Pampered Patients, Loyal Patients

Pampering ancillaries build loyalty and revenue

Patients sitting in their physician's waiting room may very well be the ultimate captive audience. Their thoughts wander, their time unspoken for as they stare at the wall or flip through a magazine that doesn't hold their interest.

Add a babbling Zen fountain to that waiting room and pretty soon your captive audience will be fantasizing about relaxation, self-improvement -- perhaps even getting a deep-cleansing facial.

Then, right on cue, they see the brochures you've propped up next to the fountain: "We offer facials! Make an appointment today."

Since installing a new aesthetics center (and a babbling fountain) a year ago, patients at Orange Coast Women's Medical Group in California have made a beeline for the appointment book, signing up for such self-indulgent treats as micro-dermabrasion, glycolic peels, deep-cleansing facials, and eyebrow waxing.

And those treatments might just be the perfect complement to a visit to the gynecologist, says Sharon Dupree, office administrator for the 12-physician practice. "Hey, as long as they're here, why not have some fun stuff done?" she muses.

Orange Coast decided to add the cosmetic component when they noticed Southern California women making a mad dash to local spas. The practice already had a steady stream of women coming through their door, so they took a leap of faith that their patients would be much more comfortable getting spa treatments from people who had been hired by their trusted doctor.

The gamble paid off. The 400-square-foot atmospheric spa is bustling, and the appointment book at the practice's new aesthetics center is frequently full, says Dupree. Clients are treated to medical-grade products that regular spas can't offer, and satisfaction is high.

Coast-to-coast trend

On the other side of the country, the story is similar. The 11-physician Center for Women's Health in Waterbury, Conn., began offering laser hair removal to its patients, and the full-time nurse assigned to that part of the practice is running around like mad, says Sue Niesobecki, practice manager.

It's not so much about cash as creating loyalty among patients. According to Mark S. DeFrancesco, the center's lead physician, offering cosmetic services to patients only accounts for about 1 percent of the practice's annual revenue.

"We offer [it] because it is perceived as a service and a differentiator," DeFrancesco says. Focus groups revealed that the practice's patients wanted their OB/GYNs to become a one-stop-shop.

"They told us they wanted these types of procedures, they wanted them done in privacy, they wanted to be sure the products were well-tested, and that the people doing the procedures had good credentials," recalls Niesobecki.

To make it work, all agree that marketing is key. The Center for Women's Health advertises its new services on the radio and in a local women's magazine, says Dupree. And of course there are those all-important brochures in the waiting room next to the babbling fountain.

Orange Coast slips brochures into the mail along with patients' semi-annual appointment reminders, gently suggesting patients come in when they have time for two appointments. The practice also treats employees to the procedure of their choice so that they can honestly and heartily recommend services to patients. And in each examining room, an idle computer screen flashes a cheerful screensaver message touting -- what else? -- the soothing treats available in the aesthetics center.

"That's pretty hard to miss," Dupree laughs, adding that the pregnant women tend to be the easiest sell, with their hormone-inspired skin problems and instant-gratification tendencies.

What's next? Both Dupree and Niesobecki will continue to pay close attention to the next "new thing" women will seek out for relaxation.

"Oh, we'll be doing this for a long time," says Dupree, New Age music gently tinkling in the background. "Everybody's pushing youth -- especially in Southern California."

Suz Redfearn can be reached via 

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2002 issue of Physicians Practice.