Medical device researcher David Heath explores how to enhance the patient experience via ‘smart clinics’
COVID-19 has accelerated the need for businesses of all kinds to embrace digital technology. While the aesthetics profession was already equipped with many clever and high-tech devices, the events of recent months have magnified the opportunity for clinics to embrace all things ‘smart’ throughout the entire patient experience to help reduce physical contact.
As an industry which is so reliant on close physical proximity between the practitioner and the patient, aesthetic professionals have not had the easiest task of tackling COVID-19. In order to maintain strict adherence to social distancing measures and hygiene standards, clinics have been forced to operate at reduced capacity; either limiting length of appointments or number of sessions per day. As clinicians fight to remain commercially sustainable, implementing the right technology has become a necessity.
Smart businesses are those that can effectively adopt emerging technologies to drive forward their business strategy and achieve operational excellence.1 This article will explore some of the types of devices and technologies you can adopt in your practice to help enhance the patient experience and reduce physical contact in this COVID-19 era and beyond.
Many patient journeys begin with a Google search, which is where investing in a good website bodes well. Introducing ‘smart’ features such as live chats and contact forms can boost online rankings and search optimisation, while improving your patient’s initial impression of the brand.
Adding internet ‘bots’ (software that runs automated tasks) to your website immediately streamlines the online experience, allowing potential patients to ask questions, engage with the brand and book automatically without leaving the page.2 Alongside this, with FAQs and popular enquiries actioned by this feature, clinicians can save valuable time which would have previously been spent compiling responses via email. Chatbots have been shown to produce three times the conversion rates of email marketing efforts,3 supporting brands to onboard new clients and recoup profits as they emerge from lockdown. What’s more, this technology is becoming more and more personalised, using customer search data behaviour to give accurate product recommendations, provide tailored advice, and ensure that the client gets the most out of their online experience.4
Once the patient has engaged with your business, technology can also be utilised to reduce the amount of time they are in your clinic. While many practices are familiar with established online booking and customer registration management (CRM) systems – and if yours is not, now is the time to start – it is possible for clinicians to take this one step further and carry out consultations, medical questionnaires, therapist introductions and payment options from the comfort of the patient’s home.
Digital applications can help to automate many of these processes. Clinicians can directly connect apps with their on-site booking systems to ensure that the process from the first point of contact to the consultation and then to arrival at the clinic is highly streamlined. Transferring patient questionnaires and introductions online removes many of the physical touchpoints associated with the ‘check in’ process – such as clipboards, pens and personal records cards – helping the clinician to maintain their COVID-19 safety protocols and prevent contamination between patients.
Tailored apps are also a great way of opening up a line of communication with the patient, giving them a platform to ask questions, adjust appointment times and meet their consultant virtually. By introducing push notifications – small clickable messages that appear at the top of the user’s screen – practitioners can easily update their patients on appointment changes, revised COVID-19 guidelines and upcoming sessions, without asking the patient to log into their account or check their emails. By unburdening the patient in this way, push notifications can help increase repeat visits, user engagement and re-engagement, over and above what can be achieved via a traditional website.5
All of these efforts can save your clinic valuable time. Less time spent on manual administrative tasks potentially means that appointment times can be shortened, allowing clinics to accept more bookings each day without compromising the patient experience.
While it can still sound like a futuristic concept, augmented reality (AR) is now very accessible within the health and beauty industry, with around 88% of medium-sized businesses implementing the tech in some capacity.6 AR is an interactive experience of a real-world environment. It layers digital elements onto the real world, typically through the camera on a smartphone, which is different from virtual reality, which offers a completely immersive experience separate from the physical world.7
Within the beauty industry, this kind of tech is typically applied to virtually ‘try on’ products before purchase – a feature which is growing in popularity due to the pandemic with the absence of physical testers. AR adds a new dimension to the ‘try before you by’ prophecy, allowing consumers to experiment with lipstick shades, hairstyles and even clothes. One popular AR app found that consumers were 1.6 times more likely to buy beauty products, spending around 2.7 times more money than those not using the app.8
AR can be harnessed by clinicians during the virtual consultation: to assess skin needs, signpost possible problems, and allow consumers to get a ‘first look’ at treatment outcomes before completion of a procedure. This can be a great alternative for practitioners to collect individual patient data, compared to traditional methods. In turn, the patient will feel more empowered entering their appointment, while the clinician is equipped with initial diagnostic information to help them guide the session.9
Many aesthetic professionals focus on the injectable treatments – dermal fillers and botulinum toxin – however, investing in technology and devices like lasers and radiofrequency can be a huge advantage. Such devices can have short, more frequent treatments over longer timeframes, transforming the patient’s skincare journey into an all-round lifestyle change, guided by the clinician in the long term. Different treatments can also be carried out with many of these technologies in the same treatment session, such as a laser hair removal treatment and laser resurfacing treatment, shortening waiting times and eliminating the need to book and attend multiple appointments.
At home-devices such as LED devices can also be utilised by the patient, further enhancing their skincare journey without the need to come into your clinic. These types of devices usually allow results and outcomes of treatments to appear immediately within a clinician’s databases and transfer directly to the patient’s app.
In addition to applying technology for the actual treatment, the rise in imaging devices for taking patient photographs and assessing their skin can also be utilised. This can be a great way to further enhance your patient’s journey and closely monitor their results.
The patient experience does not end when your patient has walked out the door. In fact, this is the opportunity to really solidify the positive relationships created in the treatment room with the help of technology, by checking in with patients post-appointment, discussing their specific aftercare needs, and ensuring that progress continues to be made right up until the next appointment.
Often, this is done by simply calling the patient. However, another way to do this is through using artificial intelligence (AI). AI, or machine learning, can offer an interactive and modern upgrade to the patient experience. AI has the ability to continually learn and improve, and can build up a comprehensive bank of information about individual consumers. By building this software into apps, aesthetic practitioners can harness AI to continue monitoring the patient’s progress at home and learn more about their outcomes. AI can also be used to create personalised regime trackers and monitor product use in real time. By gathering important data, clinicians can tailor their support to suit the needs of each individual, making for a more well-rounded and personalised experience.10
Fostering stronger relationships via technology allows practitioners to move towards educating their patients, empowering them with the knowledge to prevent issues reoccurring and reach their desired skin goals. This can be achieved by adding a ‘gamification’ element to apps using AI, whereby patients are ‘rewarded’ for taking positive steps in their skin journey, such as adhering to their recommended regime or applying their treatment a set amount of times, subsequently gaining a deeper knowledge on how best to cater for their skin’s needs. In this way, the clinician becomes a ‘life coach’ for the patient’s skin, moving beyond the once transactional relationship associated with one-off treatments.11
It should be noted that AI is a relatively new concept, and there could be limitations to its use. For example, it is unknown if there is potential for patient complications to be missed by the AI, so a focus on mitigating this risk would be needed before implementing into practice.
Embracing a range of technologies within clinics can not only move towards a superior standard of treatment, but allow for a more holistic patient experience within the clinic. While some of these technologies can sit at the higher end of clinician budgets, there is scope for these to be rolled out gradually to save costs. Taking steps to optimise your website by including links to social media channels, adding blog content and transferring brochures online, can be a great and cost-effective way to make your clinic smarter, without breaking the bank.
When implemented well, the benefits of tech extend far beyond COVID-19. Keep an open mind and consider how you can utilise new and upcoming technology to improve your practice. Try to embrace automation within clinics where you can to streamline the experience for patients, ensure increased consistency across practices, and help build and nurture long-term relationships.
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