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Ten recommendations for building and growing a cosmetic dermatology practice


 

AT MOAS 2022

– When Omar A. Ibrahimi, MD, PhD, opened his own cosmetic dermatology practice in Stamford, Conn., in 2012, he sensed that he had his work cut out for him.

“I was a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon who wanted to do aesthetics,” Dr. Ibrahimi, medical director of the Connecticut Skin Institute, recalled during the annual Masters of Aesthetics Symposium. “I was in a geographic area that was new to me. I didn’t know any referring doctors, but I started to network and tried to grow my practice.”

Someone once told him that the “three As” of being a medical specialist are “Available, Affable, and Ability,” so he applied that principle as he began to cultivate relationships with physicians in his geographic area. “I told my referring doctors, ‘If you’re kind enough to send me Mohs cases, I’ll help you out if there’s something you don’t like doing, whether it’s a nail biopsy or treating male genital warts,’” he said. “You want to make it easy for doctors to refer to you, but you also want to make their lives easier.”

Dr. Omar A. Ibrahimi, dermatologist,  Connecticut Skin Institute in Stamford, Conn.

Dr. Omar A. Ibrahimi

Dr. Ibrahimi, who is also on the board of directors for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, offered nine other recommendations for building and growing a cosmetic dermatology practice. They include:

Know yourself. Do what you love to do, not what you feel like you should do. “Whatever you’re doing in your practice, it should be something that you’re passionate about and excited about,” he said. “I do a mix of Mohs surgery and procedural aesthetic dermatology. Most of my practice is shaped toward energy-based devices and laser procedures. Pick the things that you enjoy doing and try to deliver good results.”

Know your patients. When dermatologists who plan to open their own practice ask Dr. Ibrahimi what kind of laser they should buy, he typically responds by asking them to consider what procedures their patients are asking for. “Depending on where you are geographically and the economic profile of the community in which you practice, it can be a different answer,” Dr. Ibrahimi said. “If you practice in the Northeast and do a lot of medical dermatology, it might mean getting a vascular laser to treat rosacea. If you’re in Southern California, treating pigment might be a bigger concern than treating rosacea.” The annual ASDS Survey on Dermatologic Procedures provides a snapshot of trends and can be useful for decision-making, he said.

Know your practice. “Make sure you are capable of entering the aesthetics field,” he advised. “You cannot have a practice that runs like the DMV, with people waiting 30 to 40 minutes to be seen.” Proper training of staff is also key and representatives from device and injectable companies can provide advice and support. As for marketing, some dermatologists hire a public relations agency, but Dr. Ibrahimi finds that the best source of his referrals is word of mouth. “If I do a good job taking care of patients, they will send their friends and family over to me, but social media is also important,” he said. Taking quality before-and-after photos, and obtaining consent from patients to use them online in educational posts is a good approach, he noted.

Know your market. When Dr. Ibrahimi first opened his practice, offering laser hair removal was not a priority because so many other dermatologists and medical spas in his area were already providing it. With time, though, he added laser hair removal to his menu of treatment offerings because “I knew that if my patients weren’t getting that service from me, they would be getting it from somewhere else,” he said. “Initially it wasn’t important for me, but as my practice matured, I wanted to make sure that I was comprehensive.”

Start cautiously. Think safety first. “I tell people that starting a cosmetic practice is like baseball: don’t try to hit home runs,” Dr. Ibrahimi said. “Just aim for base hits and keep your patients happy. Make sure you deliver safe, good results.” This means knowing everything possible about the devices used in the office, because if the use of a laser is delegated to a staff member and a problem arises, “you have to know everything about how that device works so that you can troubleshoot,” he said. “A lot of problems that arise are from lack of intimacy with your device.”

Seek knowledge. Attend courses in cosmetic dermatology and read literature from journals like Dermatologic Surgery and Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, he advised. “People will see the success, but they won’t know how much hard work it takes to get there,” he said. “You have to develop your reputation to develop the kind of practice that you want.”

Understand the business of aesthetics. Most energy devices carry a steep price tag, and leasing or financing devices come with a monthly payment, he said. “Make sure that what you’re bringing in on that device is going to be sufficient to cover the monthly payment. With something like tissue microcoring, you don’t have to use that five times a day to cover that lease payment. But if you have a vascular laser, you probably need to be treating more than a couple patients per day to make that lease payment. If you can recover the amount the device costs in about a year, that’s going to be a good investment. Many devices come with consumables, so you have to remember that.”

Don’t be afraid to be unique/change directions. Becoming an early adopter of new technologies and procedures can make someone stand out. “Other providers feel more comfortable waiting to allow more data to come out about a new technology before they make a purchase,” he said. “But if you’re established and have a busy practice, that’s an opportunity that can draw people in.”

Have patience and realistic expectations. It’s smart to offer a variety of services, he said, such as medical or surgical dermatology in addition to cosmetic dermatology. “That’s going to help you through any kind of economic downturn,” he said. “Success depends on a lot of factors going right. Make sure you set short- and long-term goals.”

Dr. Ibrahimi disclosed that he is a member of the Advisory Board for Accure Acne, AbbVie, Cutera, Lutronic, Blueberry Therapeutics, Cytrellis, and Quthero. He also holds stock in many device and pharmaceutical companies.

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