Consumer engagement is the new buzzword that has leaped from the medical world into the global aesthetic-enhancement marketplace.

The reason for this is simple. A well-informed, engaged consumer is ready and eager to make an aesthetic-procedure decision. This consumer is ready to spend cash to receive the latest procedures and medical-spa services that are fast becoming the mainstay of the Baby Boomer and post-Baby Boomer generations.

At the core of consumer engagement is the need for excellent decision-support tools. According to the Center for Healthcare Strategy, “Health care is steadily moving toward a system of care designed to support an ‘engaged consumer.’ Well-informed, engaged consumers can potentially drive improvement both in their own health status and in the health care system through the choices they make.”

A Strategic Approach

This same form of patient engagement is fueling the need for a strategic approach to providing the educational material consumers need to make the best-informed choices for their aesthetic and medical-spa services. The functions served by these tools, according to the California Healthcare Foundation (, include framing the decision context for the consumer, providing essential data and background information, clarifying a patient’s values, and providing structured guidance through the decision-making process.

Formats can range widely. They can include print publications, videos, CD-ROMs, audio-guided workbooks and Web sites, and access to patient advocates.

Perhaps you have relegated this portion of your practice to your administrative or marketing teams. Please know that this is far more than simply producing a slick marketing promotion piece. There is immense strategy that must be created before the concept and design of your materials begin.

You must also link your educational materials to your current customers and tailor them to meet their needs. This includes creating materials that adjust according to the needs and preferences of those who will use them—for example, materials that take into account potential language barriers and literacy levels.

George Lefkovits, MD, FACS, a New York City-based board-certified plastic surgeon, reminds us that, “Our services are appealing to an Internet-savvy consumer base that does their homework by spending time on the information highway. With just a few clicks on their keyboard, these engaged consumers are well-versed on the options available to them.

“Be sure to capitalize on these new-breed educated consumers,” he adds. “Build on the information that has drawn them to your practice by providing the right information to support their decision process. This will turn a consult into a booked appointment—and hopefully begin a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with your practice.”

What follows is a menu of educational tools that will help you become a valued educator in your field of expertise. These tools are just the beginning. How you use them, and how you create a consumer-engagement environment in your practice, will determine your success. Remember that even the best tools still require a user guide and great ongoing customer-service support.


A great way to help your marketplace become familiar with your practice and its diverse services is to offer an ongoing educational seminar program. You have a chance to showcase your unique offerings while providing an important community service.

These seminars can be topic specific and should closely align with the services you provide. These may include age management, aging skin, men’s concerns, women and menopause, ethnic skin, and teenage skin care.

Conduct these seminars or lectures at your own office, or at local venues such as learning annexes, charity events, or corporate health fairs. Consider using these events as a marketing tool for your practice offerings. You might want to offer your potential patients value-added or discounted services to encourage them to attend.

Because you will offer these seminars at no charge to the public, you should send out a press release 3 weeks before the event to the local newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. When an event is free, you have created an earned media opportunity. This means that the local media may include your event in their weekly calendars of events or may even send reporters to cover it.

In addition to focusing on the patient, you may want to consider that referring physicians are also potential consumers who need to be engaged in your services. Consider staging educational seminars for your potential referring physician base.

You might consider holding the event one evening as a dinner conference to network locally with referring physicians. Consider approaching a vendor who may underwrite the costs and participate in various components of your seminar. It may assist by providing invitations, staging demonstrations, and providing education about its newest technologies and procedures.

The Office: Your Calling Card

What are you doing to educate your patients once they enter your office? Please stop thinking that those brochures provided by the various drug manufacturers, technology companies, and device makers constitute all the education that your patients need and deserve. While they are nice to have, what do they say about you, your practice, your talents, and your unique service offerings?

Marcy L. Street, MD, medical director of Doctor’s Approach Dermatology Laser Center and Medspa in East Lansing, Mich, says, “A sincere smile and a confident hello is the easiest, most important, and ‘free’ service that greets our patients when they enter our office. Displaying genuine interest in each patient as they come in lets the patient know that this is a practice that will care about them throughout their treatment or procedure. At our practice, client engagement starts at the door!”

A great approach to understanding the limitations of your present consumer-engagement educational program is to start at the front door. Take a virtual tour of your office right now. What is the first thing a patient sees? What is the first thing he or she hears? Would you want to stay?

Think about the educational process from the moment a patient walks through your waiting-room entry, through the follow-up phone call that your office staff makes to ensure that all the patient’s questions were completely answered.

Some successful strategies for office education include creating a CD-ROM library so that patients can find what they are interested in knowing more about and either popping the CD into a player you make available, or being allowed the luxury of taking it home to view at their leisure and in the privacy of their own homes. If you do this, be sure that all of your contact information is clearly labeled.

Publications and Video

If you have recently published articles in medical journals or trade magazines, be sure to place them in professional frames and post them on the waiting-room walls within easy view. In addition, you may use a DVD to create a continuous loop of media interviews you recently conducted. A word of caution: If the only media interviews you have are more than 5 years old, skip this because it dates you and your service offerings.

Sharp practice entrepreneurs are using flat-screen televisions to create an educational environment in the waiting room and private holding areas. Here, the physician controls the educational process by providing a preconsultation and discussing all the procedures offered by the practice.

Another approach that is starting to show promise is making a computer available in the waiting room so that patients can do research as they wait. You can provide patients with a list of Web sites that you believe will begin their educational process.

