New Strategies for the New Normal
Part One: How COVID-19 Has Enhanced the Pre-Consultation Experience
So how has COVID-19 affected those in the trenches—leaders working in the aesthetics industry? RxPhoto spoke to Warren Danforth, owner of Spa35 in Boise, Idaho, and Dr. Suneel Chilukuri, owner of Refresh Dermatology in Houston, Texas, to learn more about what COVID-19 has meant for their practices. These clinic owners emphasized that innovation is borne of necessity, and the new normal doesn’t have to result in lower conversions or sales, or an impeded patient experience. Rather, this unique global crisis can force clinics to look critically at how they can improve the services they’re administering, encourage a move into telemedicine, and continue to meet and exceed patients’ expectations in this rapidly changing global landscape.
Official guidelines on pre-consultation protocolOfficial guidelines from the The American Society of Plastic Surgeons and other similar governing bodies offer recommendations, resources, and webinars regarding protocol for COVID-19. An online meeting of an international working group of experts in the field of aesthetic medicine also convened earlier in 2020, developing a consensus for aesthetic practices.
Aesthetic medicine falls into a category of medical services where most of the procedures are delivered on a one-to-one basis by a doctor/therapist, and are permitted by most states to resume business provided they strictly follow the guidelines detailing the infection control measures. The working group stressed that the imposition of new regulations around patient scheduling before consultations was critical to minimizing the risk associated with COVID-19. While many medical and aesthetic practices are presently focusing on online consultations in place of face-to-face appointments, increasing numbers of aesthetic clinics are reopening.
Advance schedulingOne of the key recommendations made was that advance scheduling become compulsory, and to strongly discourage patients from walking in. Clinics should encourage both new and existing patients to schedule consultations over the phone or online. For this new approach to be successful, staff should be trained to take all necessary information on the phone at the time of scheduling an appointment, with notes made on whether the patient has traveled, their occupation, and any other information that may be relevant to contact tracing. This information should be confirmed on the patient’s arrival for their consultation. In the case of unscheduled walk‐ins, recording the relevant history of the patient becomes even more critical and should be carried out at the time of arrival. The working group pointed out that certain measures such as taking temperatures may not be practicable or useful—patients can lower their own temperatures with paracetamol prior to their appointment if they so desire.
Modifying the waiting room experienceWhen it comes to the pre-consultation experience, adhering to social distancing guidelines are a given. Patients should visit the clinic alone to avoid crowding waiting room spaces. Bookings can have larger time gaps between appointments to reduce the number of patients waiting in the waiting room at any given time. The waiting room experience will vary from clinic to clinic, though, with factors such as the size of the waiting space, the number of chairs, the number of treatment rooms, the type of procedures offered and the turnaround from the time a patient enters until the time a patient exits all informing protocols adopted by a clinic.
Experiences and reflections from aesthetic clinic ownersWarren Danforth, owner of Spa35 points out that although the beginning of the pandemic saw patients hesitate about scheduling appointments, there’s now a steady stream of patients back to the spa. Danforth notes that with this return to face-to-face interaction, COVID-19 has forced changes in the processing and interaction of patients in the pre-consultation period. While there has been a perception that COVID-19 protocol may slow processes in the aesthetic space, it’s actually created the demand that they become more efficient.
“People expect more social distancing in the lobby area, they expect PPE,” explains Danforth. “They expect sanitation. Some want their appointment to be very fast, and often short.” To minimize the flow and interaction of people between appointments, Danforth has implemented a threefold approach: staggering times between appointments, decreasing the numbers of staff on the premises, and increasing the length of appointments times as a precaution to limit the time in the waiting room.
For Dr. Suneel Chilukuri of Refresh Dermatology, COVID-19 represented an opportunity to streamline the patient experience even further. “Typically, we have a concierge practice, because we’re conscious of never letting anyone wait, so we have a receptionary. We don’t even call it a waiting room because no one waits there anymore,” says Chilukuri. “What we’ve changed though, is having people text or call us from their car letting us know that they have arrived so we can escort them in. We’ve changed our process to be as completely, or as close to completely, contactless as possible.”
Refresh Dermatology prides itself on delivering the patient experience as seamlessly as possible, and COVID-19 has further enhanced this process. Chilukuri explains that patients send a text to let staff know that they have arrived. “We invite them in, then immediately as they walk in they get their hands sanitized before we escort them to settle into a room. We call this the “cabana experience” because they’ll never leave that room during their entire visit,” he explains. “They then put their belongings, bags, jackets, anything else into a sterilized bin, just to be on the safe side. We don’t even let people sit on the couches, especially because in the beginning we didn’t know if COVID-19 was spread through contact via surfaces, or if it was aerosol borne.” Patient headbands used for pre-consultation photographs are also discarded into sterilization bins once used.
This experience is not only reassuring for the patient with respect to safety and hygiene, it also offers an air of exclusivity and special attention which sets Refresh Dermatology apart from competing medispas.
Contactless pre-engagement with patients: digital consent forms, and how It’s often said that every dark cloud has a silver lining. When the onset of COVID-19 forced many clinics into shutdowns, medspa and aesthetic clinic owners had a rare opportunity to catch their breath and adopt a critical stance towards their processes. While few would agree that chasing after patient paper trails is their preference, the idea of implementing a swap over to digital forms can feel daunting. With the pandemic in full force, however, there was no alternative available to onboard new patients. For Dr. Chilukuri, the moment presented a clear opportunity to move to RxPhoto patient consent forms, phasing out the necessity of paper forms.
RxPhoto can help
“That was something we had been talking about for a long time - streamlining and becoming more efficient so patients never had to wait when they came to the office, says Dr. Chilukuri. “Up until this pandemic happened and RxPhoto gave us the opportunity, we were always using paper charts, which got scanned into RxPhoto, “ he reflects.
“Since swapping to RxPhoto consent forms, we don’t have to do anything. We send the patients the forms and they get digitally uploaded into the RxPhoto platform. We’re literally ready to go when they come into the office. It’s made that pre-consultation process much more efficient as well.”
RxPhoto allows patient consent forms to be securely sent to the patient via a HIPAA compliant cloud server prior to their appointment, so they can fill them out at home, or even in their car. For clinics where minimizing the number of patients in waiting rooms is a critical concern, empowering patients to fill out their consent and info forms offsite, at a time that suits them, is a game changer.