Avène® Hydrotherapy Center Director
Behind The Business Woman
How did you become the Avène® Hydrotherapy Center Director? Who was your main source of inspiration?
I discovered the village of Avène in the early 90s when I was a medical representative for Avène® skincare. I visited the Hydrotherapy Center and its surroundings a few times with my dermatologists and literally fell in love with the place. The Avène hydrotherapy environment inspired me so much that I decided to make the move and relocate (1000km south of where I lived at the time) to settle in Avène village, where I still live 20 years later.
Having said this, I do believe that things always happen for a reason and, indirectly, I have a long history with hydrotherapy. For over 10 years, as a kid, I vacationed with my family at a medical spa in Slovenia and unfortunately my sister suffered from a severe form of atopic dermatitis. This definitely influenced my career choices and my belief in the benefits of hydrotherapy.
Our founder, Monsieur Pierre Fabre, has greatly inspired me throughout my career. I have had the privilege to frequently collaborate with him; his vision, and the confidence that he has given me throughout the years, drive me on my daily quest to ensure we provide the best of care to our patients. Patients are my second source of inspiration; they provide precious live feedback on a daily basis about the quality of our services, the quality of the water and the overall patient management approach at the Hydrotherapy Center. Being able to interact with patients over a three-week period (duration of the treatment) is an invaluable asset. This gives the medical team enough time to get to know the patients, guide them through their treatment and help them manage their expectations, whilst getting live feedback about their experience. This is the only place where you can gather real consumer experience of your product(s).
Have you noticed any significant changes in patients’ demands, behaviors or concerns over the past 10 years?
There are three questions that patients have been asking consistently for years: 1. “How does the water work?”, 2. “Will I be cured?”, 3. “Why have I not noticed quicker results?” However, patients’ growing concerns about the environment and water quality have dramatically changed. People are more curious about the origins of the water, its actual source, how we collect it and how the water cycle works. These questions seem to be driven by an increasing awareness of the need to preserve the future of the beneficial water so that it will continue to benefit others in the future. In 2010, we implemented a Thermalism Quality Certification process to control and prove the sanitary quality of the water and its natural purity. Under current legislation, the water which is used for hydrotherapy and medical care can be neither filtered nor treated. We use it in its original state of purity. This means that we need to be particularly cautious about the way it is transported, how it is distributed to Center’s various treatment rooms and also how we clean the rooms between patient treatments, with special attention to the products we use.
Aside from this growing environmental concern, I have noticed that patients expect more in terms of return on investment. Patients have to commit to three full weeks of treatment at the Hydrotherapy Center in order to be reimbursed and, therefore, they expect to see and experience real improvements.
|Photo Jessica David|
|Tell us more about the water’s benefits
I think that this is the most complicated message to deliver to our patients: Avène® water is not a “drug” and we need to inform patients that the water’s unique and proper composition is the active principle. This is a complex concept to communicate and it is difficult for patients to comprehend, especially for patients who come from countries where hydrotherapy is not part of national history and culture.
Has the interest for hydrotherapy significantly increased with the “natural” trend?
The benefits of hydrotherapy treatments are definitely better understood today than they were 30 years ago when we opened the Avene® Hydrotherapy Center. Even though the so-called “natural” trend might contribute to increasing consumer interest, I believe that we have also done a better job throughout the years of defining the role of hydrotherapy in the overall treatment armamentarium. Hydrotherapy is now deemed to be a Complementary Therapy rather than an Alternative Therapy.
For a long time, patients thought they had to stop their medical treatments when being treated with water. Today, we explain to patients that the water is going to help rebuild the skin’s barrier by acting at a deeper level in the skin and that, at the same time, they may need to use some drugs to act on the skin’s surface, if they experience an episode of skin flare-up. We have been able to demonstrate that hydrotherapy using Avène® Thermal Water is a complementary medicine which allows them to decrease their drug intake.
At the Hydrotherapy Center, patients can also benefit from workshops that provide them with tips, educational tools and practical advice that we encourage them to integrate into their daily routine when they return home. They learn how to better manage their own skin.
Tell us about the latest developments using hydrotherapy in dermatology
For many years, the concept of hydrotherapy was built on the minerality of the water and this was based on exploration techniques available at the time. Researchers have long suspected that underground water might contain micro-organisms as well as minerals. Monsieur Pierre Fabre firmly believed this and he helped develop scientific investigations which have proved that there is indeed a non-pathogenic natural microflora in Avène® Thermal Water. At the same time, the skin’s microflora ecosystem became better understood and, today, this is of particular added value to the concept of hydrotherapy.
Has the discovery of water microflora impacted how treatments are dispensed at the Hydrotherapy Center?
Absolutely. We know that water properties, both mineral and biological, are under no risk of being modified between 32°C and 34°C. On the other hand, increasing water temperatures to 40°C might risk altering its physico-chemical properties and microflora. The discovery of microflora’s role has enabled us to understand the importance of heating the water to the right temperature: this means a temperature which offers increased patient comfort and which remains within a range which does not alter the composition of the water.
Is Avène® Thermal Water a miracle- or evidence-based approach?
From a scientific point of view, I would say that Avène® Thermal Water is not miracle based. After 23 years of daily patient interaction, I can say that there is a clear evidence of the water’s benefits, based both on patient feedback and findings from clinical studies.
“Miracle” is, however, the word that patients use; our Golden Book is full of patients’ testimonials referring to “Miracles”.
For you, what is the future of hydrotherapy?
The future is about international access. Our Hydrotherapy Center has expanded structurally to welcome patients from countries where hydrotherapy has some cultural anchorage, but the future is about attracting patients from all around the world. This means that treatment options will continually be developed and perfected so that more patients can benefit from Avène® water. The future is also about continuing to develop our research to further prove the benefits of Avène® water. For example, we recently completed a large study of cancer patients in remission. We compared and assessed the benefits of the hydrotherapy treatments on the reduction of the side effects on Skin of cancer treatment among 70 patients who had received hydrotherapy treatment versus a control group which had not spent three weeks at the Hydrotherapy Center. This study enabled us to reveal the short-term benefits of the three-week treatment but also the mid- and long-term benefits. This is critical for our patients: they want to know how long they will continue to benefit from their three-week-long commitment in Avène. Our studies help us reassure patients about the mid-term benefits and highlight the fact that Avène® Thermal Water provides both psychological and genuine skin benefits.
Is the water still the same since its discovery by the Marquis de Rocozels in 1874? Will you still have enough water 20 years from now?
Monsieur Pierre Fabre initiated research of the water’s properties, mineral content, mechanism of action and also its youthfulness. We created a Water Laboratory in 2007 to continually monitor and study water resources. Our onsite Hydro-geologist assessed the impluvium, the geographical zone where rain water infiltrates the ground, passes through different mountain rocky areas/layers and after many dozens of years, resurfaces in Avène. The assessment allowed us to determine the water’s depth and whether the rock composition had changed over time. We identified that the water’s mineral composition is exactly the same as it was in 1814. This proves that its underground journey has not changed. It is vital that we protect the surface. For this reason, we now carry out deep water off-take drilling to make avoid the risks of superficial pollution. We have a natural 800m deep reservoir which we constantly monitor. The reservoir has never been altered by seasonal dry periods or extreme climatic warming conditions.
For you, what is healthy skin?
In patient terms, healthy skin is a skin that “forgets itself”. Patients in remission often say, “I forgot I had skin”. When you do not have skin problems, you forget you have an envelope, you forget you have skin: this is healthy skin.
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