Second-generation physician Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, prides himself on treating all patients with courtesy, dignity, and respect.
by Shelley Moench-Kelly, MBA.
This year, Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his bustling Eagan, Minnesota-based private practice, which boasts more than 49,000 unique patients and a staff of 40. He was inspired by his parents to enter medicine. His father, 72-year-old Charles Crutchfield II, MD, is a practicing OB-GYN who has delivered more than 10,000 babies. His mother, a retired family practitioner, was the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Minnesota Medical School, at the age of 22. “Seeing how much they both enjoyed practicing medicine and how rewarding they found it was inspirational for me,” says Dr. Crutchfield. “My mother actually had me during medical school. In my parents’ graduation photo I am holding a stethoscope.”
A native of the Twin Cities, Dr. Crutchfield graduated from the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Medicine with a master’s degree in molecular biology and a doctoral degree in medicine. His postgraduate medical training included a yearlong internship at the Gundersen Clinic and a three-year residency in dermatology at the University of Minnesota. In addition to running his solo private practice, Dr. Crutchfield is a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a visiting professor of biology at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
Though he was always strong in math and science, it was the artistry of cosmetic procedures and the range of skills required that drew him to dermatology. “I like the fact that [even] as a specialist, I still see a wide variety of patients and can use my clinical, pathological, and surgical skills,” he says. Among Dr. Crutchfield’s numerous accolades, Black Enterprise magazine named him one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States and the Atlanta Post recently selected him as one of the top 21 African-American physicians in the United States. His expertise is in pediatric dermatology and cosmetic dermatology, as well as the treatment of acne, psoriasis, vitiligo, and atopic dermatitis. Further, he has developed a niche as a leader in the treatment of ethnic skin conditions and what he refers to as “skin of color.”
Not only is he the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Wild, Dr. Crutchfield has also found time to author and co-author articles and books, including A Clinical Atlas of 101 Common Skin Diseases with Bernard Ackerman, et al. and a children’s book on sun protection called Little Charles Hits a Home Run that centers on a little league baseball team.
When Dr. Crutchfiled opened Crutchfield Dermatology, there were several tenets that he strove to uphold:
- Treat every patient thoroughly and with dignity and respect
- Have a superlative bedside manner
- Operate the practice with a “one nurse per exam room” system
- Support the community
“My father would take me on rounds when I was four or five years old. He taught me well. I would shake every patient’s hand and say, ‘Nice to meet you,'” he recalls.
Following residency, Dr. Crutchfield joined a large group practice with 14 dermatologists. Inspired by the “one nurse per exam room” practice model, which he learned about at a professional seminar, he stepped out on his own in 2002 to launch his solo practice.
With the traditional “one nurse per physician” model, “I would give the patient verbal instructions, go out in the hall and write the same instructions on a prescription pad and present it to the patient,” he says. “Then [I would} write the same instructions in the chart. I was doing everything in triplicate. Why are they paying me to write a prescription when I can have an assistant do that and I can go see another patient?”
Dr. Crutchfield’s nurses act as “nurses, educators and scribes,” he says. “I see every patient, I make every diagnosis and I prescribe every treatment plan. They help me carry it out and they handle the paperwork.” Rather than ending his day with a stack of charts on his desk, “after I see the last patient, I’m done. I get in my car, go home and play with my kids,” he says. Following this model in his eight exam rooms allows Dr. Crutchfield to treat 45 patients per half-day and 90 patients on full days. Additionally, the practice houses a photo therapy center with two full-body, narrow band UVB treatment and a medical spa for cosmetic patients.
Dr. Crutchfield estimates that 75% of the practice is medical and 25% percent is cosmetic dermatology. However, many of his medical dermatology patients become cosmetic dermatology patients. “By the same token, many parents who have children that receive beneficial medical results will learn of our cosmetic practice while visiting and become cosmetic patients,” he says. “Our medical practice has been exceptionally helpful in developing the cosmetic dermatology practice.”
Creating a One-of-a-Kind Experience
Dr. Crutchfield believes in pampering all of his patients, and that desire is reflected in the look and feel of his practice, which features custom interior design, fresh flowers, and flat-screen monitors in the reception area and exam rooms that display before-and-after images, staff pictures, weather reports and news. Pediatric patients are gifted with large, yellow rubber ducks– to this day, the practice has handed out more than 5,000 ducks– and all of his cosmetic patients are enrolled in the Crutchfield Dermatology Platinum Elite Club. The club offers significant discounts on all treatments as well as VIP bags that contain champagne, Godiva chocolates and cosmetic dermatology magazines.
