THE Claro Skin Clinic in Dundonald offers a service that is unique in Northern Ireland, at which people worried about moles can have an expert examination and assessment without the need for a GP referral.
While this service is common in Great Britain, the clinic's founder, Dr Olga Kerr, was surprised when she returned to live in Northern Ireland that there was nothing like it available here. Now the Claro Skin Clinic is the only private facility in Northern Ireland to offer mole scanning and private access to remove skin cancers.
Dr Kerr is recognised as one of Northern Ireland's leading skin cancer specialists who works in the NHS. Specialist dermatology nurse Iona Mc Cormack – Northern Ireland nurse of the year in 2009 – works with Dr Kerr both in the NHS facility and in the Claro Skin Clinic.
"We opened last December," says Dr Kerr. "I have had a lot of training in GB. There are a lot of these ventures in GB."
The clinic provides general dermatological advice, as well as skin cancer diagnosis. To provide a high quality service it has invested heavily in state-of-the-art scanning technology.
But Dr Kerr was surprised by the way some existing skin cancer clinics in GB operate. Often the mole clinics scan moles and then refer the images to an external consultant, who sees the electronic scan results, but not the patient.
"The clinics weren't being manned by someone who was a dermatologist," Dr Kerr explains. "So there was an opportunity to create a niche business. This is the only mole scanner in the private sector in Northern Ireland – there is one in Dublin."
The approach of the Claro Skin Clinic ensures that properly trained professionals analyse the images, with the benefit of direct access to the patient. This improves patient care, with improved capacity to compare moles and to discuss a patient's dermatological history.
"Ours is one of the few in the UK that is manned by someone trained as a dermatologist and who can diagnose a skin cancer," explains Dr Kerr. It is the only private sector facility in Northern Ireland that offers scanning, onsite analysis and surgery, without the need to refer cases to an external clinician.
At present, the clinic operates on a part-time basis, three or four hours a week on Monday evenings. As patient demand builds up, the clinic will open more often.
"I would be hopeful that we will get to offer more than one session a week," says Dr Kerr. "In GB, some clinics are open five days a week and are on the high street. You don't need a GP referral, patients can self-refer.
"So if it really took off the aspiration would be a Monday to Friday service. The difference between our service and [competitors] is that we have a service and we also have trained staff, rather than someone seeing photos at the end of a computer."
Dr Kerr's continued work within the NHS provides an additional benefit to patients. "It means there is a seamless pathway to the NHS, if [a patient] needs ongoing treatment," she says.
Marketing of the business has mostly concentrated on articles published in the Belfast Telegraph and magazines. "We have had a PR guy working with us," says Dr Kerr. Word of mouth has been effective, while Dr Kerr also distributes flyers for the clinic. The clinic benefits from a very good website, www.claroskin clinic.com.
Being highly regarded as a professional dermatologist is not enough for Dr Kerr, who is investing in personal development as an MBA student at Queen's. Determination and commitment are key factors in business success – and Dr Kerr is demonstrating both in abundance.