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What’s the Big Idea?

By: Jeanine Downie, MD By Michele Bennett


Welcome to this inaugural issue of Modern Aesthetics. Aesthetic medicine has been my passion for the past two decades, and with this column I hope to share the insights I’ve gleaned in marketing, management, and strategic communications. Aesthetic medicine today is a burgeoning field, with no end in sight. Rejuvenation is fast becoming a cultural norm, and patients’ expectations have never been higher. With that very positive outlook come greater demands— for one, to keep ahead of an ever-expanding market. Restoring or keeping a youthful appearance has increasingly become a goal attainable with or without surgery, and helping patients attain that goal requires being current with the latest products, the latest devices, and the latest technologies.

Accordingly, I will offer “The Big Ideas” in the practice of aesthetic medicine from the perspective of those who are developing creative approaches to business strategies, effective practices, and communication plans. I plan to include all the stakeholders: clinicians and scientists, industry representatives, and communication specialists.

Applying new ideas to everyday practice will be the objective. With this article, for example, I bring you the approach of a well-known dermatologist who is implementing a strategic and long-term process to grow her practice as she meets the needs of her patients.

At what point does an aesthetic practice begin? Jeanine Downie, MD envisioned hers as she was growing up. “I had really bad acne and eczema,” she recalls, “so bad that people asked what was wrong with my face.” Out of that experience she found the inner strength to chart her life’s course. Opening her practice 12 years ago, Dr. Downie named it “Image Dermatology.” She hoped to help her patients feel confident about their appearance through aesthetic rejuvenation.

Amid the economic downturn during the past couple of years, some aesthetic physicians appear to be unaffected. Dr. Downie, who practices in Montclair, NJ, is a prime example. As she explained in our recent conversation, her solo practice has done more than merely survive—it has thrived and exceeded many of her goals.

Five Strategies

Most organizations develop a strategic plan to ensure that objectives are met. Although no plan can guarantee success, Dr. Downie stresses that a long-term strategic plan is essential to build an aesthetic practice. How the plan is executed is crucial to its success. I discussed with Dr. Downie the five strategies for creating a roadmap that has served her and her practice well in the development and success of her aesthetic medical practice.

1. Start with your mission, vision, and values. Be sure that these statements are still current and relevant to your aesthetic practice and the goals you set for it

Dr. Downie monitors trends in the marketplace and updates her objectives to be consistent with those she sees. What are the implications for her patients and her practice? She places a priority on using the most advanced and well-studied FDA-approved products and technology available.

2. Conduct a traditional SWOT—strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—analysis. That will give you a current understanding of the marketplace, your competitors, and your medical practice capabilities.

Dr. Downie recently tuned up her website to increase consumer awareness of the services and experience she provides. She recognizes that keeping her schedule on track with patients can be a weak spot. (Patients expect her to be punctual, although they are often late.) She makes her staff aware of potential problems with scheduling and monitors her own schedule closely to minimize patient complaints.

3. Identify your long-term (five to 10 years out) and short-term (one to five years) strategic objectives. Your “Big” strategic objectives are the mileposts on the way to the practice you envision.

Dr. Downie is clear on the direction of her practice: for example, the proportion of medical vs. cosmetic services she offers. She chooses to be a sole practitioner and advises others to own their own office space as soon as possible. She also finds it important to give back to her community by building into her plan community-based, peer-to-peer education and contributing to charities she strongly values— among them the American Red Cross, the United Negro College Fund, and community outreach programs. She promotes such topics as skin cancer screening and advocates educating kids on the dangers of tanning beds and tattoos.

4. Hire great people—staff members who feel they are part of your vision and will want to support you in meeting your goals. Further, surround yourself with supportive industry representatives.

Dr. Downie hired a strong officer manager and physician assistants who support her business goals. She believes in paying her staff well to increase loyalty. Early on she divided the procedures that her PAs can do and those she performs herself—e.g., filler and toxin injections. She always finds time for her pharmaceutical and medical device reps. They support her by providing up-to-date marketing materials and information on newly approved products and devices. This is a valuable free service.

5. Promote yourself and your practice. Don’t be shy about highlighting your expertise and knowledge. Try spreading the word about your practice via local and national media. And don’t forget your colleagues. They are among the many people who can benefit from the experience you gained along the way.

Dr. Downie believes in helping other physicians build their aesthetic practices. Accordingly, she devotes time at regional, national, and international conferences to present new data and best practices in aesthetic medicine. Referrals from other physicians are frequent dividends.

Stay Current

Responding to changing demands keeps her practice current and growing. Her patient population is diverse: Dr. Downie sees women as young as 25 years old, men of any age, and members of you-name-it ethnic groups. Patients with high-end incomes? Not necessarily.

Patients overwhelmingly request noninvasive treatments that involve minimal down time. Revolutionizing today’s aesthetic medicine treatment, BOTOX® Cosmetic (Allergan, Inc.) procedures combine high patient satisfaction with high returns. Fillers (JUVÉDERM® XC, Allergan, Inc., Restylane®, Medicis Aesthetics, and others), as well as the Fraxel® laser (Solta Medical), Exilis radiofrequency device (BTL Industries), and Latisse (bimataprost, Allergan, Inc.) are among the products and technologies that have most effectively boosted her practice.

She credits the pharmaceutical industry for direct-toconsumer campaigns that link consumers to physicians via the products’ websites. Interested physicians would do well to visit product websites to ensure that they are listed among those providers who offer aesthetic treatments in their area.

Future Opportunities

Looking to the future, Dr. Downie is most enthusiastic about the noninvasive fat-removal products that treat face and body. The FDA-approved Exilis and, in Phase III development, the ATX-101 injectable drug (Kythera® Biopharmaceuticals) to reduce submental fat (commonly known as a double chin) are products that will significantly influence future enhancement. Although these techniques will undoubtedly place more tools in the aesthetic physician’s toolbox, unmet needs are still out there: a safe technique for dealing with cellulite and a topical treatment for hair loss in women immediately come to mind.

Last but not least: Developing a medical-aesthetic practice is building a business. All successful businesses begin with developing a strategic plan and following the outlined roadmap, making whatever detours are necessary along the way.

Michele Bennett is Founder and CEO of Bennett Global Consulting Group ( www. bennettglobalconsulting.com). She has experience in medical management, sales, strategic marketing and communications. Previously, she was Global Executive Director of Strategic Communications for Bausch+Lomb’s Surgical unit and Senior Director of Global Scientific Communications and Global Strategic Marketing Director of Allergan.