His external marketing techniques are varied and meticulously tracked. Dr. Crutchfield has a team that specializes in social media and helps him maintain his news blog. For advertising, “we use a variety of approaches, including radio and print. We find out where every patient has heard of our practice, and if I don’t receive at least a 3:1 return on my marketing dollar investment, I scrap that marketing effort,” he says. Monthly reports from alexa.com, a provider of free web analytics, refine the practice’s online efforts. The practice also has a database of more than 20,000 patients who receive Dr. Crutchfield’s monthly newsletter.
In an effort to stay one step ahead of both the competition and any disgruntled patients or former employees, Crutchfield Dermatology provides an Internet-connected iPad, and any patient who expresses satisfaction with her care is asked to leave a quick review. “We easily capture 10 to 20 positive reviews weekly,” he says, adding that, for patients in a hurry, his staff provides a list of websites so the patient can submit her review at a later time.
Practice Management Resources
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, founder of Crtuchfield Dermatology, recommends the following resources for those starting – and running- a private practice.
Free Publicity: A TV Reporter Shares the Secrets for Getting Covered on the News by Jeff Crilley (Brown Books Publishing Company, 2002
Balls: 6 Rules for Winning Today’s Business Game by Alexi Venneri (Wiley, 2005)
31 1/2 Essentials for Running Your Medical Practice by Dr. John Guiliana, Dr. Hal Ornstein and Mark Terry (Greenbranch Publishing, 2010)
Shaping a New Image: The Practice of Cosmetic Surgery by Barry Lycka (CJSM Publishing Ltd., 2001)
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcokm Gladwell (Little, Brown and Company, 2008)
Doubling Your Productivity (DVD Series) by Brian Tracy (2006, available on amazon.com)
Growing a Dermatology Career
Dr. Crutchfield advises new physicians to accept any and all speaking invitations, as they are great opportunities for physicians to share their expertise and meet colleagues. Likewise, he accepts medical students and residents–more than 100 over the last five years– who want to rotate through his office, because he has had such “great teachers, and it’s important to give back,” he says. He also recommends a standard answering service for off-hours so all patients who call in will speak to a live person and not an automated recording. “We usually get at least two appointments per night via this method. If you stop to think about it, that’s over 500 appointments per year,” he says. On the practice’s website, crutchfielddermatology.com there is a “Request Appointment” button patients can use to leave a contact name and number so staff can contact them to book an appointment. Since he implemented this measure more than a year ago, Dr. Crutchfield reports that the practice averages 160 online appointment requests per month. “If you consider the average lifetime value of a patient, you will quickly realize that this one-time simple maneuver is an absolute no-brainer for the health of your practice,” he says.
For cosmetic procedures, Dr. Crutchfield notes that it is “absolutely critical” to have patients schedule their follow-up appointment before they leave. “It gives them an appointment to look forward to and also helps them with their cosmetic budget,” he says. “It really is a win-win situation for all.”
Supporting His Staff
“Studies have shown that there are three important factors in retaining a good employee: The first is that the employee feels appreciated, the second is pay, and the third is opportunity for growth,” explains Dr. Crutchfield. His practice received the 2005 Editor’s Award from the Dermatology Nurses’ Association for the support of his nursing staff and for attending national education conferences. He also invests in online practice management education for all staff members. “It’s one thing to tell your employees to do a better job at answering the phone, handing cosmetic consultations and learning the basic information on cosmetic practice management, but it is completely different to give them the tools to actually do it,” he says.
His most recent staff appreciation perk is an employee concierge, who will pick up dry cleaning and prescriptions and take employees’ cars to be gassed up and washed. “It means they can go right home after work with a clean car and the cleaning in the back seat. We’ve gotten great feedback on this,” he says. “It’s just one more thing you can do to retain great employees.”
To promote a more cohesive staff, each week one staff member creates a biography board, complete with pictures form her childhood to current day, revealing fun facts such as her favorite foods, favorite movies, hobbies and most embarrassing moments. “I enjoy it so much, and I get to know my employees on a fun and somewhat personal level,” says Dr. Crutchfield. “I think this improves workplace interactions and it’s a portal for my employees to realize that I really do care about them and I want to know what their interests are.”