Mr Alex Karidis and clinic chief operations officer Deborah Vine share their experience using a clinic mobile app to help enhance the patient experience and boost business
Technology and healthcare go hand in hand so it’s no surprise that the cosmetic surgery and aesthetic clinics have entered the mobile app market. Apple introduced third-party web applications in 2007 and the first plastic surgery app was launched just two years later.1 According to communications company Ofcom, smartphone ownership reached 78% in 2018, and it is more prevalent in 16-24-year-olds where 95% own a smartphone.2,3 So, this market is likely to continue to grow as a younger, more appsavvy generation matures. There are valid concerns that many of these applications are trivialising cosmetic procedures, making a game out of what should instead be a serious matter, such as those that allow users to digitally enhance their looks. However, when used ethically and appropriately, this technology can enhance the patient-clinic relationship, as well as allow for opportunities for repeat business and referrals.
Issues with patient communication
A good surgeon, doctor, dentist, or nurse in medical aesthetics will ensure that their patients are fully informed and educated at every stage of their journey. It is not only a part of our duty as medical professionals but, as we know, this also makes for a better all-round experience for both the patient and practitioner. Yet, we are also well-aware that the consultation process, the run-up to the day of operation/medical aesthetic procedure and the immediate recovery period, can be an overwhelming time for patients, particularly in terms of the amount of information they have to process. In fact, we believe that one of the big stumbling blocks to a successful outcome that fulfils patient expectations is a breakdown in communication. This is not necessarily the fault of the patient or the practitioner, but can be driven by the amount of necessary medical information that needs to be conveyed in limited time settings. As a clinic, we can produce written information for patients, and we can offer them repeat consultations to ensure that they have absorbed all the necessary intelligence, but sometimes this process isn’t enough. Perhaps the patient immediately disregards the written information, reads it then forgets, or maybe it’s written in a way that is too hard for them to digest. As a result, the patient may not enjoy a comfortable or informed recovery as they otherwise could.
How an app can improve patient experience
In order to resolve this potential issue, we explored the concept of creating a clinic mobile app to improve patient experience and education. When we launched at the beginning of 2017 it had huge benefits to not only our patients, but our staff and business as a whole. There are several apps that aesthetic clinics use to enhance their patient experience. Many of these include features that act to complement a clinic’s website and have functions that enable patients to see a practice’s treatment menu, book appointments, view offers and see and add reviews, for example. However, most do not present patients with information on how they might feel at certain times in their treatment journey. So, we decided to take our app one step further. We designed it to have the ability to guide the patient through every stage of their treatment journey and provide that information in easily digestible chunks. This way, when all the information is explained in the consultation, they receive it again at a later date, when they need to know it. We initially focused the app on our most popular procedures – breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, surgical facelift, rhinoplasty and male breast reduction – with the intention of expanding it in the future to cover more procedures, including non-surgical procedures such as botulinum toxin and dermal fillers. In pure marketing terms, the app works as a micro website, providing much of the same content as our main website, but delivering
Friends and family can also download the app and receive the same information, so they are fully involved in the patient journey
it a unique and targeted way. It also supports brand awareness as we have worked hard to ensure the look, feel and message of the app is in line with our clinic branding and positioning. We established a clear timeline of each treatment and set up push notifications to alert the patient of relevant information sensitive to their procedure and date of surgery. They will receive notifications, outlining when to stop smoking or begin pre-op fasting for example, or advice on what they should be eating when they return home to support their recovery. They also receive alerts explaining what is and is not normal as part of their recovery so that they can recognise if there are any recovery issues or complications.
As a result of our app, patient reassurance is increased as the app has given us a more direct, personal way to communicate to patients, taking it out of the clinical setting and into the hands of the patient
We also let them know when to expect a phone call from our nurse – both pre- and post-op – and every member of our team has been involved with the development of the app to ensure patients have an extra helping hand. Our nurses and support staff were an invaluable resource when it came to devising practical advice; for example, a checklist of what to pack for your day of surgery is sent two days before the operation and, post-surgery, we focus on mood-boosting emotional support, right when they need it. As well as providing the basic information on the actual procedure, we wanted to take a holistic approach to enhance patient support. We therefore also provide motivational recovery support, nutritional and wellbeing tips from nutrition specialsts, life coaches and psychologists, and provide real patient experiences, so they feel much more prepared, both mentally and physically. Friends and family can also download the app and receive the same information, so they are fully involved in the patient journey. We find this is particularly important in the recovery period when they are providing aftercare support. As a result of our app, patient reassurance is increased as the app has given us a more direct, personal way to communicate to patients, taking it out of the clinical setting and into the hands of the patient. Patients often comment on their increased peace of mind throughout the process. The value to the patient is clear, but we also feel that the app has been of great benefit to the clinic and our team. It helps to manage patient expectations and keep them informed, which we feel contributes to a more optimal finished result and greater patient satisfaction, which is always our chief concern. Another benefit to the app is that it allows us to include questionnaires, which we can use to improve our service. The app also allows patients the opportunity to anonymously register how they are feeling, so we are able to collect data to enhance their experience.
We worked very closely with a development team to ensure we offered the most valuable app as possible, with up-to-date information. We wanted the app to be free for our patients and simple to download, and this was a huge consideration for us when we selected our developer. The app was not inexpensive to have developed, as it was the first of its kind in our industry in the UK and we somewhat needed to start from scratch. However, developing an app doesn’t come without considerations. Providing this service for patients was not a quick fix. Producing the content and making sure it was useful and worked effectively for our patients was a huge time commitment, involving input from all members of our clinic team and support staff. We also produced video content, as feedback we have received suggests that patients often find information conveyed by video easier to digest. Another consideration is data – we ensure that the app is entirely anonymous and it does not carry any identifiable patient data, so there is no risk of a GDPR breach. This also means it provides a safe space to share and interact. The hard work doesn’t end when the app is launched, as we have to constantly update information and make sure it’s correct and not misleading in any way. A patient journey app must be valuable and useful for patients or it’s not worth doing in our opinion, so unless you’re able to devote a lot of time to the development process, it might be worth exploring other methods of supporting your patients first.
The digital health revolution is transforming how patients access and interact with healthcare and although we don’t believe that technology should ever replace the human touch, it can certainly enhance the support we provide our patients. Done well, a patient journey app can not only benefit your patients but also profit your practice. Patients can, of course, choose not to use the app, but for those who wish to have the information at their fingertips when they are feeling that they need support, it is a strong tool to help provide a safe, caring, responsive, effective and well led approach to treatment.
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