Personally interacting with patients as much as possible is the key to understanding patient needs, and developing meaningful and trusting relationships.
Among the beautiful palm trees and orange groves of Florida, a silent killer lurks. No, it’s not an alligator or a crocodile, it’s skin cancer. In the southern coastal county of St. Lucie skin cancer is found at the second highest rate in the entire nation, but thankfully there are people like Dr. Tim Ioannides who have committed themselves to fighting it. Dr. Ioannides is the founder, owner, and primary physician at Treasure Coast Dermatology, a multi-location practice that is dedicated exclusively to medical dermatology, and with fifteen years experience he has cemented his place within the community as a trusted leader for dermatological issues.
Born and raised in Miami, Dr. Ioannides learned his strong ethos of helping others from his parents, who both worked at the University of Miami. His father was a renowned clinical professor in the pathology department who also founded the dermatopathology laboratory, and his mother was a technician at the university’s eye institute. Following in his parents’ footsteps, he attended the University of Miami for both his undergraduate and medical degree and after completing his internship and residency programs joined a plastic surgery practice.
Although the plastic surgery industry is lucrative Dr. Ioannides often felt more like a salesman than a doctor in the role, pushing people to pursue costly elective procedures that had no medical basis. He was grateful for the opportunity, but soon began to desire to use his education and training to help those who needed it and left the plastic surgery practice to start his own. He selected Port St. Lucie even though he did not initially know about their skin cancer statistics, but because he fell in love with the city’s more leisurely pace than Miami, while still being in close proximity to it. Aware that the older population meant there wasn’t a big market for cosmetics in St. Lucie County, Ioannides founded Treasure Coast Dermatology to be a practice focused exclusively on medical dermatology, with a specialization in skin cancer.
This business strategy proved wildly successful, with Dr. Ioannides expanding to an additional four locations in the Treasure Coast area. In addition to his focus on medical dermatology, he has also enacted other practices in an effort to maintain a patient-first approach such as declining to use nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, ceasing to use electronic records, and not accepting gifts from drug representatives. Regarded by both his staff and patients as an exemplary physician, Dr. Ioannides places a great deal of focus on developing a good relationship with each patient. This dedication fosters trust with those he sees, and the sense of personal care allows him to stand apart from other providers.
On top of his busy practice, Dr. Ioannides has also remained involved with the University of Miami School of Medicine as a voluntary associate professor. He regularly assists in instruction on dermatologic and reconstructive surgery, and was also recently a senior author on two papers in the Journal of American Medical Association of Dermatology, which earned one of the “Most Talked About” honors for 2018. By focusing his approach on the medical side of dermatology, Dr. Ioannides has been successful in his dedication toward bettering the lives of his patients.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
After completing my residency within the University of Miami School Of Medicine, I recognized the importance of medical dermatology, and knew that this niche was my life’s work, passion, and professional dream. I was employed by a plastic surgeon, and was, myself, conducting mostly cosmetic procedures. In today’s dermatological practices, cosmetic dermatology takes center stages for many practices, with the medical side taking a secondary stance. Thus, I wanted to distance myself from the cosmetically driven concerns of patients, and provide the highest level of care based on the medical concerns of patients.
When I began thinking of branching out on my own, I took inventory of the most important facets of medicine, in my opinion, and the focus that I wanted to have within my own practice. I steadfastly believed in creating an environment where medical dermatology is the epicenter of the practice. Thus, when I opened up Treasure Coast Dermatology, my long term goal was to eventually not perform any cosmetic procedures, and to solely focus my practice on the medical side of skin care. In the fledgling stages of Treasure Coast Dermatology, though, I had to ensure the financial stability of the practice, and performed Botox, and other procedures, in order to garner the stability needed to focus solely on medical practice. With my goal and passion in mind, I was able to eventually get to a place where I could specialize in the niche practice that benefits the lives of my patients.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Though each day varies, I generally get up around six in the morning, and begin the daily routine that begins with a short workout. Being active in the morning allows me to feel energized throughout the day, knowing that I began the day proactively taking care of myself. From there, I help my wife with the kids, and head to work.
Though I have multiple locations, I am fortunate to work with the same group of people, as my staff accompanies me throughout the various office locations. This creates a synergy within the entire practice, and allows all staff to be on the same page in regard to daily operations, client care, and the streamlining of practices.
