Purchasing equipment for your office can be a daunting experience. The booming industry of aesthetic medicine now offers equipment to analyze, tighten, computerize, clear, rejuvenate, remove, and enhance the face, body, and skin.

There are preoperative and postoperative treatments to prepare and repair the skin and body. And there is a dizzying array of equipment to make surgical and nonsurgical procedures faster, safer, cheaper, painless, and more effective.

To avoid buyer’s remorse, many variables need to be considered before making a purchasing decision. It is important to first determine if this equipment will deliver a service that your patients want or need. Then, you have to wade through the vendor presentations to determine who the best company is for you and who will support you during the installation, training, promotion, and maintenance of the technology.

Next, you need to figure out how you’re going to market it so that it doesn’t sit in the corner of your office collecting dust, which might have happened the last time you purchased equipment. And, of course, you need to ensure that your staff is on board and committed to helping you promote it to your patients.

Think It Through

Why are you considering this purchase? Before anything else, you should ask yourself, “Is this equipment purchase going to improve my bottom line?”

The only reason to purchase new equipment for your practice is to increase your revenues or decrease your overhead costs. Perhaps it’s a closing tool to help you sell procedures. Or maybe it’s a time-saver to replace older, slower equipment.

It could be that the latest equipment gives you a better result with less downtime. Whatever the reason, be sure it is substantial enough to justify the investment.

If you decide to bring in new equipment, the next question to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to commit to its success?”

Too many practices are initially excited about a new equipment purchase. They have a surge of enthusiasm. They tell their patients about it and have the procedure done themselves so that they have first-hand experience. They then passionately promote it to others.

However, as time goes by, the enthusiasm wanes, they talk less about it, and the equipment sits idle. It becomes an eyesore that reminds the physician they are losing money rather than gaining patients.

They then blame it on the salesperson who sold them a “bill of goods.” They vow never to be “duped” again and promise to do even more due diligence the next time they consider such a purchase.

To avoid this emotional turmoil, buyers must consider several different aspects of the purchase to ensure it is a worthwhile investment.

Things to Consider

Know what patients want. Today’s aesthetic patient is more demanding than ever. The Baby Boomers (and there are more than 76 million of them) are asking for a lot.

They want a painless treatment or procedure with little or no downtime that is fast, effective, and affordable. They also want proof of the severity of their problem—sun damage, for example—and they want to be assured they will get the result they expect.

They also want what they see on television and read in the beauty magazines. The media drives so much of the demand for aesthetic medicine that it’s a force that must be appreciated.

While you never want to “jump on the bandwagon” just because you saw something plugged on The Oprah Winfrey Show, you do want to use the media to your advantage. When the media creates the demand and drives your patients to your office to learn more, it’s important to be prepared with that solution or another one that you feel strongly about.

Tap into consumer awareness. Isn’t it great when patients are asking for a procedure or a piece of equipment by name, and you have it in your office, ready to go? The equipment is paying for itself and a lot more. It’s bringing in patients you haven’t seen for a while and increasing your referrals because your patients are telling others about it. While this does happen periodically, it isn’t happening nearly often enough.

It’s certainly helpful if the equipment vendor has put millions of dollars into a national consumer-awareness campaign. If your patients have already heard of the device through television shows or beauty magazines, they are already halfway there. The media has already educated them on what the technology does, including the risks and the benefits.

By now, patients are presold on the technology, so you don’t need to spend a great amount of time explaining the equipment’s functionality. Instead, you can spend your time discussing how this equipment specifically will help your patients with their personal concerns.

Since your patients will bring in articles or ask you questions about what they heard in the media, be sure you and your staff are up-to-date on what is in the news. You want to be well versed on the equipment’s pros and cons so that you can direct your patients to the best choice for them.

Hit the ground running. It’s always best to promote new equipment to your current patients. You have already built a relationship with them, so their trust level with you is high. They will be more open to the new possibilities for aesthetic enhancement that you present to them.

To help ensure this new equipment pays for itself right away, let your patients know that you are considering purchasing new equipment. Tell them about the benefits, and see if they would be interested. Add them to an ongoing contact list with the promise that you will alert them when you get the equipment and that they can be among the first to experience it.

This way, you will have a nice list of “low-hanging fruit” to take advantage of equipment the minute it enters your office. Patients will be excited to try something new, and you will enjoy a quick return on your investment.

It’s also very helpful if you and your staff experience the procedure or treatment yourselves. This way, you can tout the benefits you received to interested prospective patients.

Use equipment as an advertising tool. New equipment in your office makes for a good excuse to advertise. People are always interested in new developments. Because you are introducing something innovative to your practice, you stand out among the other advertisers because you are promoting your practice through education.

