Let me begin by stating this is not going to be a “witch hunt” against practice management consultants. Quite the contrary. Most of the consultants I have heard about serve a very useful purpose and can be of tremendous help to any practitioner. The horror stories or problems that I have heard about stem from a lack of communication. After all, even Mark Anthony could say that about Brutus! I have been told stories about the consultant who told his client not only how to lay out the office, but what colors to use, and the doctor’s wife was an interior decorator. Needless to say, the sparks flew during this encounter. There was also the one where the doctor had to literally pay off the consultant so he could start running his own office. Some doctors complain they are not only told what to say and when to say it, but they even try to control their thinking! After chatting with the doctor, I wasn’t sure that he could think without a little prodding from someone. Then there was the doctor who attended all of the “free” seminars offered by the consultant and then decided to sign up. After he did, he quickly realized that he had already seen the best of what the consultant had to offer. This reminds me of the definition of an “expert.” “X” is an unknown quantity and “spurt” is a drip under pressure. The jokes go on and on…
It amazes me how most chiropractors approach a consultant. They take a look at their practice, where they are at, and I don’t mean that in a physical sense, and they just push the panic button. They then pick up the phone and call the first consultant who comes to mind and say, “fix me!” Does this scenario sound all too familiar? What’s so interesting to me is this is the same basic scenario we see when someone goes to an allopathic physician. They walk in, disrobe (usually after waiting for two-plus hours thumbing through magazines from the turn of the century) and then in walks god (please note that out of respect, I chose to use a lower case “g.” Most allopaths would be offended by that). The patient, after bowing for an appropriate length of time, then tells the godexcuse me, I mean doctorwhat the problem is and says, “fix me.” They ask no questions and expect no answers. All they want is a quick fix.
Well, guess what? This is exactly what a lot of chiropractors expect too, without even having to do any of the work. Now that I have sailed half way around the world to make my point, I hope you can see the parallel which I think is rather amusing. The consultant, which, by the way, has no “g” in the spelling, is thrust into a role they would rather not be in. Some, however, lose sight of what they are really there for and enjoy this new position and just go with the flow. They then take on the role and say to their discipleexcuse me, I mean clientjust take two ideas and call me in the morning.” For the chiropractor who goes into this type of relationship, it isn’t long before the honeymoon is over. They feel like they have gone to a feast at an oriental restaurant, and after stuffing themselves with a lot of fluff, the hunger returns all too soon!
We have all seen chiropractors who have “been there, and done that,” and heard their sad tales. It all stems from a lack of communication, as I said earlier. The chiropractor does not set any realistic goals of what he or she expects the consultant to do for them. I should say a few words about goals before we go any further. We all say we set goals, but really we should set two goals. One goal is what we would like and the other goal is what we would be willing to settle for. This is not a problem unless we realize it from the beginning.
Before you enter into any relationship with a consultant, you should set some realistic goals for what you want to correct and accomplish and then make sure the consultant understands what your goals are. You should ask them if they can really help you accomplish these goals. If they can’t, then you need to look for someone who can help you.
Step One: Can they really help you accomplish what you want to accomplish? Remember, what you want to accomplish; not what they want to accomplish for you.
Step Two: Very simply, do you like the consultant? Do you feel you can work with them? Since you are going to be working with this person, make sure you can stand being around them. If your gut feelings are not good, listen to your guts.
Step Three: The financial consideration. There will be a fee involved, and you need to be very clear as to what the fee is and what the contract you are expected to sign states in language you can understand. If you are not sure, have them put it in a letter form that spells everything out and that it becomes part of the contract to avoid any future misunderstandings. Don’t feel that you must play the role and act like you understand every contract you read even though you don’t. You may later find out what you didn’t understand in a court of law, a very expensive way of getting an explanation. A much better and cheaper way is to ask for clarification in letter form, which, upon acceptance, will become part of the contract. It might not hurt to have your attorney review it too.
Most consultants want you to sign a contract that states it will run for a specified period of time. If you are still not sure you want to work with this person, you might ask if they will give you a “test period,” or at least an option to get out of the contract without a high penalty. They may or may not be willing to agree to this, but it never hurts to ask if you are unsure.
By the way, it is not out of line to ask the consultant for a time line they feel is realistic for them to get you where you want to go. This might be helpful to you unless you want to be in “maintenance” for the rest of your life! I also think it would be a good idea to “interview” a few consultants to see if their outlook and approach is compatible with you. Remember, during this interview process it is like dating and they will try to show you their “best side.” If you don’t like “what you see,” fear not, they haven’t stopped making consultants yet. I am sure you will find one that will help you as the hamburger ad says, “do it your way!”
Stanley Greenfield, RHU, of Jacksonville Beach Florida, is an adjunct professor at New York Chiropractic College and Palmer College of Chiropractic. Please contact him at 904-247-9313.