What can hairdressers teach their doctor?


I had to try a new salon and it was an incredible experience. A long scalp massage, warm towels for my hands and an aroma-therapy treatment (3 sniffs of an oil??) made me feel ultra-pampered. I marveled at Elysa’s ability to tame my mane. The Power of a Haircut

Every shopping centre in Australia also now appears to have a massage parlour.

Stiff, painful muscles? Treatment: Myotherapy. Cost: From $100. Some companies cover myotherapy treatments under their insurance. My body+soul

Each year Australians spend over $4 billion on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and visit CAM practitioners almost as frequently as they do medical practitioners. But the spending doesn’t stop there:

The national survey of Australians (18-64 years)…. found over the past four weeks Australians spent an average of $594 each on clothes, accessories, beauty products and cosmetic services.Victoria, the self-proclaimed fashion capital of Australia, is home to the biggest spenders, who spend 19 per cent more than the national average at $707 a month. New South Wales spent $669 on average, 13 per cent more than average, followed by South Australia ($618) and Western Australia ($616). Suncorp bank

On the other hand a family doctor or GP might charge $50 for a standard consultation. The Medicare rebate for this is $36.30, leaving a gap of $13.70 for Australians to pay out of their own pocket. The average amount an Australian pays out-of-pocket for access to a GP is $29.56 a year (averaged across Australia).

So it seems that we are willing to pay up to $100 for one massage, $90 for one hair cut but pay a third of that sum for the services of a GP over a whole year. (Note: people pay far more for a ‘specialist’). The Value Tunnel explains this because the price is a function of the alternative options and the perceived value of that good or service. On that basis the cost of personal grooming is greater than a visit to a family doctor. It may be perceived that the alternative to visiting the doctor in your neighbourhood is to pick one who doesn’t charge above the Medicare rebate, visit a pharmacy or go to an emergency department. There are fewer viable alternatives to a haircut or massage from ‘that’ salon. There is constant downward pressure in the ‘Value Tunnel’ so that as the market accommodates more competition it drives the price down. That’s why a cup of coffee costs less than $5 and is unlikely to increase.


What can GPs do to move up the Value Tunnel ? They must increase the perceived value while honing a niche market. While doctors no longer hold the monopoly on a range of things they also do things that others can’t offer. How can family doctors recast their brand in a way that sustains if not enhances the perceived value? Like every other business healthcare is subject to market forces. A recent survey offers businesses the following takeaways;

  • Know your customer and form a genuine relationship. What do the doctors know about their patients?
  • Make it easy for your customers to do business with you. To what extent are patients able to access what they need at the practice?
  • Solve your customer’s problems and go beyond what is expected. To what extent is the practice a one stop shop? What does the practice offer that other providers do not? ( Note: pharmacists and video consultations don’t include physical examination)
  • Look for opportunities to make an impression. Does the practice communicate well at every touchpoint?
  • Invest in your frontline staff; they are of course the face of your company, so it is essential that they happily reflect the core values you wish to promote. What are the reception staff like in the practice? Can patients be expected to be treated the same way by everyone they come across at the practice?

Picture by ndemi

7 thoughts on “What can hairdressers teach their doctor?”

  1. A medical practice that offered mini alternatives prior to visit with the physician would help distress client, increase communication and expedite the appointments to be quicker.
    With a built in self-care component in the first phases of modalities.

  2. The question really is, “does your GP make you feel better?”
    The answer is unlikely to be an unequivocal, “yes.”
    To start with the consultation with a GP may be born of fear and uncertainty for the worst. Not a good place to start. If the ‘news’ ultimately proves a reassuring relief then undoubtedly the GP climbs the “feel good” rankings. If not, don’t raise the question, it may just add insult to injury.
    Then there is the awful, pontificating preacher GP, who runs marathons, lives on broccoli and apparently donates most of their income to charity. From the office pulpit they loudly proclaim the latest ‘guidelines’ with the appropriate hellth fire and brimstone whilst demanding the punters smoking and alcohol ‘status’, the risks around which the hapless punter is already dimly aware of, having had enough intelligence to consult the GP in the first instance … incidentally, were you aware that the NZ Heart Foundation is just pulling its decade old food label endorsing red ticks, presumably in the face of new evidence regarding fat and carbohydrate consumption?

    No, there is a very long road for a GP to hoe to come even remotely close to a hybridised confidant, advisor, friend and scalp masseuse, whilst at the same time appearing to be all things to all people and nothing to any one. But then, isn’t that the challenge of General Practice? By the way, you left out taking your family of five for a nice meal complete with a couple of bottles of wine ($400 – $500) – great human value, as the experience is valuable, memorable and priceless.

  3. Thank you for your thought provoking comments. I guess the issue is how do we radically reinvent the experience so that no matter what the circumstances we make a deep and meaningful emotional connection with the patient. Whether they present with a cold, come seeking a certificate or present a life limiting illness. How do we add value a way that increases the prospect that we become worth at least the price of a hair cut.

    1. Hi Moyez, I think it also relates to the whole experience, not just the time with the GP. From the initial telephone call or online booking experience to the facility, welcome and every other part of the process (including follow up) that the patient experiences determines their perception of value. Offering a great service is not a trade off to great medicine. They can and should be complementary.

  4. Why would a physician try to market themselves (ie “move up the value tunnel”) when there is absolutely no incentive? I am sure the physicians are practicing high quality medical care already. Do they really need to “make friends” with each patient?

  5. William,
    That’s a very good question 🙂
    I would argue that there is great incentive. I am not so sure physicians are practicing high quality care. Added to that if we look at declining incomes, declining moral, increasing complaints and litigation, dwindling numbers of doctors who want to do family practice in particular- inappropriate prescribing and test ordering there is the case for the prosecution. It’s not about making friends with patients- although we can use all the friends we have- it’s about communicating ever more effectively with patients. Most of medicine, at least in primary care is about persuading people to make better lifestyle choices- and yet we do not market health very well. It seems to be about giving up things that we appear to enjoy. Making sacrifices. Developing new habits etc. We need an approach that makes our services compare at least as favourably- in an emotional sense as having a haircut, a massage or going to an alternative health practitioner.

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