The connection between medicine and mass marketing has never been stronger: Pharmaceutical advertisements fill the airwaves and consumers are more invested in their care. In response, single-therapy medical centers have proliferated.
Explore This IssueSeptember 2015
The recent demise of Lifestyle Lift, one of the more well-known chains of cosmetic surgery centers, raises many questions about how well this business model holds up in today’s medical field, however. Is this a valid business model for otolaryngology? What are the benefits and drawbacks of these clinics? Is this the best way to serve patients?
The model for single-therapy clinics centers around offering a single, unique treatment, with patients often paying significantly less than they would in a traditional medical setting.
Anti-aging medical treatments such as rhytidectomy are popular choices, and snoring centers represent another large model segment, said Mas Takashima, MD, associate professor, residency program director, and director of The Sinus Center at the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “The marketing and advertising is pretty good, focusing on snoring because it’s a tangible problem for a patient’s partner,” he said. “The tagline often reads something like, ‘Treat your snoring—you’ll sleep better.’”
“It is, in some ways, an innovative business plan,” said Stephen Park, MD, professor and vice chair of the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “They offered a face-lift for a reduced fee, with less overhead, and people flocked to it. In this model, much of the pre-operative and post-operative care was delivered by nurses or other staff, rather than the physician. That came at a price.”
One of the reasons for the model’s profitability is insurance reimbursement rates, said Dr. Takashima.
“Whenever a patient is operated on in a hospital setting, it ends up costing insurance more; if they can shift that model to an office setting, it ends up being less expensive for insurance companies but with a higher physician reimbursement,” he explained. “For example, if I perform a full-house sinus surgery with disease in all the sinuses in a hospital or clinical setting, it will take about two hours, with a physician payment of about $800 to $1,000. If I perform a balloon sinuplasty in an office setting, the physician reimbursement is about $9,000 to $10,000, not including the machine cost.”
It’s important to understand the difference between marketing a single treatment modality and marketing a specific created brand, said Anthony Brissett, MD, director of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine. “A business like Lifestyle Lift was marketing a brand, a modification of certain techniques,” he said. “They were very successful—they lasted almost a decade—and were able to reach a wide range of people. On the downside, that particular lift provided a service that lacked any specific characteristics catered toward individual patients.”
A Cookie Cutter Approach
Whether or not the single-therapy business model is right for a physician’s practice, there is some concern among traditional practitioners that it may cause a lack of individualization in patient diagnosis and care and a strain on the relationship between patient and physician.