We have been through many ups and downs in the medical aesthetics and health care markets over the years, including the 9/11 tragedy, the dotcom bust in the early 2000s, and the Great Recession following the 2008 housing market collapse. Each incident taught us profound lessons in preparation and perseverance and resulted in many new norms. The COVID-19 crisis is no different.

With today’s social distancing efforts, most people are staying at home and connecting virtually. To cope with this big life change, many people are looking for some sense of normalcy and seizing this time as an opportunity to research things on their personal wish list. That might involve managing a healthy skincare routine or considering a procedure or surgery. It’s an opportunity you’ll want to tap into, but to take advantage of it in today’s environment, you’ll have to know the best way to do a consultation remotely.

Create a Remote Consultation Plan

A virtual engagement may feel like uncharted territory for many practices, but it’s actually not new at all. Some of the top medical aesthetics practices have—out of necessity—been successfully conducting virtual consultations for a long time. As these top practices attracted out-of-town patients and concurrently reached scheduling capacity, they developed excellent and efficient processes for virtual patient engagements. Their efforts now serve as a guide for all practices in this evolving business climate. Below are some established key areas that you can focus your process efforts on to create an ideal remote engagement.

1. Marketing Engaging patients and inspiring them to try virtual consultations in this age of social distancing requires you to explore and perfect your message. You should focus on your unique service propositions and the benefits of a virtual consultation. For instance, you can highlight how a virtual consultation is like a house call. It provides an opportunity for patients to casually chat and explore a treatment plan designed to meet all their needs from the comfort of their own home. Once you know your message, promote it and tailor it to each patient touchpoint to make it most effective. Using the house call example, you can show “a patient” having a consultation in a house on Instagram versus writing about the casualness and ease of virtual consultations in an email. Regardless of the patient touchpoint used, be sure to include a call to action in your message, warmly inviting all to meet up with you in a virtual consultation.

2. Patient inquiry engagement One of the benefits of being “all in” with virtual communication is the ease it provides patients to contact your practice—on their terms. For that reason, it is important to remove all potential barriers to contacting your business across a myriad of patient touchpoints. This means regularly monitoring your various contact platforms (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, online chat app, phone, and email). Commit a highly trained individual (or two!) to engage with patients and answer their questions when inquiries appear on your platforms. Also, consider staggering practice personnel shifts over the day to accommodate patients who might not be available during the traditional 9-5 timeframe. Virtual staffing makes this possible. Lastly, create the perception of “instant booking” with widgets and links.

3. Telehealth policies and processes Before conducting any virtual consultations, create a telehealth policy or process that supports the best practices available at this time. Guidelines should state:

• Consultations are not to occur on a public forum, but rather through a “non-public facing” communication platform, e.g., Apple FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype. (The Office for Civil Rights’ waiver does not cover public-facing tools such as Facebook Live, Twitch, and TikTok.)

Review telehealth guidelines published by The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at cms.gov/About-CMS/Agency-Information/Emergency/EPRO/Current-Emergencies/Current-Emergencies-page to help craft your policies and procedures. Here you will find useful and recent—but temporary—telehealth rule relaxations for providing care to patients during this time.

4. Pre-consultation engagement In the medical aesthetic environment, it is common to offer patients an initial virtual consultation with a patient care coordinator or cosmetic concierge. This provides patients the one-on-one time and personal attention they crave with an individual who has strong product and service knowledge without taking up the provider’s valuable time. In this session, the cosmetic coordinator should learn what patients hope to achieve and how the provider can offer desired results by asking the following questions:

  • How did you hear about us?
  • Why did you want to reach out to us?
  • What procedure(s) interest you?
  • Can you tell me a little about your research on that procedure?
  • What are your expectations for this treatment?
  • How would you describe your ideal look? (Encourage them to submit or show you photos. This question might present an opportunity to promote a retail product in stock, helping the practice to generate short-term revenue and patients with their skincare goals.)
  • What is your ideal timeframe for treatment?
  • Is anyone else helping you make this decision? (If so, encourage that person to be present at the provider consultation.)
  • Have you established a budget? Would you be interested in financing? (This opens the pricing conversation.)

The coordinator should also use this time to help prepare patients for the provider consultation by discussing with patients how to set up their space to ensure a quality consultation, walking through what the prospective patient can expect in the consultation, and answering any additional questions the individual might have. During this discussion, coordinators should highlight the credentials of the provider and themselves—e.g., years of experience, special education in a certain area, and patient feedback—as all this information will provide emotional reassurance to patients.

A virtual pre-consultation call is sometimes considered a “dry run” for a provider consultation, but it actually has tremendous value for patients and enhances patient engagement for the practice. Pre-consultations allow coordinators to troubleshoot all patient questions and resolve any concerns, while also giving patients the time and space to think about important decisions. That puts the patient further along in the decision-making process when the provider consultation occurs.

5. Consultation A truly excellent virtual consultation depends on how well your team has set up the provider. As the provider, you will need your team to properly prepare for, conduct, and follow up on the consultation. Below is a checklist to help you create a positive outcome for both the patient and practice.

Pre-consultation checklist

  • Review patient notes, photos, and medical history, and speak with the staff member who initially spoke to the patient to understand the patient’s concerns and goals.
  • Sign into your video conferencing service or patient portal at least five to 10 minutes before the consultation to ensure you are present when your patient appears.

Consultation checklist

  • Check the technology to make sure it is working properly when your patient joins by asking if the patient can hear and see you.
  • Introduce yourself and inform the patient that you have reviewed notes from the virtual pre-consultation.
  • Ask the patient to confirm what you know. Based on the patient’s answers, offer the options that best suit stated needs.
  • Outline a recommended treatment plan. Use this time to answer the patient’s questions and concerns. A best practice is to have a chaperone who also takes notes for surgical consultations.
  • Cover pricing and payment options for the desired service. If an estimate needs to be prepared, explain how the patient will receive the estimate and discuss next steps. Since the pricing conversation was discussed during the pre-consultation, there shouldn’t be too many surprises.
  • Offer to schedule a date for service to get it in the pipeline.
  • If you and the patient agree on a date for the service based on the practice’s anticipated reopen date, tell the patient to expect a follow-up email confirming the service and providing next-step instructions.
  • If the patient isn’t ready to move forward, thank the patient for joining you and outline what will happen next. This includes scheduling a follow-up phone appointment to answer any additional questions that come up after the consultation in an effort to schedule a date for service.
  • Thank the patient for choosing you and the practice.

6. Post-consultation follow-up Conduct any follow-up mentioned during the consultation, whether it’s a service confirmation email or a phone appointment. If you were unable to schedule a specific service date with the patient, send a follow-up email or thank you note. Include a brief experience survey to help identify any best practices or areas of improvement to further refine your virtual consultations.

Find Success with the New Norm

COVID-19 has forced all businesses to consider how to reach potential patients while practicing social distancing. Successful practices will be the ones who adapt and flex to the new remote business environment. Be among the successful practices by embracing and conducting excellent virtual consultations. This will not only help your practice to persevere today but be prepared for new digital business norms after the crisis.