Consider creating an audio-guided workbook that patients can use while in the waiting room. You can tailor it for each patient or even have his or her name printed on it before he or she arrives. Imagine your patients’ surprise when they see that you have taken the time to treat them with a great deal of enthusiasm, respect, and professionalism.

Please do not overlook the value of a well-written patient-education brochure. Be sure to send each patient home with your customized brochure to remind them about your practice’s unique offerings. This winning marketing piece should be your must-have promotional item and serve as the central “star” in your educational materials arsenal. Be sure to update it frequently to reflect your growing array of medical and spa services.

Finally, consider adding retail space to display the skin care products that you recommend to your patients. Testers that provide hands-on experience and product brochures should be plentiful. This will help set the stage for a discussion at the conclusion of the patient’s visit—a time when many patients ask the physician for skin care regimen advice.

Popular Educational Media

There is a plethora of marketing communication materials that will make a huge impact on creating consumer engagement. Here are just a few.

  • Direct mail. Consistent and frequent mailings are a fabulous way to educate your existing patient database. Whether you are informing them about a new procedure or sending a friendly reminder for an existing procedure, postcard mailings are one of the most cost-efficient ways of speaking directly to your patients.
    A professionally designed procedure postcard can be the final touch that brings patients to your office for treatments. Successful direct mail pieces are easy to read, uncluttered, and use vibrant colors to stand out from other marketing pieces.
  • Quarterly e-mail updates. E-mail marketing can be divided into two groups: unsolicited and solicited. Unsolicited e-mail, more widely known as spam, is simply nuisance mail and a huge burden on all Internet users. Solicited e-mail, on the other hand, is an acceptable and proven marketing tool, and it involves sending e-mail to customers who have signed up to receive e-mail from you.

Sending regular e-mails is an effective way to keep your clients up-to-date about what is new and to keep your practice uppermost in their minds. Your e-mail, which should look like your Web site and thus be in keeping with your brand, can be sent in HTML format.

In addition, companies offer templates used to cut and paste existing content to easily customize an online newsletter for your practice. One staff member should be assigned to ensure that the newsletter is consistently distributed in a timely manner.

  • A great Web site. Creating and maintaining a Web site is certainly important, but having one that is concise and informative will encourage repeat visits because it is all too easy for a patient to forget to regularly visit it. Also, an “ask the doctor” e-mail box should be offered on the Web site.

Someone should be assigned to answer these questions on a daily basis. Once per month, have a live “ask the doctor” chat forum online. Here, specific topics to educate patients are discussed.

The Web site must also be updated regularly. New procedures and technologies should be mentioned, before-and-after pictures should be displayed, and educational articles and information should be posted.

  • Podcasts and Vodcasts—audio or video files distributed over the Internet for playback on portable media players and personal computers—can also be an incredibly useful tool. In using this growing technology, your practice will take a big step toward the evolution of on-demand aesthetic medical information delivery, making it accessible, informative, useful, and appealing. Each Podcast can cover a topic or feature a Q&A with the surgeon.
  • Webinars. Create live, topic-specific Webinars on a regular basis. Webinars are just like conference room–based seminars; however, participants view the presentation through their Web browsers and listen to the audio through their telephones. Unlike a Webcast in which the data transmission is one way and does not allow interaction between the presenter and the audience, a key feature of a Webinar is its interactive elements—the ability to give, receive, and discuss information.
  • Blogs have become the new “coffee klatch” or “water cooler” destination for sharing information and have become a boon to sharing health care and lifestyle information. Consider starting your own blog to educate your patient base about new technologies and procedures.

One More Step

Now that you have a better understanding about the importance of decision-support tools to gain an engaged consumer, you have one more important step. You may need to create an expanded marketing budget to ensure that you can adequately fund this initiative.

In fact, not only do you need many of these tools, but you will also need to evaluate the effectiveness of your program. You will want to know many important factors and measure them at 6-month intervals. These may include an evaluation of where your patients are coming from (such as a Web site or seminar) to track your customer base. This is basic Marketing 101—and it is essential to your success.

This is the time to consider getting some professional help to implement and monitor this program. A consulting company that provides business services, including marketing and public relations, can help assess your operations and help assist you with developing and executing your plan of action. A consulting firm can also help allocate specific roles of staff members, because a specific staff member should oversee all of these activities.

Moreover, you will need to update regularly all of your educational materials. Patients want and need to know that you are on the cutting-edge of all the latest potential beauty-enhancement services and procedures, and this needs to be reflected in your educational outreach.

Finally, be sure that you have taken your patients’ special needs into account. Remember, they are just like you—they require respect and kindness. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he wrote, “The secret of education is respecting the pupil.” So ensure that all of your educational efforts respect the unique needs of your patient base.

See also “Seal the Deal” by Cheryl Whitman in the January 2007 issue of PSP.

Make sure that patients have educational tools available to them at the point that they are ready to make a decision. This is considered a “teachable moment,” and physicians should be ready and sensitive in their approach to provide the extra educational support that patients may need to make their own informed decisions. Make sure that the information is relevant, easy to understand, makes comparisons of appropriate options, and provides a clear explanation of complicated or technical terms.

The takeaway message of this article is clear. Education is not static—it is dynamic. In today’s hypercompetitive cosmetic aesthetic marketplace, education reigns supreme as the key to consumer engagement.

Cheryl Whitman is the founder and CEO of Beautiful Forever, where she spearheads a successful team of medical-spa consultants and business professionals. For more information, call (877) SPA-MEDI or go to