Syms, a national clothing retailer and owner of Filene’s Basement, got it right when saying, "An educated consumer is our best customer." Plastic surgery practices that apply this mantra and have established processes for patient education are on track to success. Furthermore, patients are taking an active role in learning—82% and 87% of patients consult the Internet beiore a visit with an aesthetic surgeon, according to Dana Fox, president of Your Strategic Edge, a medical marketing services firm in Edmonds, Wash.
Patients are more informed than ever, so now the challenge is to ensure that your potential patients have reliable and accurate information. Karen Zupko & Associates (KZA) recently surveyed plastic surgery practices about how they address the need for patient education.
When it comes to teaching patients, practices have traditionally relied upon face-to-face, in-office teaching. Typically, physicians and (sometimes) clinical staff orient patients to the world of procedures and injections. A recent KZA survey of 68 plastic surgery practices revealed that in 56% of practices surveyed the surgeon takes responsibility for educating patients on the nuances of surgical procedures. The remaining practices hold nurses responsible or take a team approach.
Many practices educate with a combination of staff members, digital technology, and paper materials. We can view these formats along a spectrum from most customized and expensive to generic and inexpensive. The majority of practices (66%) lean on society-prepared educational brochures. While these brochures come from a trustworthy source and are relatively affordable, standardized brochures do not distinguish your practice from others.
On the other end of the spectrum, 11% of the practices offer locally produced videos featuring the physician. Somewhere in the middle of the cost and customization spectrum is making your own PowerPoint presentation, which 5% of practices reported doing.
A PICTURE: WORTH A THOUSAND ANSWERS
Creating your own materials benefits you in that the materials are all about you and your practice. Patients will associate you with the procedure they want. However, depending on the format, writing and producing your own materials can cut into a physician’s free time and cause a dent in the budget.
Before featuring a physician on video, do a low-budget trial with a simple digital camera. Some doctors who have great rapport with patients can seem impersonal when on video. Other physicians speak too quickly when talking to patients because they have already explained the incisions of, say, a breast augmentation four times in the same afternoon, causing their patients to feel rushed through the consultation. For these fast-talking physicians, a prerecorded or animated procedure video can give patients the time they need to comprehend. Remember, when you create your own a video or other materials, you must be able to guarantee the accuracy.
Other practices look to professionally prepared, animation-based education for their patients. Our survey revealed that 49% of practices utilize an outside source for procedural animations. Forty-three percent of practices surveyed have videos on their Web sites. If you are resisting having a Web site or animation on your existing site, note that animation-based education is prevalent and is being used by your competitors.
More than half of the surveyed practices make use of videos whether in the office or online. Practices using videos in the office have chosen to show them in a variety of locations, such as on flat-screen monitors in the reception room (36%), the examination room (19%), or on personal DVD players (43%).
Well-regarded sources for plastic surgery animations used in practices include Understand.com, Candace Crowe Design, and Blausen Medical. These companies take different approaches to pricing, services, and products.
Understand.com (www.understand.com) offers the most customized product and largest library of animated plastic surgery procedures for the price. It offers animated videos covering various special-ties—55 animations about plastic surgery and 28 about dermatology—showing procedures in a step-by-step or play-through sequence. The videos incorporate your colors, name, and logo. Additionally, physicians can include personalized notes for each step of the procedure, as well as before-and-after photos of their own patients. A 1-year license for the entire customized animation module integrated into your Web site costs less than $1,800.
Understand.com offers a 15% discount for members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), which reviews Understand.com animation content for accuracy.
Benefits of Well-Done Patient Education
- Reduces a patient’s fear;
- Inspires confidence in the surgeon;
- Standardizes discussion;
- Sets realistic expectations;
- Improves compliance;
- Enables better planning for aftercare;
- Increases patient recognition of complications;
- Decreases the number of phone calls; and
- Lessens risk.
Candace Crowe Design (www.candace-crowe.com) specializes in artful design, distributing up-to-date content, and building the physician’s brand. The company offers videos designed to give procedural information on the Web, to calm patients in the waiting room, and to answer concerns during exam room times. Choose from 24 patient education video modules, which can be customized for your Web site for $1,675 per year. This license can be renewed each year for $1,200. The firm’s patient education materials are typically tied in with a suite of other services, including Web site design, take-home DVDs, and e-mail marketing campaigns.
Blausen Medical (www.blausen.com) has a large medical animation library and offers licensing for physicians to include the animations on their Web sites. Academic or research-oriented practices may want to consider Blausen Medical when pioneering a new technique and wanting an animation developed in 3D to showcase the procedure. For example, Discovery Health Channel uses Blausen Medical.
All of the companies above offer their content on CDs or DVDs so that patients can watch educational videos in your office. This approach enables a staff member to answer any questions right away. Patients can watch the video in 8 to 10 minutes, freeing up the staff briefly. When the staff returns at the end of the video, a patient’s questions can be answered right away. This approach reduces the amount of time a physician or nurse spends repeating the same general explanations. It also allows practitioners to focus on patient-specific questions.
FINDING THE RIGHT SOURCE
With the Internet, patients have tremendous access to medical information. However, they do not necessarily have the experience to differentiate between accurate and erroneous sites. One of the advantages of having information on your site is the assurance that your patients will look at procedure information you deem reliable.
Since the early days of the Internet, doctors have complained about patients bringing in printouts of Web materials of varying credibility. One solution, often included along with animation packages, is to have an organized printout of the steps of each procedure as is shown on your Web site. In this way, you can focus the discussion on relevant questions. This type of conversation fosters patient trust and enables patients to be fully informed when they sign the consent form.
Your practice benefits from being a source of trustworthy content. With professionally prepared materials, a practice can ensure that the same points are covered with each patient, making a standard curriculum of sorts, thus reducing the potential risk arising from accidental omissions of key information. KZA advises doctors on ways to save time and reduce risk, and using video animations on your Web site or within your practice achieves both of these goals.
Sheila Hall, MS, is a KZA writer and researcher specializing in the intersection of business and patient education to improve practice operations and patient health. She can be reached at www.karenzupko.com.
Karen Zupko is president of Karen Zupko & Associates Inc, a Chicago-based practice-management consulting and training birm.Shecanbeyeachfd at (312) 642-5616 or .