Your advertisement should include a strong headline using the words “new,” “introducing,” or “as seen in” so that the readers notice it and respond. Make sure your ad tells readers what the equipment is, what it does, and what its benefits are.

To ensure a good response from your ad, include an introductory offer for a limited time. This way, your audience knows there is a reason that you discounted the procedure, and there is a sense of urgency for them to act now rather than wait. You can also invite them into your practice for an informative seminar to learn more.

Be sure your receptionist is recording the responses you get from your advertisements. Have him or her collect contact information from every single caller so that you can keep in contact with all of them about this equipment as well as other services you offer.

Use equipment as a sales tool. It helps to be creative about the equipment you purchase. If you purchase a skin-analysis machine or a computer imaging system, use the equipment as a differentiator from your competitors who don’t offer these value-added services. This will give more value to your consultation because you and your staff are spending more time with the patient, and they are seeing the possible improvement they can expect.

These added steps also help lead to a successful close. When patients have invested a lot of time in your practice visiting with you and your staff and learning more about their skin concerns and possible solutions, they are more compelled to go through with the procedure or treatment offered; otherwise, they have just wasted their time (and yours).

If the equipment you purchased offers procedures or treatments to improve the skin, donate a gift certificate to a silent auction at an event in your community. Your item will be bid on by the attendees (prospective patients), and current patients may be in attendance to sing your praises as well. Be sure you get the bidder sign-in sheet at the end of the event so that you can contact all bidders to tell them that they either won or are entitled to a runner-up special offer.

Another creative idea is to offer a demonstration for your patients while they are in your office for something else. Tell them you just got this new equipment and are anxious for their feedback. Give them a sample of what the equipment is for and what it can do.

There’s no need to pressure them—just show them, and they will decide for themselves if they want more. Planting that seed will help them decide to experience it for themselves and refer their friends.

Educate Patients

There are a variety of effective ways to get the word out about your new equipment to your patients. Here are a few examples:

In-house signage. Most likely, the equipment vendor will provide an extensive marketing kit to go along with your purchase. While many practices never get around to opening it, there are many free tools in there at your disposal.

One overlooked item is usually the accompanying CDs. They are filled with patient introductory letters, advertisements, press releases, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Review these items and incorporate as many as you can into your practice. Use the counter displays, the patient brochures, the before-and-after photos, and the posters to ensure that every single patient who walks through your office knows that you offer this solution to their problem.

Direct-mail piece. This is a great opportunity to wake up dormant patients in your database. Every practice has patients they haven’t seen for a while or who came in for a consultation but never booked.

Send them a letter, a postcard, or a practice newsletter announcing the new equipment. Tell them about the benefits they will receive, and include a limited-time special offer so that they act immediately.

This is a wonderful way for an old patient to reconnect with your practice, as they might be embarrassed to resurface because it has been a while. Perhaps at the time, they weren’t yet ready for your services or they went to someone else and are uncomfortable contacting you again.

Make it easy for them to reestablish a relationship with you. Give them a reason and an invitation to reconnect with you. It could be worth thousands of dollars in revenue.

In-house seminars. Hold small, informative seminars in your office where patients can fit comfortably in your reception area. Send out an invitation and an

e-mail announcement to the segment of your database that would be interested. Display a sign-up sheet at the reception desk for new patients who might not have received your invitation.

Show a PowerPoint presentation with lots of before-and-after photos, and explain the new equipment and the benefits the attendees can receive. Allow plenty of time for questions and answers from the audience. If appropriate, demonstrate the equipment so that the attendees can see firsthand that what you say is true.

Have a patient in the audience who has experienced the treatment already and who can share personal thoughts and experiences with the other attendees. Have your staff on hand to book appointments, and offer an exclusive introductory price available only if patients purchase that evening.

Work with your equipment vendor on this event, as they are happy to support your efforts in promoting their products.

See also “The Ambulatory Surgery Center” by James P. Watson, MD, and Brian P. Dickinson, MD, in the September 2005 issue of PSP.

Open house. Have an annual open house, and invite your patients and their friends to your office for an evening of fun and education. Offer demonstrations, if appropriate, and let your equipment vendor help you promote to your patients.

They can tell your patients about the benefits of the equipment while you interact with the patients more informally. Again, you want to offer an exclusive special for only that evening and have staff on hand to book appointments.

There is much you can do to ensure your new equipment purchase is a profitable revenue stream for you. It takes your commitment, both psychologically and financially, to get the word out and keep your patients coming back for more.

Catherine Maley, MBA, is president and senior marketing strategist of Cosmetic Image Marketing in Sausalito, Calif. Her firm specializes in helping aesthetic practices grow using public relations, advertising, and strategic marketing. She can be reached at (877) 339-8833 or via her Web site, www.cosmeticimagemarketing.com.