The pros and cons of video consults for aesthetic medical professionals
Picture this... just a decade ago, if a patient wanted to see an aesthetic provider, they would have to make a phone call to the doctor's office, wait to speak to a staff member, be given an appointment for a couple of weeks later, then on the day of the appointment battle traffic, find parking, and sit in a packed waiting room before they could speak directly with the provider. Seeking an opinion from just one aesthetic provider used to be a half-day affair.
Now picture this... a patient whips out their smartphone and clicks on the MeTime app. They start a journey, indicating what they want to improve. They upload photos and fill in other basic details. They are contacted by top aesthetic providers nearby. They narrow it down to one provider and set up a video consultation. Or they chat with the doctor through the MeTime app, get answers to all their questions, as well as quotes for cosmetic treatments. They pay for the treatment securely through MeTime and go to the clinic on the day of the treatment appointment.
Thanks to modern technology and virtual consultations, appointments with a dermatologist, plastic surgeon, cosmetic dentist, or aesthetic provider are now increasingly done online.
But what do virtual consultation mean for aesthetic practices? What are the pros and cons? Keep reading to find out.
Pros and Cons of Virtual Consultations
1) Video consultations offer convenience, time saving, and cost saving.
2) Virtual consultations allow new patients to consult highly sought after plastic surgeons and later travel to get the surgical procedures done. An online consultation in such a scenario can save a patient hundreds of dollars in airfare, hotel costs, etc.
3) Post-operative patient care after a procedure can be accomplished through a virtual visit. Follow up after a procedure done virtually can save time for both doctors and patients.
4) Medical consultations done online can be beneficial for patients seeking a second opinion, revision surgery, or just the peace of mind of knowing that the information provided by one surgeon is confirmed by another surgeon.
5) Plastic surgeons can speak with the family member who will care for a patient after plastic surgery and provide information and instructions about health care post procedure.
6) Crowded waiting rooms are a no-no in times when social distancing measures are in place, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors and patients can both benefit from a video chat instead of an in-person visit at the doctor's office.
1) A virtual consultation is only as good as the technology that supports it. There can be problems with audio quality or video quality, a slow internet connection, or the computer hanging. For example, if a patient has a low-resolution webcam or a slow internet connection, it can be difficult for a plastic surgeon to assess the patient during a video chat, leading to inaccurate assessments on account of the blurry images.
2) A video consultation is 2D unlike an in-person consultation which is 3D. When a plastic surgeon sees a patient in real life, they can gather information that they cannot from virtual patients. Also, it can be difficult to pick up things like body language during a virtual visit, which is important in evaluating a patient's expectations from a cosmetic procedure.
3) An online consultation can be a depersonalized experience. While doctors make every effort to make virtual consults a personal experience, not being at a plastic surgery office means that many virtual patients find the consultation clinical and impersonal, especially if the doctor does not make eye contact.
4) There can be security concerns about patient privacy and personal information during online consultations done via a mobile phone or computer screen. Most providers therefore use a secure platform such as the MeTime app to do video consultations.
5) Patients can be distracted by whatever is going on at home during online consultations. During an in person consultation, on the other hand, the patient is present undistracted in the office.
Virtual Consultations in Aesthetic Medicine
Aesthetic providers have been using virtual consultations for many years now as a way to assess patients from out-of-town. In aesthetic medicine, given the screen-related limitations, a virtual consult is generally used by both patients and providers as an opportunity to get to know one another, discuss areas of concern and aesthetic goals, and talk about possible solutions.
While this may be sufficient before scheduling an in person appointment for a non-invasive cosmetic treatment such as laser treatments, aesthetic providers want to see a patient for an in office appointment before scheduling a plastic surgery. While it is easy to assess an aging face during a virtual consult, a consult for a rhinoplasty cannot be done through a computer screen - it has to be done in person because it requires an examination inside the nose. So, the limitations are obvious.
Also, surgical procedures require a thorough review of patient records, which cannot be accomplished during online consultations.
Generally speaking, virtual consults are a way for providers to triage patients and for patients to get to know the provider and see if they are interested in the treatments offered.
To Charge or Not To Charge?
Some plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists, and aesthetic providers offer a free virtual consult to all patients. Others like to charge for the consultation — virtual or otherwise. Indeed, many providers charge the same rate for virtual and in-office consultations but will apply the consultation fee towards the cost of a treatment. Charging a consultation fee can help to ensure a patient's seriousness and likeliness to to follow through with treatments.
Patient Feedback on Video Chatting
Research has shown that many patients prefer a hybrid model of care with a combination of in-person and virtual care. Only 12% of respondents on one survey said they would ditch virtual care and choose solely in-person care. Many patients say they find care is more personalized and they interact more with providers during telehealth online visits.
Cost is also a key factor. Virtual visits are often cheaper than clinic visits (the average virtual visit in the US costs $80, a clinic visit is double that).
While not all treatments and procedures can be planned virtually and not all problems can be addressed virtually, an online consultation is a great option for providers and potential patients to take the first step in getting to know each other. It's a chance for patients to communicate their desires and goals and understand the treatment options and treatment plan. At the end of the day, a virtual meeting with a board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon cannot replace an in-person doctor's visit, but video conferencing or an online consultation is so easy, quick, convenient, and cost-effective that there is no reason for providers not to offer this service.
So, What's the Catch?
The catch with the hybrid care model is that video consultation and telehealth is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The needs vary from patient to patient and specialty to specialty. Another concern is the high rate of no-shows that can threaten the bottom line of providers who go hybrid and offer virtual consultations. (Nearly half of all providers say no-show rates are higher for virtual consultations than in-person visits). It is generally less expensive to cancel a virtual consultation and also to reschedule another appointment online.
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