From there, the remainder of my work day is spent seeing patients, dictating notes, researching pertinent cases, and communicating with staff regarding patient needs. As we all work as a team, it is important for staff to all be on the same page, and to retain close involvement in the daily operations of each location.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In the spirit of continued growth, we are always trying to make the practice better, to accomplish goals, to continuously educate staff, and to parlay our skills for the sake of helping patients. Many times, new ideas allow for this growth to occur, and thus, they are vastly important to me.
Within my practice, I do not use what are called “physician extenders”. I personally see every patient, on every visit. This allows me to keep a good perspective on what patients need, and allows me to forge a trusting relationship with patients. Throughout each visit, I make a concerted effort to genuinely listen to the desires of patients, and implement those desires in tangible ways.
Sometimes, these desires and changes can be as mundane as showing different programming on the waiting room televisions. While this may sound like it would not be particularly important in the grand scheme of things, it may just be the refreshing change that will make a patient’s experience brighter. These ideas can also be as significant as a new technique in surgery, or the treatment of skin cancer. We are always looking for ways in which to advance forward, big and small.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In the medical field, there are endless trends that can literally mean the difference between life, and potentially death, for numerous amounts of people. Thus, breakthroughs, advancements, and vaccines are always exciting to be a part of.
About six or seven years ago, I was involved with research for the new skin cancer vaccine. Throughout my lifetime, this is most likely one the biggest, if not the biggest, breakthrough within the dermatological field.
Medically speaking, the thought about skin cancers is that they may actually be, or at least act like, an infectious disease. We have an epidemic of skin cancer, and this vaccine has shown considerable promise with helping decrease some of it in a large number of patients.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Though many readers may find this surprising, I find it crucially vital to my success to not use electronic medical records. I have found that when doctors use electronic medical records, they tend to look at the computer, and not the patient. Thus, this focus on the computer creates a lack of eye contact, engagement, and general connectedness throughout the appointment. In other words, it takes the human element out of the equation. Many patients enter a medical office with many confusion about symptoms, anxiety about their potential conditions, and a general desire to feel confident with their medical practitioners. By avoiding screen time throughout an appointment, I feel confident in my ability to instill that confidence within my patients.
To many readers, though, this practice may appear to make me less productive. People have a misconception that computers actually help them become more productive. For portability of records, and the ability to transfer records between offices in real-time, that might be true. However, the loss of the human element is much more detrimental to the overall care of a patient, than having to spend a few moments to fax over documents. In fact, as a result of over 15 years in this profession, I am confident that I can dictate a patient note more swiftly than an auctioneer!
This is comparable to the difference between radio, and television. As a medical professional, I believe I receive much more concrete information from a patient when there is direct eye contact, when I am fully engaged in conversation, especially when they are pointing out a lesion, and describing it. Thus, with more information, in the long run, I can be more productive by having the concrete data needed to move forward with diagnosis, treatment, etc.
Unlike a lot of other medical practices, I also do not engage in interaction with drug representatives. As many patients know, drug representatives flood various medical offices with distracting meals, highlighted conversation, and a full agenda. Steadfastly, I have never, and will never, engage in this type of exchange. In fact, if I go to a lecture that is sponsored by a drug company, I always donate $150 to the local no-kill animal shelter, as my own small means of paying it forward. Whether or not a particular drug will actually aide your patients is not on the minds of drug representatives. Their sole focus is on selling you a particular medication, no matter the circumstances. Even more importantly, if one is going to make money taking compensation from drug companies, that interferes with my ideal of medicine.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In the past, I have made the mistake of being too lenient on employees who not only did not contribute to an overall tranquil work environment, but actively pursued interoffice conflict. As these employees were extremely competent within the scope of their actual positions, it was difficult for me to let them go. I’ve learned that there are a lot of people who work incredibly well as individuals, but are unable to integrate with a team.
My employees have very diverse backgrounds, and it is important that everyone get along for the sake of the team. When people do not get along well with the rest of the team members, I am much more likely to feel that Treasure Coast Dermatology is not the right place for them. We work hard here. We have a practice that takes care of some pretty serious medical problems for people, and we cannot get caught up in territorial battles, insignificant minutiae, and personal issues without losing focus on prioritizing the patient.
