily activities then his/her willingness to engage will become compromised, adversely affecting results. Similarly, as the investigator, it is critical to read in between the lines. Has the patient had a change in life circumstances prompting this visit? Or perhaps there’s a big event on the horizon. Either way, it is beneficial to understand what motivated your patient to book the consultation.
Finally, it is always helpful to have a sense of your patient’s budget. Treatment recommendations reflective of the patient’s means helps ensure accessibility and increases the chance of patient retention.
Elevate with a unique, visual experience
Memorable experiences are always the most impactful, and with advances in imaging technology the consultation can now become a visual, interactive engagement. Cost effective and accessible skin imaging devices like the new Canfield Reveal allow your patient to see below their skin’s surface to assess pigmentation, as well as vascular and texture qualities. With the images displayed on a large screen monitor, you can then show and explain to your patient, with great detail and precision, the condition of their skin and opportunities for improvement. As they say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and with a visual snapshot the patient will have a concrete and clear understanding of his/her skin condition. The added benefit of using these comprehensive imaging devices is the ease and standardization of measuring the patient’s skin improvement during the course of treatment.
If the investment in these mid-size imaging devices is too great, there are many other viable alternatives. Skincare brands, like SkinCeuticals offer their dispensing physicians the opportunity to purchase portable skin imaging devices, like the SkinScope, that show a global, yet visually impactful snapshot of the skin’s health. Also, Allergan’s iVisualizer app analyzes patient pictures to stimulate before and after results with treatment of Botox or Juvederm.
Lay out a comprehensive strategy
Patients often don’t have a complete understanding of procedure technology, mechanism of action, and benefits. To persuade and enlist your patient it is important to provide a comprehensive strategy with timing, phased treatments (if applicable), and appropriate at-home care. This allows your patient to have the global picture of the treatment plan with reasoning, objectives, and outcomes. Through this dialogue, it is imperative to share your treatment philosophy and key points of differentiation so that your patient understands why your level of care brings an added value not found anywhere else. Empowered with this knowledge your patient will then be able to engage in a meaningful conversation during the skincare consulting to ensure agreement.
Leave with a strong call to action
Armed with an understanding of his/her skin condition and recommended treatment strategies, it is critical to capture and convert your consult patient to your practice. How the appointment concludes could determine if the patient ends up booking the next appointment. Since a lot of information is covered during the consultation, it is helpful to have a staff member, like the medical assistant or coordinator, recap your treatment recommendation with a written patient treatment plan. The patient treatment plan is a standardized, take-away form for the patient that clearly reflects the procedure recommendation with timing, additional notes, and at-home skincare instructions with full AM and PM regimen.
A patient is more likely to book the next appointment if one of your staff members helps facilitate their check-out by walking him/her to reception and asking if he/she is interested in making the appointment today. For those patients who don’t immediately book it is important to implement a follow-up system whereby a staff member can call them a week later to touch base and see if they have any additional questions.
As the field of aesthetics continues its increasingly competitive nature, it is critical that the skincare consultation arms you and your practice with the knowledge and tools necessary to accomplish two defining and synergistic outcomes. First, with a complete understanding of your patient’s habits and comfort, you can develop a tailor-made treatment plan unique to your patient’s needs. Secondly, through the power of visual assessment and providing a synchronized patient experience, you can demonstrate your practice’s unique points of differentiation and superior level of care. Having both of these goals successfully achieved, the consultation, with the knowledge and information gathered, will help you convert the patient to your practice. Providing you with meaningful benchmarks and on-going action items, you now have the tools necessary to develop your patient through a significant course of time with the consultation guiding you as the roadmap.