New Strategies for the New Normal
Part Two: How COVID-19 Has Changed Consultations (For Good!)

I
f COVID-19 has changed the pre-consultation experience, it’s turned the clinical consultation process on its head. As it conspires, though, change isn’t always a bad thing. Many innovative, forward-thinking aesthetic clinics and med-spa owners have seized upon the lockdowns and disruption to everyday life as an opportunity to actually add value, and enhance patient experience in unique ways. The conversion funnel is still possible even without physically treating and consulting with patients in person. As Warren Danforth, owner of Spa 35 in Boise, Idaho, and Dr. Suneel Chilukuri, owner of Refresh Dermatology in Houston, Texas, emphasize, sales can still take place—they just happen in a slightly different way.

Here is RxPhoto’s guide to changing consultations in times of COVID-19. Warren and Suneel have shared some of their invaluable insights into navigating this unprecedented situation so you can continue to increase sales and generate new leads, all the while meeting client and official expectations around safety.

Capturing new clients and conforming to official Covid-19 consultation protocol


Lifting sales and gaining new prospects in times of crisis means responding properly to the changing conditions. In the current climate, there’s plenty of opportunity to innovate, level up, and capture new clients, but it needs to happen in alignment with expert advice.

Guidelines and recommendations from the American Society for Plastic Surgeons present aesthetic providers and practitioners with clear regulations for carrying out consultations with patients. By following this advice, you have a sound starting point for changing up and refreshing your consultation process so it’s Covid-19 compatible.

Here are some of the most significant points that have been made by experts:

One practitioner per patient visit

Limiting interaction with different staff members means preventing unnecessary exposure to potentially infected or asymptomatic patients or staff. Restricting patient interaction with multiple staff members often results in an enhanced patient experience: trust and communication can be fostered, and the consultation feels more cohesive.

RxPhoto also makes it incredibly straightforward to minimize patient interaction with multiple people. With RxPhoto forms, you can go paperless AND contactless.

Keeping face-to-face visits short and sweet

A quick, succinct consultation boasts an array of benefits. Quick consultations reduce the likelihood of the spread of the virus and have other advantages as well. Patients always appreciate efficiency and a reduced wait time—and clinics can offer more consultation slots when appointments are focused and brief. Danforth emphasizes that many patients actually ask for their appointment to be very short and sweet.

Trying telemedicine instead of appointments in person

Telemedicine or virtual consults can significantly minimize the need to travel and therefore reduce exposure to the virus. In the case of non-urgent appointments, follow-ups, and routine consultations, a virtual encounter via Zoom can be an incredibly effective substitute to allow for continuation of care and patient/provider relationships. In the United States, these visits are regarded in the same way as in-person visits and are therefore paid at the same rate following CMS guidelines.

Keeping patients in one area during consultations

Preventing unnecessary movement between consultation rooms reduces the spread of infectious aerosols throughout the facility. As much as is feasible, situate patients in one place for the duration of their consultation.

Keeping it clean and hygienic

It goes without saying. Hand hygiene is now more important than ever. In addition to encouraging staff to wash hands more frequently, enhanced cleaning protocols for the office and facility should also be enforced—particularly in high-touch areas. Payment for consultations should be contactless where possible.

Virtual consults also open up a world of vast opportunities to engage new clients as well as interact and upsell to existing clients in ways that weren’t formerly possible.

Virtual consults yield unforeseen benefits for customers and practices


Virtual consults represent a frontier that few aesthetic providers would have willingly stepped into pre-COVID-19. In the current climate, however, virtual consults have resulted in a reappraisal of their utility—if meeting patients in person isn’t possible, then the option of meeting with patients over Zoom becomes more necessary.

For Dr. Suneel Chilukuri of Refresh Dermatology in Houston, Texas, embracing virtual consults yielded unforeseen benefits and the clinic may continue offering them in the future.

“We had already gone pretty digital with patient communication before COVID,” explains Chilukuri. “From October last year, we were telling people they had to have two word-of-mouth referrals to be accepted as a clinic patient. There are no walk-ins at our clinic, ever. Following COVID, however, because we were shut down for two months, we did allow ourselves to start taking digital referrals, so we thought we’d try virtual consults too.” Chilukuri explains that patients with stay-at-home orders became open to virtual consults which formerly had not been the case.

