Communicating with Existing Patients

By Dr MJ Rowland-Warmann / 18 May 2021

Dr MJ Rowland-Warmann shares her top tips for engaging current patients and guiding them towards facial aesthetics procedures

When your new business or practice is just starting out, the likelihood is that you won’t have thousands of pounds to spend on press and marketing. You’ll need to think of creative ways of communicating with your patients and client base organically, without influencers, ad campaigns or magazine spreads. One of the most important and under-utilised forms of patient retention is engaging current patients and guiding them towards aesthetic procedures that they may not have tried yet which could be beneficial for them. This can apply to your current aesthetic patients who may only come in for the odd facial, but could benefit from having other treatments such as injectables. For practitioners who already have a private practice focusing on a different healthcare area, such as dentistry, you may be able to open the eyes of these patients to delve into the world of cosmetic procedures. 

All medical practitioners have the skills needed to be successful, but we often overlook the soft skills needed to really push our businesses. For example, good communication, listening and confident self-promotion are so important. These skills are brilliant combatants to the self-doubt many practitioners feel when trying to steer their existing patients towards aesthetics.

Setting the tone and managing expectations 

The patient journey begins way before they step into the treatment room. This is the case for both new patients and dental patients who we are trying to transition into becoming aesthetics patients. Every patient will arrive at your practice with an expectation, so how you manage or influence this will either help or hinder you. In order to set yourself up for an effective consultation you need to begin by setting the patient’s expectation. As practitioners we don’t want to be overpromising and under-delivering, but we also don’t want to be misdirecting our patients and confusing them. Setting and managing patient expectations will have a huge impact on your overall success. 

The best way to set expectations is to ensure continuity from the first contact. When a patient makes first contact, walk them through exactly what you’ll discuss in your consultation, let them know a little bit about you and your areas of special interest. As an example, for dentists, telling your patient that your cosmetic dentistry consultation will contain an assessment of their teeth and their face prepares them for the type of discussions that you’ll be having, and gives them time to digest the information before they’re in the treatment room. It also gives the patient a chance to decide whether you are the type of clinician they want or not. 

For practitioners looking to encourage their patients into trying other treatments in your offering, the clarity and a willingness to share information fosters trust and ensures that the relationship between patient and clinician is robust. Patients with whom you have built a strong relationship are more willing to open up to you, and explore the potential of getting other treatments. Similarly, meeting expectations means happy patients, and happy patients are more likely to return for further treatments and tell their friends and family about their experience. 

A comprehensive consultation 

When a patient steps into the treatment room it’s tempting to focus only on what they expressed was their primary concern when booking the appointment. At the Smileworks Aesthetics Hub, we teach that asking the right questions is integral to a successful consultation.  

Moving away from selling and into educating the patient shows them the problem and allows them to explore the situation  

 Instead of the typical introductory rigidity speaking about the specific area of concern the patient has outlined when booking the appointment, start off by simply saying something like ‘What brings you here today?’ 

Open and non-leading questions and making the interaction about them allows the patient to feel comfortable from the outset. You’ll be surprised by how much a shift in language can change the direction of a consultation. This question allows them to lead the conversation and share more about why they’ve really come to see you. You can determine whether it’s a very specific concern like ‘I have dark circles under my eyes’ – which may not be as effective for selling them on other aesthetic treatments – or a more generalised problem such as ‘I feel like I look very tired all the time’, which is a patient telling you it may not just be their eyes they are concerned about. This invites you to plan comprehensively. By sharing aspects of themselves which they’re unhappy with, they’re asking you for solutions to make them feel better. This is the first step in building your discussion about aesthetics and what treatments may benefit them. 

Patients with whom you have built a strong relationship are more willing to open up to you about, and explore the potential of, other treatments  

Another question that invites sharing and a good jumping off point for aesthetics is ‘When you look in the mirror, how do you feel?’ It’s not specifically asking ‘How do you feel about your face?’, a question that could cause the patient to clam up. ‘How do you feel?’ is gentle but it often hits the crux of the matter, the real reason why they’re seeking treatment. It lets patients know that it’s okay to share the difficult thoughts and feelings that they’ve been having, and allows you, the practitioner, to listen to what they’re really saying. Opening a dialogue and learning to actually listen to what your patients are saying instead of asking closed questions from a list shows them that you are ready to work collaboratively with them in their journey. In my experience, open questions lead to a talking patient. 

Using co-diagnosis 

Co-diagnosis is about sharing the decision-making process with your patient and reaching a treatment plan with them. This may sound obvious to you, but consultations are still often paternalistic or authoritarian, where the clinician is rather prescriptive about proposed treatment. Co-diagnosis works in a three-step way to guide the patient through their discussions, explorations and engaging them in their treatment plan. 

The first step is to recognise the problem together with the patient. Then, discussing options for treatment in a non-biased way, remembering to explain what happens if they do nothing and thirdly, highlighting the benefits of having treatment and how the results can expect to look and feel. Incorporating this means assessments look more structured and you’re delivering consistency with a patient who feels in control. Most clinicians think they are doing this already, but really incorporating co-diagnosis is more nuanced than just coming up with multiple options and giving them select treatment plans to choose from. It’s about integrating exploration and choice and letting them discover options whilst you act as their guide. 

Taking clinical pictures isn’t anything new, whether they’re used for social media, for portfolios or for medical records, but few practitioners actually use them with the patient. In my experience, this is one of the most powerful ways of converting patients into trying new treatments. Photographs, rather than mirrors, nudge the patient away from the subjective and towards an objective view of what is really there. Patients often become fixated on one part of their reflection, while their pictures somewhat neutralise this and the chance of you both seeing the same thing increases as the patient can become a little bit more removed and critical, seeing the bigger picture with you. When looking at the photos with the patient, ask them ‘What do you see?’ Instead of immediately noting all of the problem areas for them. This will engage them with the process, so they feel in control, more confident and less embarrassed when you come to a treatment conclusion. 

The trick is to keep them constantly in the loop as you work your way through the different elements of their face, making sure they don’t feel lost or like you’re talking about something that is too complicated. The more accessible you make the consultation, the more collaborative it feels. Was it your idea or was it theirs? Moving away from selling and into educating the patient shows them the problem and allows them to explore the situation. Before you know it, they are asking for the solutions themselves. 

Modifying your approach 

A comprehensive examination means comprehensive treatment, which results in a comprehensive outcome. Fail to do the first, and the rest won’t happen. Get it right, and you have a trusting patient who always follows your lead. Of course, some people may not be open to extra aesthetic treatments, but some might be, and they could be too shy to ask about them or unsure what exactly it is they should be asking. It’s our job to let patients know their options and it’s up to them to choose from them; you’ll be doing both you and your patient a disservice to skirt around it for fear of offending them. Executing these skills isn’t something anybody can do. It takes time, practice and training. It also needs the courage to step outside of your comfort zone. However, if you are someone who is persistent, hardworking and ready to take this step towards incorporating facial aesthetics into your treatment portfolio then you will be rewarded tenfold.   

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