By Alex R. Thiersch, JD, Founder/Director of the American Med Spa Association (AmSpa)
Most of the people you encounter while working at a medical spa are perfectly pleasant, have reasonable expectations of their treatment, and are happy to discuss their options with you. However, at some point you will likely encounter a patient who asks too much of you or your business. Unfortunately, it is within that person’s power to make your life extremely complicated. It is important that you understand how to manage problematic patients to maintain your practice’s good reputation and prevent potential legal headaches.
A peculiar problem
Medical spa owners and operators face many challenges due to the nature of the medical aesthetic business.
Patients often may feel extremely entitled because they are paying out of their own pockets for their services instead of using insurance. Due to this entitlement, patients are often more demanding that in a managed care or traditional health care setting and there is a greater risk of the relationship ending badly. If a facility feels the need to initiate the termination of the relationship, some patients may be offended and may make legal complaints or turn to the state medical board.
This is unfortunate, but it is the nature of the industry. Sadly, some of these difficult patients simply cannot be reasoned with.
Oftentimes, because medical aesthetic services have to do with the physical appearance of patients, you may encourage patients with serious mental health issues related to their appearance, making them fundamentally unhappy with unrealistic expectations.
Patient complaints to medical boards are no joke. Even if a claim such as this is eventually dismissed, a physician still must take the time and spend the money to defend him- or herself against it. And even if a physician is cleared of professional misconduct, his or her business still can be harmed by that former patient.
Medical aesthetic patients with mental instability also may be more likely to vent online in ways that can be professionally damaging on a number of social media sites, including doctor-rating websites.
The best way to avoid having to confront issues concerning problematic patients is to make sure that you don’t associate with them in the first place.
Try to identify potential problem patients early on and figure out the best ways to encourage them to avoid your practice without offending them. This is where hiring the best front desk and customer care employees come in. They need to be trained on responses to handle and screen for potentially problematic patients, identifying red flags. These include patients who vent frustrations about previous doctors and patients who have unrealistic expectations about appearance changes they desire. Often, if you just listen to your patients, they will tell you everything you need to know.
It also is important that medical spas explain their policies as clearly as possible. A medical spa should team with an attorney to produce a contract for patients to sign prior to the administration of any procedures; this document should clearly present the conditions under which a medical spa will provide the prospective patient the service.
It is crucial that patients understand the expectations of the medical spa as clearly as the medical spa team understands the expectations of the patients. Patients needs to understand that they will not be allowed to disrespect medical spa procedure, such as not showing up for appointments, not adhering to instructions for preoperative treatments, making threats or are disruptive in the office environment and not paying for their treatment in a timely manner. Clarity and enforcement are critical to successful patient relationships.
Medical spas also can prepare themselves for the problem patients by making sure that their malpractice insurance contains language that protects them from spurious legal action.
“If a complaint is filed against a person and a governmental body comes in and decides to investigate, there’s a provision within a malpractice policy that is referred to as administrative defense coverage,” said David Shaffer, vice president of Professional Medical, the health care division of Insurance Office of America
. “It basically provides the insured with reimbursement coverage for the cost of the investigation itself.”
Targeted coverage that can help to protect against unwarranted social media attacks is also available.
“One of the perks that’s built into the AmSpa [Medical Spa Insurance] Program
is reputational harm coverage,” Shaffer said. “A consultant is made available when coverage is triggered to help them go out and perform whatever services are necessary to rebuild that reputation or correct whatever wrongs may have been put out there by a disgruntled patient.”
However, this coverage is only triggered if a claim is associated with the perceived damage—little can actually be done if an irrational patient smears a physician or spa via social media without filing a complaint. Again, your best defense is to avoid treating people patients such as these.
It is also worth noting that, in my experience, many problem patients come to med spas via deal sites such as Groupon. If you are considering partnering with a site such as Groupon to get the word out about your med spa, you may want to consider the quality of client these promotions sometimes attract.
Even if you implement strict upfront screening practices and provide explicit terms and conditions for your services, you may still encounter patients with whom you feel you need to part ways. If this happens, talk to the patient with empathy and make sure he or she understands that you feel you are working in his or her best interests.