“In the past, virtual consults had not been accepted in the industry by patients, whereas now, patients were also working from home and obviously had more time,” explains Chilukuri. “These consultations really engaged the patient that much more because in a room someone can look away from you, they may not be fully paying attention. With a virtual meeting they have to be more involved.” For Chilukuri, the virtual appointments provided valuable information and insights into their home set-up, products they were using, and their regimen.

“It was interesting to see the difference and how patients were more engaged with us,” he concludes. “It was a nice thing to see.”

Boost skincare/product sales with incentives


Chilukuri and the team at Refresh Dermatology found that virtual Zoom consultations went hand-in-hand with increased skincare sales.

“We had the opportunity to get patients onto proper skincare regimens before they actually came as a patient. That was a nice change and it improved our skincare sales,” he reflects.

Chilukuri notes that encouraging patients to adhere to pre-procedural skincare regimens allowed the Refresh Dermatology team to gauge patients’ level of engagement and determine whether they were serious about getting treatment-ready.

“We offered the same day drop-off for the products they ordered o they could start the regimen immediately. As soon as they were able to come into the clinic safely, we would offer them a complimentary consult or treatment,” explains Chilukuri.

Chilukuri emphasizes that RxPhoto was instrumental in facilitating this process. “That’s where RxPhoto really helped us—patients could upload their photos via a secure HIPAA-compliant patient app provided by RxPhoto so we could start tracking their progress” says Chilukuri. “Also, if there was a treatment that was specific to their needs, like CoolSculpting, I could guide them towards finding out more about it in RxPortal by sending them three videos that would outline the CoolSculpting process.”’

Danforth echoes some of Chilukuri’s observations about patients becoming more open to virtual consultations but notes that transitioning from lockdown has seen people coming back into the clinic. “Initially we had requests for video-based consultations but now people are coming back in for face-to-face consultations,” he affirms.

Being flexible and responsive in an environment that’s constantly changing


Economically, politically, and socially, the world is in a state of flux and this undeniably affects the aesthetic industry too. Regardless of whatever the current global crisis may be, staying current and relevant to customers in the face of change requires flexibility and responsiveness. Maintaining a loyal client base and winning new prospects means keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s happening on a global scale. Adjusting your clinic’s approach to customer service and products accordingly. This should mean reviewing your systems periodically and evaluating what customers are responding well to and what they are passing over.

“The state of industry seems to be in a constant cyclical cycle right now,” observes Danforth. “There’s lots of flux in consumer demand at the moment and the aesthetic industry has been impacted hugely.”

Danforth notes that although Covid-19 trends in Boise, Idaho may not be typical of the national experience, the state is currently experiencing a huge boom in population as people leave larger, more regulated states into less-regulated Idaho.

“From what I see here, the industry seems to be on track towards historical sales volumes but it has not fully returned to pre-Covid levels at this time,” Danforth explains. “Our clients have changed. Some people, and staff, refuse to leave their homes. We’ve lost a big chunk of people that are afraid to leave home.”

But Danforth also points out that others seem as though they couldn’t care less about Covid. “We still have people who are happy to schedule appointments. We recently saw a spike in the “big” treatments that require a few days of downtime but that seems to be leveling off right now.”

It’s likely that the presence, or threat, of Covid-19 in the world will likely mean inconsistency and disruption for the near future. Riding out this unpredictable wave means being ready to make changes, innovate, and respond to changing patient concerns, needs, and expectations.

While this may mean some clinics and med-spas wholeheartedly embrace online sales and virtual consultations, others will need to modify face-to-face procedures and treatments for patients keen to resume some form of normal. Keeping a finger on the consumer pulse will help to inform these decisions and ensure that your clinic can thrive throughout any upheaval. Necessity is, after all, the mother of all invention.

Coming next: Part Three of The New Normal: How COVID-19 Has Changed Post-procedural Protocol

Author

Scott Alten photo

Scott Alten

Managing Partner

RxPhoto

Clinical photography photo management and storage app for the dermatology, aesthetics, plastic surgery, vein treatment, medical spa and wound care fields.

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