The medical community and you: Building relationships
Chiropractic physicians have long desired to have a more cohesive and integrated working relationship with medical professionals. The problem has been identifying the most productive and direct method to achieve this goal.
Patients with back pain come in two different types: Those who will consider chiropractic care and those who remain apathetic or antagonistic to chiropractic expertise. Unfortunately, statistics indicate more patients fall into the latter category.
Although at least 75 percent of spinal-care patients could potentially benefit from chiropractic care, only 12 percent to 17 percent of patients utilize our services.1 This implies that 83 percent of potential patients do not utilize our services and remain untapped in the overall market share.
CURRENT MARKETING METHODS
The most common means of chiropractic marketing is through Yellow Page advertisements, health fairs, and direct mail. This marketing adds up financially. The most recent Chiropractic Economics 10th Annual Salary & Expense Survey indicates that although chiropractors spend about $1,000 a month in advertising, earnings remain flat.2
This type of marketing, unfortunately, persists in focusing on the 12 percent to 17 percent of patients who are already willing to “try” a chiropractor.
But recent trends have created a unique marketing opportunity: More medical professionals are accepting manipulation as a treatment option for some conditions. However, very few medical physicians make referrals for chiropractic services and many more continue to cast a shroud of suspicion on the chiropractic industry as a whole.
Collegiate institutions are incorporating instructional programs which allow other disciplines of healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists, to legally administer manipulation as a treatment option. These healthcare professionals are already well integrated and accepted by medical and osteopathic physicians.
Since 83 percent of back-pain patients seek care from someone other than a chiropractor, it makes sense to educate those capable of referring these patients if we are to maintain or even grow our potential market share.
Building a professional relationship with medical physicians allows you to educate them on chiropractic care and manipulation. Relationship building also allows the MDs to develop trust in your treatment philosophy.
Practically speaking, you can tap into the medical market for a lot less than a $1,000 per month marketing and advertising budget.
So, how can you proficiently integrate with the medical circle? Consider three facts:
1. Consumer demand, especially by baby boomers, leans to more conservative and less invasive care.
2. Alternative care is being embraced by hospitals and facilities employing acupuncturists and massage therapists.
3. Medical doctors are used to direct, person-to-person marketing. They are approached daily by pharmaceutical, software, and medical specialty representatives. This means you can feel confident in approaching the medical community directly to educate them on chiropractic care.
Although this may initially seem intimidating, after one of these face-to-face meetings with a medical doctor you will rapidly develop a taste for this direct and inexpensive form of marketing.
HOW TO APPROACH AN MD
There are some things to consider when approaching a medical doctor:
1. Promote evidence-based research. Refer to research that has an abundance of consistent and reliable findings documenting the efficacy of manipulation. Currently this includes neuromuscular conditions focused primarily on the lower back and neck.
2. Use common medical terminology. No offense to chiropractic, but if you want MDs to refer their patients to you, use common medical descriptions.
Chiropractic specific words, such as “subluxation” and “trigger points,” are not accepted by the medical community. You can, and should, explain how manipulation works on joint structures to aid in the physician’s understanding of how manipulation affects the body.
3. Promote a “treat and release” approach to care. Most medical doctors are hesitant to refer to chiropractors because “they (chiropractors) keep making you come back.”
MDs have concerns that not only will their patients be overcharged for unsubstantiated care; they may also fault them for the referral. Reassure the MD that patients referred to you will be treated for a specific indication, not for overall health concerns.
4. Paint a patient picture. Doctors need and want to understand how patients benefit from chiropractic care. Describe common lumbar or cervical complaints that respond well to manipulation, such as persistent, moderate back pain. Don’t worry as much about a specific diagnosis.
5. Provide supporting material. Bring clinical reprints (which can be ordered directly from the journal in which it was published) to highlight your points to the doctor and leave it behind for the doctor to study.
6. Create a need. Uncover the physician’s response to your research material. Does it meet his expectations for a therapeutic option? Does she see how manipulation might be a first-line approach for her patient?
To illustrate this, suggest the doctor consider a patient who has had four weeks of unresolved back pain and is nauseated by the medication controlling the pain. Perhaps manipulation for this patient would be a good choice because it would provide the efficacy the doctor is seeking while solving the patient’s nausea associated with the medication.
Manipulation is gaining a positive reputation, but chiropractors continue to have a cloud of suspicion cast upon them by the medical community. If we want medical referrals and the chance to tap into the 83 percent of the untapped market share, we must not only educate our medical colleagues one by one, but we must also forge a complementary professional relationship through a person-to-person promotional effort.
If we don’t, our competitors will.
Christina Acampora, DC, is the author of Promoting Chiropractic to Medical Practices, a Jones and Bartlett text to be published May 1, 2008. She is also the founder of Aligned Methods (www.alignedmethods.com), a company dedicated to forging medical relationships by supporting the medical marketing and public relations efforts of independent chiropractic physicians. She can be reached at AcamporaC@aol.com.References
1 Nelson C, Lawrence D, Triano J, Bronfort G, Perle S, Metz D, Hegetschweiler K LaBrot T. Chiropractic as spine care: a model for the profession. Chiropractic & Osteopathy 2005, 13:9
2 Segall L, 10th Annual Salary & Expense Survey. Chiropractic Economics 2007, 53:8