Thus, I have learned to consider what is best for the overall team when making staffing choices, versus providing a poorly performing team member with the benefit of the doubt, to the ultimate detriment of the team as a whole. Since learning this valuable lesson, I feel confident that we have been able to successfully maintain an absolutely positive working environment, one where most nursing staff remains at the practice for over ten years. With such low turnover, I am confident that the professional environment within the Treasure Coast Dermatology Center plays a large part in the happiness of all staff.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
In order to maintain the much-needed humanity within the field of medicine, or even business, the notion of writing letters to patients stands out to me as being a beautiful way to maintain that proactive relationship. Apart from that suggestion, I really do not know how to do anything else. I have a very limited skill set, and am driven by the work I do. Thus, I put all of my effort into this work, and wouldn’t be the best source of advice for those seeking business ventures in any other field!
With that said, I think if you find something that challenges you, especially if it can help people, fulfillment will come. Moreover, I believe that fulfillment will be especially meaningful if you have a good relationship with the people who you are serving.
I think if you maintain the attitude, and adopt the mission statement that we are here to help each other, and we can do that in many different ways, then that should be it. Though I may not be able to predict the next great gadget, I can certainly provide those sentiments of wisdom, ones that can surely be translated to any field.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I do not spend that much time on the computer, and avoid social media, including Facebook. I do use email for communication, as I think it is efficient. Apart from that, I am like a dinosaur in many ways when it comes to computing. Luckily, my Office Manager, and my IT Manager help me navigate these things. Though I may not be the most tech savvy person, the one piece of technology that I have been loyally utilizing for many years is electronic dictation. In the past, I used to dictate into small cassette tape recorders, and would be able to transcribe the dictation at a later time. Of course, those would sometimes break in the middle of recording, or otherwise malfunction, and I would lose an entire day’s worth of dictation. I now dictate into an iPod, and send my dictation to my transcriptionist by email. We have lost very few transcriptions because of this, and it allows her to type them up in almost real-time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
My most profound recommendation has remained the same for over 25 years, and there is a story behind it. While I was enrolled in medical school, there was an attorney named JD Spence. He was the most successful malpractice attorney in Florida at the time. He won big financial judgments against doctors, and came to speak to our medical school class. Following his talk, everyone got up and applauded, which greatly puzzled me. He was a fast talker, as expected, but I raised my hand, and asked him a question. I said, “How did you do it? To us, you are the enemy. You are trying to bankrupt us, and we know that sometimes you sue doctors who have not made mistakes. How did you do it?”
The first thing he said was, “you caught that, did you?” and he laughed, further explaining “I win cases because they like me. What I look for in a doctor is not only the strength of the case, but a lot of times, I will take a weak case if the doctor is very hateable. In other words, if patients do not like you, and juries do not like you, I am going to win money.” He paused, and finished up by stating “My purpose is to win money. I am here to make a living.”
To get around harboring feelings related to only one perspective, he recommended the book “How To Win Friends And Influence People”. The book focuses on the importance of being able to see people from different perspectives, including potentially from that person’s perspective. Within a few days, I traveled to the bookstore, and picked up this important read. This was, of course, way before Amazon, where you could download a book.
It is not a book short in length, but it is an easy read, and I think it gives an alternative perspective on how to deal with people in a much more warm and kind manner, rather than in a confrontational one. One would not think of a lawyer in that light, but in fact, this guy embodied the lessons of the book, and was wildly successful as a result. Thus, I read the book, and over twenty years later, I have never had a patient sue me.
I have a busy surgical practice, and as is the norm, things do not always turn out exactly as desired. Any medical professional that tells you otherwise is clearly lying. If a medical professional performs hundreds of cases a year, and only 2% of them do not turn out the way you want, that still amounts to a few dozen people who are severely displeased. With skin cancer being prevalent, and tumors being more and more difficult to take care of in many patients, there will undoubtedly be some results that you are not pleased with. After all, doctors may have an amazing grasp on the medical field, but are not miracle workers. By having a good relationship with patients, I think most people understand this. As upsetting as it might be, they understand this, especially if you have a close relationship with them.
- I think the success of our practice has to do with our focus on what the patient wants, not what the doctor wants the practice to be. Thus, we maintain a patient-centric atmosphere, and aim to accommodate all patient needs.
- It is important to treat the people you work with well. People are not replaceable commodities. If you treat them that way, not only do you have lots of turnover, which is bad for your business, but you are also undoubtedly missing a very fulfilling part of your life.
- It’s important to see others and their issues from their perspective, and to understand the feelings associated with other people’s’ perspectives.
- Personally interacting with patients as much as possible is the key to understanding patient needs, and developing meaningful and trusting relationships.
- Focusing on a niche area of interest, such as medical dermatology versus cosmetic dermatology, will allow you perform the work that you are deeply connected to, and driven by.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.