Plastic Surgery Virtual Consultations
As the world becomes more digital, plastic surgery virtual consultations become more mainstream.
It opens up new opportunities for plastic surgeons to embrace technology and new ways to connect with their prospective cosmetic patients through virtual consulting.
Why Plastic Surgery Virtual Consultations?
If you are getting (or want) more patient leads that stretch farther than your own neighborhood, you will need to set up a process to accommodate them.
For those patients really far from your office, it could be cost and time-prohibitive to visit once for a consultation and then schedule another visit for the surgery, so make it easier for prospective patients to get to you and your expert services virtually.
And, frankly, cosmetic patients (local and out-of-state) are getting more demanding and may not want to spend their time visiting you in person when they would prefer to meet you online first to see if there’s a fit.
Also, let’s remember what the plastic surgery consultation is all about…
Years ago, I interviewed a world-renowned facial plastic surgeon, E. Gaylon McCoullough, MD from Golf Stream, AL since patients fly in from around the world to his 5-star resort practice and this is what he told me:
“I asked the doctors who train with me, what is the objective of the consultation and most of them get it wrong. The main purpose of the consultation is to establish a relationship. Once you’ve done that, you won’t have to worry about the procedures, because the patient is comfortable and confident. They trust you. They know if there’s a problem, you are there to take care of them.”
The virtual consultation is one of those steps to building that relationship and trust.
Technology Limitations of Virtual Consultations
Keep in mind the technical skills of you, your staff and your patients. Not everybody is up to speed on the latest platforms, apps and technical ways to communicate.
For example, some practices have the patient email them photos and then do a FaceTime call with them; however, that’s got its limitations.
Not everyone uses an iphone (shocking, I know!) or has the tech savvy know-how to email their photos. And, the cell phone screen size is limiting.
You can also use Google Hangouts and Skype; however, the patient has to download the app and have an account set up so that’s an extra step and could confuse patients. And, if you make the patient feel stupid, that hurts your relationship before you even start so keep it simple!
Drawbacks of the Virtual Consultation
The biggest drawback to the virtual consultation is the loss of human contact.
Since you cannot look the patient in the eye with a virtual consultation, you cannot build trust and confidence like you can live.
In a virtual consultation, you cannot put your hands on the patient to help you bond with them and touch their particular concerns. You also cannot look them in the eye to determine who they are as a person.
And, cosmetic patients are not only drawn to you for your skill and cool website, but also your personal interaction skills.
The patient gets a sense of who you are as a surgeon by gauging how easy you are to communicate with and how genuinely interested and caring you are to their wants and needs.
How Do Plastic Surgeons Do Virtual Consultations?
Keep it simple!
Here is what I suggest:
Use a video conferencing platform like Zoom.us. They can record your call for future reference, and you can show your screen to the patient. For example, you can show other patients’ results or show your notes drawn on this patient’s photos.
Send the prospective patient an email asking them a few pertinent questions about their desires and health history and save the rest for later.
Let the patient take selfies and text their photos to your office cell phone. Most people know how to do that so make this as easy as possible.
For now, you are just trying to establish a connection with the prospective patient so you can start building a relationship with them.
Show them a graphic of how you want the photos taken. For example:
Have your coordinator do a pre-consult call with them to learn more about their health history and so on and send them a simple Zoom link they click on to join the online meeting.
Some practices have the coordinator meet with the surgeon first to review the photos and make an initial recommendation, along with a quote. That way, the patient is more qualified when they do get on a virtual consultation.
Or, when you have completed your virtual consultation with the patient, your coordinator can call them back to go over pricing and scheduling then.
Also, allocate enough time to the virtual patient so they don’t feel rushed. Tell them up front you have set aside 20 or 30 minutes for the call so they know you are willing to spend time to talk with them.
Be sure to preface your recommendations with statements such as, “Based on the photographs in front of me and our initial online meeting, here are my recommendations; however, I cannot/will not finalize my plan until I see you personally.”
Free or Charge for a Virtual Consultation?
You can offer free or charge the same consultation fee as your live consultation or offer a discounted fee. Test it to watch for no-shows and who ends up converting more often – those who paid a fee or those who did not.
Another way to look at it is you took as much time with the virtual as you did with the live consultation and you still have to perform a live consultation anyway, so these are double the usual time.
Do Virtual Consultations Convert?
Just like live consultations, it depends. As a general rule, if you charge a virtual consult fee and look/sound good online, your conversion rates should be above 60%.
But that also depends on your pricing and availability and how much you help these patients with logistics to make it easier for them to say yes.
Virtual consultations are helping to weed out patients are simply shopping around so you will most likely see less consults; however, those you do talk to are much more likely to book.
Frankly, the Internet gives you so much more exposure to prospective patients who would otherwise be reluctant to come in for a typical consultation, so virtual consults gives the patient a comfortable way to get to know you and your staff.
Most virtual patients come in a day or two before the scheduled surgery so they can meet you meet face-to-face so you can have a meeting-of-the-minds to determine the game plan and finalize things and save them the second trip.
Regarding the fee plan, after the virtual consult, they decide to move forward, you could have them put down ½ non-refundable payment to reserve the OR time and staff or have them pay in full before they arrive and then refund them ½ is it’s a no-go.
Just be sure the patient understands you always have final say-so in deciding if this virtual patient is a good candidate and if they have realistic expectations and that cannot be determined until you see the patient up close and personal.
The bottom line is virtual consultations are going mainstream for all sorts of reasons so please embrace it and work out a process with your staff to keep it easy, yet effective.
Need help setting up your own virtual consultation process? I’m happy to assist so leave me a message at www.CatherineMaley.com.
Catherine is a business/marketing consultant to plastic surgeons. She speaks at medical conferences all over the world on practice building, marketing and the business side of plastic surgery.