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Real Advice on Growth from Joel Schlessinger MD, FAAD, FAACS Part 1

What has been the greatest difficulty you’ve come across in starting and maintaining your own dermatology practice and in the business of skin care?

What about practice growth?

The greatest difficulty remains the ongoing challenge to find team members who share the same vision. It is so difficult to determine who will come on and be a productive and integrated team member. While every job interview, save a very small number of applicants, declares they are interested and they will be a model employee, it is impossible to know who is serious and honest about it.

I have found that there isn’t any foolproof way to screen in or out candidates, but over the past 22 years of practice I am doing better in predicting success by the way that candidates interact with my staff. We invest so much time in training staff on the procedures and the methods of treating our patients that it is devastating when it doesn’t work out, so we generally have candidates hang out with us for a while, whether that is during the interview process or after the main interview (especially in the case of nurses).

When they are in the office for a prolonged period of time it is common for them to be a little more ‘familiar’ over time and we will often see a different side of them. Their guard is let down and the natural tendencies surface. This may be evidenced by either showing disinterest or treating staff with indifference or it will be the ongoing excellent demeanor they showed during the initial interview.

Lastly, it is essential to get staff’s views of these candidates.

If the staff loves them, then half the battle is done. Generally, the staff chooses the best candidate and friendships will blossom if there is a mutual respect. With friendships there will be a ‘sticky’ quality of the relationship and better work output because these new employees are not just working, but helping out their ‘friends’ in the office.

How do you acquire new patients?

New patient acquisition is a process that depends heavily on which stage you are in as a practitioner. For the novice who is finding their first patients it can be as easy as placing an ad in the newspaper or on TV. For both novices and established practices, Google and Bing provide instant recognition and a ‘level playing field’ for ads.

Additional considerations might include whether you are in a solo practice or joining a group. There are always going to be concerns as to whether the new practice is helping enough when promoting the new partner. But standard and expected outreach might include a letter or card to their entire base of patients and an introduction to doctors in the town/area.

The dynamics of referrals are changing and have been changing for many years. And it is now more likely that your patients will find you via Google or other ads than a strict referral from an existing doctor. That doesn’t mean that in certain situations it isn’t a good idea to form relationships that can be helpful. Additionally, it is quite possible that in certain, smaller, areas doctor referrals are essential for success.

Whatever practice model you are in, good customer service is a tried and true method to engender more business in the future. This translates to a keen eye on not only your direct patient contact but the contacts of your staff, whether they are at the front desk or in the room with you. Phone contacts (switchboard and after-hours contacts) also are imperative to the success of your practice.

For this reason, it is essential to ‘secret shop’ your practice. This can be done easily by having a family member or friend call as a prospective new patient and ask about seeing you. Find out if an appointment is offered quickly or if there is any resistance. You may be very surprised at the answers and information given.

Once you have an idea of how your staff is promoting you, education is key. If you see deficiencies in their training and have the ability (solo practice/owned practice), work with them to make sure they are your advocate and a good representative for you. If necessary, tell them that you will be secret shopping them in the future. And encourage questions or new ideas from them on how to make the experience best for new patients.

Whatever the case, remember that this is a journey. You won’t see success immediately and will always (and I mean this) have areas where improvements can occur. Enjoy your accomplishments but remember that it is very easy for staff to slip back to a less proficient and easier level of promotion/customer service.

Good luck on your educational pursuits and feel free to reach out if you have any questions at [email protected]!