We’re not overstating things when we say that nothing matters more to the health of your practice than your patient relationships. And like so much these days, what it takes to build and maintain patient relationships is changing. Read on to see how some subtle shifts in how you approach patients can pay big dividends for your practice.

The Traditional Model: Patient as Customer

Ten or 20 years ago, if was safe to say that almost all plastic surgery patients were treated as customers. They bring the money, you provide the service. Sure, practices have always been about cultivating an ongoing relationship to some degree, but that mostly revolved around patient reminders, postcard specials, and events and open houses here and there. Certainly before the rise of BOTOX and many other recurring med spa treatments, aesthetic surgery was often a once-and-done transaction.

Also think a bit more about the time before review sites became so prevalent. How did a person choose their plastic surgeon (or their plumber for that matter)? They often didn’t have the resources or time to shop for someone they “liked.” The focus was on factors such as quality and value. So you’d go to who a friend went to, look at how long a surgeon has been practicing, and check out before and after photos in the office.

The New Model: Patient as Friend

Using the word “friend” to describe the new approach to patient relationships may be a bit of a stretch. But it should get you thinking about how that relationship has evolved in recent years, and how successful practices have evolved with it.

First off, all the aspects of the customer-based patient relationship hold true. People still want expertise, value, and excellent results. In fact, just like in many other aspects of consumer life, expectations are higher than ever before. Respecting the patient as a customer is still a cornerstone of any successful practice.

But now, a new layer has been added. Some hallmarks of a “friendly” aesthetic medicine practice may include:

  • A lively, active social media presence showing that the doctor and staff have fun at work and enjoy what they do.
  • Personalized responses to patient inquiries that respect how the patient prefers to communicate. For example, if a patient texts you, text them back – don’t try to call.
  • A focus on helping the patient find the right options, even if the best choices aren’t services you offer.
  • Personal notes to thank a patient for choosing you, wishing them well at an upcoming event, or celebrating a birthday.
  • Staff interactions that go beyond just getting the job done and show that the staff are invested in each other and personally care about each patient.

What Patients Want

Are you starting to see the difference in how to cultivate a friend-first patient relationship? This approach takes more effort and may technically “cost” you a little more in terms of time and staff compensation. But what you’re doing is investing in providing a patient experience that aligns with what people really want. They don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want to feel like a number. They want to support businesses that help them feel special and cared for. They want to feel part of something.

This shift in patient expectations is the natural result of a few factors. For starters, there’s intense competition in the aesthetic medicine space, and businesses have to find ways to differentiate. Surgeons who treat their patients as lucky to be seen by them are at a competitive disadvantage when many other doctors offer excellent care plus a welcoming, fun, friendly vibe.

In addition, people today place more emphasis on how brands and consumer choices define who they are as individuals. For some people, that’s about supporting businesses that support the local community or a particular cause they care about, or maybe even align with political or religious beliefs. For others, it’s about feeling part of a community. In short, consumer transactions have become more tribal.

How to Make the Switch

Many of our clients already have intuitively picked up on the shift in consumer behavior in recent years, and have gradually added in more personal elements to their practice in response to trends and patient feedback. But this way of approaching patients doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Here are some ways you can start to shift the perspective in your office:

  1. Invest more in social media – Personally, you may not want to share the ins and outs of your workday on Facebook and Instagram. It may feel forced or unnatural. But revealing the human side of your business on social media is one of the best ways to gain patient trust. If you don’t have the time or social media savvy, that’s totally fine. But find someone in your office who does, or who’s interested in becoming the point person for cultivating a warm, friendly social media presence.
  2. Review patient communication points – Take a fresh look at any and all patient communication you provide, from front office call scripts to appointment reminders to post-op instructions. Pay particular attention to the wording. Are you speaking in a way you would to a friend? Are the opportunities to add a more fun or lighthearted voice to your materials? How can you connect on a more personal level in every patient interaction?
  3. Set the standard – Creating a welcoming, approachable vibe in your office starts with the leaders of the practice. If you have a tendency to be more analytic, distant, and clinical, try your best to reach outside your comfort zone and make time to joke a little with your staff, plan a teambuilding activity outside the office, and let the staff know that you welcome a little fun in the office, even when you seem busy or preoccupied.
  4. Offer training – Just like medicine or law, customer service is a skill set that you constantly practice and refine. There’s always room to learn more and improve. Many online courses are available in customer service concepts on sites like Alison, edX and Lynda. Task your staff with completing a course and then schedule some time to talk as a group about tangible ways to implement or try out a couple of new concepts.
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