Think about it: What phrases do you never ever want to hear again? Without a doubt, “these uncertain times” or any variation of those three little words has to be at the top of your list. It’s a safe yet somewhat meaningless way to explain the unimaginable consequences of this period. Think of it as shrugging your shoulders in a non-verbal way to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not really sure.” The truth is that no one really knows what the future holds, how to process it all, and where we will end up, nor does anyone have any control over the outcome.
Don’t underestimate patients’ concerns about safety issues. They need to know about the measures your practice has taken to comply with CDC guidelines. Being transparent about your commitment to running a sterile and safe practice will go a long way to ensure that patients feel comfortable coming in and referring their friends and family. Expect people who may have been infected themselves or have had a close family member who was sick to be especially concerned.
The challenges ahead for aesthetic practices lie in maximizing the daily schedule to carefully monitor patient flow, select the most vital in-person patient visits vs. virtual visits, and bundle treatments and procedures to generate the highest retail value per visit while maintaining the same standard of care you have built your reputation on. In addition, because you will be seeing fewer patients in a day or week, patients should be mindful that it will take longer to book their next appointment at their preferred time. To circumvent this, it is reasonable to suggest that patients book their next toxin treatment, lip filler, or non-invasive body shaping session before they leave.
Preserving warm and fuzzy connections with patients may be especially tough because most practitioners will have limited face time to spend with each of them. Although every visit takes longer due to the requisite COVID-19 workup and sanitizing ritual, the quality one-on-one time spent with each patient may be shorter. In essence, practitioners need to get the most out of the time spent and simultaneously deliver the greatest value to patients for the time they have invested. Although some practitioners may feel uncomfortable recommending a second syringe or a skincare consult while the patient is already in a room, think of it this way: You will be doing the patient a service and at the same time looking after your bottom line. Once the patient is already in a room, adding another treatment that they may need or want is a win-win. To make it more attractive to the patient, consider offering a slight discount for the add-on.
The New Waiting Room
Whereas formerly the waiting room and front desk were considered to be the lifeline of every practice, in the new world order, these areas may need to be reconfigured or repurposed entirely. If you practice in a large crowded metropolitan area like New York, Boston, or San Francisco with your entire space coming in at under 1,000 square feet, a patient waiting area may be the first thing to go. Six feet of space between patients is not really economically feasible in a petite solo practice, anymore. Asking patients to check in via text or phone to be called when their room is ready may work well in Dallas or San Diego, where they can wait in their air-conditioned minivan, but in Chicago they may have to stand outside in the cold or scramble to find a Starbucks.
Similarly, promotional materials that were once displayed in patient areas, such as a monitor with a looped reel of the treatments offered or the practitioner’s TV appearances, brochures, and other collateral, may have to be moved into a treatment room in smaller facilities. In some practices the waiting room may be converted to an extra treatment room by adding a wall or partition, patient chair, a cabinet and mayo stand. Skincare products and testers can no longer be displayed for patients to try and buy, thus many practices offer curbside pickup and shipping for product sales and replenishment. Therefore, the opportunities for marketing services and products will need to be reconsidered as some of the traditional avenues are now off limits. Pre-selling patients before their live appointment is proving to be an efficient strategy, and virtual consults and events can help facilitate that model.
Space Sparing Solutions
Research and implement the necessary adjustments to maintain a safe environment for patients and staff. These adjustments will not only change the physical layout of the office but will also fundamentally alter the culture of the practice. How we adapt to the physical space in which we spend eight to 10 hours or more in a given day also influences our behavior and interpersonal relationships. Staff meetings may need to be virtual for the time being, but this is not something you should let slide. It is important to share ideas for improvements, talk through the marketing plan, and keep everyone up to date to mitigate feelings of stress and isolation.
One way to save space is to remove everything possible from countertops and desktops and maximize use of the walls. This enables you to clear off surfaces and move necessary items out of immediate reach from visitors to bypass the need for constant sanitizing throughout the day. Furniture on wheels can be moved around as needed to serve multiple purposes. The same is true for energy-based systems and other capital equipment. More compact equipment takes up less floor or counter space and will be easier to move from room to room if needed. Similarly, look into smaller disinfectant systems that are portable to save on the costs of purchasing a system for every room in the practice.
No Touch Novelties
Installing low or no-touch technology, revising office designs and layouts, setting social distancing parameters, upgrading cleaning protocols, and monitoring indoor air quality, proper ventilation, and filtration have morphed from nice-to-have to mandatory in record time. Wiping down a surface after each use may become the norm for the long term in shared spaces.
As one would expect in the current environment, a cottage industry of replacements for everything from hand sanitizers to plexiglass partitions to doorbell ringers has emerged for aesthetic practices. Door handles, light switches, and elevator buttons are all high-touch surfaces that can be difficult to maintain throughout a busy day of patients. Tech startups like Openpath (openpath.com) are leading the way by developing seamless cloud-based systems for office entry points that automate hands-free entry, symptom screenings, onsite temperature checks, and technology to monitor the number of people entering a facility.
The offices of the future will undoubtedly be more sparsely occupied. Sitting side-by-side or even across a desk may come to a screeching halt indefinitely. More walls and physical barriers may be used to break up larger spaces to ensure adherence to social distancing. Hard surfaces in shared areas, such as kitchens, break rooms, and lockers, require strict cleaning protocols, or may need to be eliminated entirely. Places like the water cooler or coffee station, once designed to encourage positive relationships among co-workers, may no longer be feasible in some spaces.
At this time, it’s still not certain when practices will re-open full stop and stay open for the long term in many locations. Be wary about offering a specific date in your patient communications unless you are 99.9 percent sure that it won’t need to be changed. It is important to instill confidence in patients by maintaining consistent messaging from all staff members. Confusion and disorganization may not be well received by patients who have enough of that in their personal and professional lives.
Surely there will be a “COVID-20” at some point in the future, so we need to be responsive today as well as proactive for tomorrow. Now is the time to protect your business, assets, and facility from whatever may be coming next. Don’t leave yourself unprepared and vulnerable for when the next disaster hits!