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Spa, MD: Striking a Balance

By Paul Hester, MD
Posted: January 21, 2008, from the January 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Every company would like to take credit for building a rock-solid business plan and then realizing it with flawless execution. However, it is rare when business success follows the script of a plan exactly. So, how do you create an exceptional balance between medical and esthetics in a medical spa? The answer often becomes a decision driven by necessity.
     It is important to employ the concept of balance early in the planning stages in order to make your medical spa venture relevant to your target client. The initial business plan should combine the nonsurgical cosmetic strategies of preventive aging with innovative whole health programs in order to create a comprehensive medical solution for those who wish to age well. Following are important key factors to consider when thinking about opening a cash-based medical practice or healthy aging spa.

The ability to change
     If you can’t stand change, you may be in the wrong industry. Change is a rule for spa business innovators and entrepreneurs because savvy clients seek fresh products and services, and avoid those that have become stale.
 
     Synergy. Synergy is a concept that most have experienced at one time or another. It is the idea that the effect of several elements combined is even stronger than the sum of the elements offered separately. It may be the reason hot dogs taste better at the ball park or a symphony can reach through the ears and grasp the soul. When deciding to create a practice that could positively affect patients’ quality of life, try to observe several models. If you want to provide preventive-aging services, the challenge might be creating a spa menu that offers wellness medicine in a provocative way. You may notice that many clients are already seeking esthetic services to diminish the cosmetic effects of aging. It is important to listen and change.
     The best opportunity you have to improve your patients’ quality of life might be to help them not only feel better, but look better by attending to the external signs of aging and encouraging their need to be informed about their current risk of degenerative disease.
     For most people, looking good on the outside does not sustain a sense of high quality of life if you don’t feel good on the inside. Because of this, a comprehensive healthy aging program can be established to encompass issues such as hormone balancing, fitness, nutrition, restorative grooming and cosmetic enhancement. The synergy enjoyed by those pursuing great health and a healthy image is the hallmark of a preventive-aging medical spa. 

     Permission. In a perfect market, everyone above the age of 35 realizes the advantages of a preventive-aging practice—a business that offers the synergy of whole health and esthetic enhancement. But the perfect market can be tainted by an unforeseen level of discretion, as well as the concern of stigma. Some patients might be very happy with their results, excited that they have found a solution and completely modest about the origins of their rejuvenation when complimented by friends. Another segment of clients might enthusiastically grab your cosmetic brochures, scour your Web site, ask dozens of questions and then reluctantly conclude that, in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, “they could not, would not … Sam I am.”
     The hard sell usually isn’t the way to go; you want to make sure that your patients receive accurate information and can make informed decisions. Often, timid clients will ask questions about your health programs, and later reveal their true agenda for wrinkle relief and age spot removal. You need to listen and change. Your balance of services can change the mind-set for many of your patients and provide the permission they needed to indulge. As the number of clients in your healthy aging program grows, you can work to increase their awareness about nonsurgical cosmetic enhancement and offer a bridge to your esthetic services through a VIP program.
     For example, any member of your healthy aging program can join your VIP program for an annual fee and enjoy a preferred member discount on most cosmetic services. In this way, loyal patients and timid prospects alike are provided permission to explore esthetic services on their own terms. Customer apprehensions and guilt about indulging in medical spa services are soon replaced by enthusiasm for the chance to live better through medical science. This balance creates a positive experience and reproducible customer satisfaction.  

     Access. Consider adding focused consultations to your healthy aging programs. An all or nothing approach can seem too comprehensive or pricey for some clients to pursue. Focused consultations in hormone balancing, nutrition for weight control and fitness for longevity can provide user-friendly options to clients that improve the accessibility of your health program. As your patients enjoy symptom relief, improved vitality and decreased health risks, they are motivated to pursue their next level of health.

Constant focus and integrity
     Whether you define this constant as your vision, mission or purpose statement, it must be accessible to you with every decision you make. It needs to allow you to differentiate your business without deviating from your purpose. 
 
     Mission. As baby boomers in the United States continue to age, there is a growing awareness and need to provide solutions to help them live better longer. This is not just in the area of appearance, but in overall health, as well. Unlike the conventional approach of seeking medical servicesafter a problem develops, preventive-aging medicine encourages proactive intervention. Since the 1900s, the average age of the U.S. population has nearly doubled and the quality of life has not kept pace. Baby boomers are actively seeking means to stay healthy and productive throughout their entire adult lives.

    Medical spa integrity. For a spa to be deemed “medical,” there should be convincing evidence that service promises are based in science and are, in fact, delivered with the level of medical expertise that is advertised. It’s a simple idea that requires absolute commitment. The on-site physician should feel duty-bound to ensure that the patients have an extraordinary experience and achieve satisfying results in a safe environment. The physician’s on-site presence and active participation in service delivery affords the staff and the patients the confidence necessary for success. This balance of cutting-edge treatments and accountability is critical to the integrity of the developing medical spa industry.

Change, but stay the same
     The best balance is achieved by adopting a willingness to change without abandoning your core focus and business integrity. To optimize your service offerings, listen and make changes to benefit your clients. Your initial business concept of a cash-based healthy aging program very well can be strengthened by the addition of nonsurgical esthetic services. The public awareness and popularity of these no-downtime services draws clients in for beauty enhancement, providing the opportunity for them to learn more about their health. Conversely, clients drawn to your healthy aging programs can also enjoy exposure to your esthetic options in a nonthreatening way. With accurate information and a genuine physician relationship, patients can choose to participate in your VIP program, as well. Many who do not personally participate will not hesitate to recommend your services to friends.
     Stick to your original mission and maintain the integrity of your medical spa as a medical practice. Change without these constants in place can lead to chaos, lack of differentiation and, ultimately, the demise of your business. With a singular focus to guide you, your service offerings can survive necessary alterations without affecting the quality of your product. Regardless of a patient’s point of entry to your health and image programs, your client promise should remain the same.