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Shopping for an MD

By: Brian Coughlan
Posted: June 23, 2008, from the May 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Echoing Preston’s take on things, Paul Grenauer, owner of Excuria Salon and Spa in Williamsville, New York, asserts, “There is a large section of the population who finds a spa much more customer service-oriented than a doctor’s office.” In fact, although he credits physicians with pioneering much of what is new in nonsurgical skin care treatments, he views the spa owner as the one who is offering big opportunities to the physician. And it is not just the chance to escape health insurance reimbursement issues. The way Grenauer sees it, any physician stands to quickly increase their visibility with prospective patients because a busy spa can have more than 100 clients coming through the door daily.

He has chosen to be an independent contractor and employs a medical director. Grenauer’s physician is a dermatologic surgeon who works two nights a week and by appointment only. According to Grenauer, “The arrangement really has been quite easy, almost like having another stylist on staff—just with a much higher service total.” As to the issue of competing with medical offices, this successful spa owner says flatly, “Our clients constantly say that they only want to see the doctor in our setting and not in a medical setting.”

The right stuff

Finding just the right physician—one with outstanding medical and patient service skills who also is compatible with the spa owner—often leads to an individual with whom the owner already is acquainted. For example, the doctor who is serving as the medical director at Grenauer’s business has his office nearby and is a client of the spa. The relationship has developed to the point that the physician even provides some training for the spa’s estheticians, and is available in his office for concerned spa clients with skin problems or for consultations to schedule cosmetic surgery.

At Yon-Ka Signature Day Spa in Carmel, California, owners Chantal and Philippe Tourtin are working with several physicians, as well as a registered nurse who also is a licensed esthetician. The Tourtins knew them all through having clients in common and providing mutual referrals. Although they spent a year interviewing, the couple finally chose the medical professionals they had worked with in the past, because they were well acquainted with their high-quality work and reputations.

Although some consultants recommend conducting surveys or focus groups with clients to discover what advanced medical services to consider offering, Chantal didn’t feel the need. “I have been listening to my clients for years. They ask me if a particular procedure would be right for them and what it might cost,” the European-trained esthetician says. She adds that it has long been her policy within her practice to keep up with the work of local physicians in order to make referrals for clients who regularly seek her advice about their skin. Attending conferences for cosmetic plastic surgeons and dermatologists helps her to keep up with developments in the field. Already secure in the role of longtime skin care adviser to her clients, Chantal is working to design facial cosmetic surgery packages to give clients one-stop shopping at her spa.

Mutually beneficial