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Quality service boosts dermatology practices during recession

National report — The recession is reminding dermatologists about the importance of excellent service, savvy marketing and a personal touch, experts say. They share these lessons:

  • Market internally. Howard Murad, M.D., an El Segundo, Calif., private practitioner, says that early this year, his three-physician practice held an open house, which drew about 80 attendees, including local physicians. Six new patients booked procedures.
  • Embrace the Web. Many dermatologists have not yet grasped the importance of Web site development and search engine optimization (SEO), says Andrew Eriksen, executive director, Physician Practice Specialists.

"Any practice spending more on Yellow Pages ads than SEO or Web development is going down the wrong path," he says.

  • Meet and greet. "Before you throw money at high-priced advertising," says Mark Cheiken, D.O., a Palm Coast, Fla., private practitioner, "get out there in the community.

"I've always found that the best return comes from meeting people personally."

  • Forge a bond. "You've got to be good with your patients. To keep those patients from going to other dermatologists and/or primary care physicians, you must establish that bond," says Stephen D'Addario, M.D., a Dublin, Ohio, private practitioner.
  • Prioritize customer service. "No one should ever call into a doctor's office and get a busy signal," Mr. Eriksen says.
  • Create convenience. Offer evening and Saturday hours, experts say, and track key access indicators.
  • Shop around. Dr. D'Addario says switching suppliers of incidentals such as gauze and sutures has saved his practice 5 percent to 25 percent, without compromising quality.

Using confocal imaging (or reflectance confocal microscopy, RCM), the VivaScope (Lucid) is proving to be a useful tool in the differentiation and diagnosis of cutaneous lesions.

Because dog-ears behave predictably, physicians can use a structured algorithm to prevent, minimize and repair them when necessary, the algorithm's developer says.

When treating patients with undiagnosed eating disorders, early recognition of dermatologic signs improves prognosis and helps dermatologists avoid æsthetic treatments intended to address such patients' unrealistic perceptions, according to an expert.

While common allergens cause most contact dermatitis in women, finding the sources of these allergens often demands detective work, an expert says.

Some time ago, I wrote an editorial in this magazine describing my early experience with the use of an electronic medical record. In the article, I indicated that this technology was a valuable addition to the medical office, but there was a fairly steep learning curve and some difficulties in creating a coherent and understandable document. After three years of using an EMR, much of what I said before remains valid.