There’s no bell, no playground and no blackboard. No principal, no crossing guard and no cafeteria employees. And while they don’t say the “Pledge of Allegiance” each day, Dr. Lisa Wood’s patients certainly seem to have pledged their “allegiance” when it comes to patient education and retention.
When patients visit Wood Family Chiropractic in Holliston, Mass., school is indeed in session. For Wood, education equals retention where her patients are concerned. A focus on teaching patients about the subluxation complex and the power of an adjustment has enabled Wood to build a thriving practice in just eight years.
Wood and her associate, Dr. Richard Chudzikiewicz, see approximately 300 patient visits per week, including up to 20 new patients. Wood sees patients two and a half days per week while also running the business side of the practice, and Chudzikiewicz sees patients three and a half days per week.
The practice bills over half a million dollars a year and boasts a 95% collection rate and 70% cash-paying patients. Wood says her financial success is secondary to the success of teaching patients about the importance of chiropractic.
“Every visit is a teaching opportunity for me to educate them about chiropractic,” she says.
Don’t think the schoolhouse analogy is far-fetched, either. Not only do Wood and her staff instruct and instill knowledge; they also give their patients “tests,” or as Wood calls them, “progress reports.”
Wood begins the educational process by having a theme for each visit, something on which patients can focus. For instance, she might pick one visit to explain to patients that 10% of the nerves exiting the spine are sensory, while the other 90% are not. She relates that information to why it’s so important to get checked on a regular basis.
By the 12th visit, patients are quizzed. Wood actually gives them pen and paper and a set of questions related to chiropractic. Sample questions might include asking what the subluxation is, or what the endocrine system controls in the body. Nobody can flunk out of patient education “school,” but if grades actually were doled out, Wood says the average patient would fare quite well. In the end, most end up with an above-average comprehension of the basic tenets of chiropractic, and that, Wood says, is the ultimate goal.
The program does boast some star pupils. There are contests surrounding the tests, and the three top scorers receive $50 gift certificates.
The most important lesson, and the most important aspect of Wood’s educational process, is that she teaches and reinforces the need for wellness care and preventive maintenance. She makes sure patients understand why they simply can’t come in a couple of times, get adjusted and then disappear.
More themes are involved in this process. By showing what chiropractic has to do with ear infections, or energy levels, or anything else that patients might not suspect are treatable by a chiropractor, Wood raises interest, which in turn leads patients to maintain an ongoing patient-doctor relationship. She wants patients to know why they still need to come back, even if they’re feeling well.
“We talk about other subjects besides chiropractic,” Wood says. “It’s a constant focus in my mind. They have to understand more about why they’re coming. And when they do, they give referrals. It’s all about creating and establishing a relationship with the patient.” That educational process doesn’t start and stop with Wood. Her entire staff act as “teachers,” with each member well-versed in chiropractic and its benefits.
“I just want to teach what health truly is,” Wood says. “It’s not just about bad backs.”
Wood’s interest in patient education has its roots in her background within the profession before she even earned her doctor of chiropractic degree. She had earned her bachelor of science degree in nutrition as an undergraduate, and then went on to work as a chiropractic assistant for nine different doctors over the course of 16 years, before deciding to become a chiropractor herself.
Another key to Wood’s rate of retention is reflected by the name of the practice, Wood “Family” Chiropractic. Going to great lengths to ensure chiropractic is a family affair for patients, youngsters are key patients, and they are included in the educational process as well.
Wood says when patients are “tested,” children tend to fare as well, if not better, than the adults do. The youngsters learn in part from an adjustable bear made by Sigafoose Products that Woods uses to demonstrate chiropractic principles to the kids. Chiropractic coloring books are another way Woods starts teaching children about chiropractic from an early age.
A direct result of the family atmosphere created by Wood is that children seem to love it. Erica Plunkett, who has been a patient of Wood’s for six years, says she picks up her 5-year-old daughter from school, and she will say: “Mom, I think I need an adjustment tonight.” Plunkett says that Wood is extremely approachable. “I can talk to her about anything,” she says. “She knows when to mix alternative medicine and conventional medicine.”
It was the need for a new chiropractor after moving into the area six years ago that got Plunkett and her family into Wood’s office in the first place. But the way the office is run is what’s kept them there. “Her office is really like a haven,” says Plunkett, who takes yoga classes at Wood’s practice twice a week in addition to receiving chiropractic care. “She just offers a lot of different things. It’s more like being in a family than anything else.”
What drives the family atmosphere is that feeling of home. Wood also tries to help people who may not have deep pockets. “If somebody wants chiropractic care, I don’t want them to not be able to afford it,” she says. “If they really don’t have money but are serious about their health, I want them to come in.”
As for people who can afford it, most pay cash, which is what Wood strives for. She says helping people understand the importance of paying for services rendered in a timely way is also an educational process. And that process must be working, since Wood’s practice can boast a 95% collection rate.
Wood encourages patient retention by making long-term, repeat-visit patients honorary members of “The Power Club,” so named because “we turn people’s power on through chiropractic,” Wood says.
The more patients receive adjustments, the more they understand the need to be there, Wood says. “The people are educated that they need chiropractic, and they need to pay for it out of their own pocket,” she says.
The more regularly she can see a patient, the better Wood can focus on the concept of “The Big Idea,” which simply states that when innate intelligence is working, your body is working better, and when the your body is working correctly, you’re going to be healthy.
The educational process is a continual one that starts once a patient is in the office for the first time and rarely stops. Nothing is forced upon patients, but they are surrounded by chiropractic information. You won’t find “Time” or “Newsweek” on Wood’s waiting-room end tables. However, you might find an educational patient newsletter.
Wood favors customized newsletters created by Bill Esteb of Patient Media, Inc. Esteb says that reaching today’s television-oriented consumer is the key. “I prefer to get information graphically,” he says. The key making any newsletter effective is keeping the message simple and bridging the gap between doctor and patient by anticipating questions patients will have, Esteb says.
Newsletters are part of how Wood keeps patients’ attention on chiropractic. She has several ways of attracting the attention of potential new patients. From career days to contacting school nurses, to coaches, to speaking to women’s clubs, to simply talking to other parents at her own kids’ soccer games, Wood treats every moment as a marketing opportunity.
For some people, part of the appeal of Wood’s practice lies in the fact that she has multiple healing options. Simple adjustments might be all certain patients need, but she knows that isn’t for everyone. She also offers massage, intuitive counseling and energy medicine. Patients can also take home a variety of ancillary items, from simple support pillows to ergonomic backpacks for youngsters, to customized diagnostic-driven vitamin supplement programs (Wood uses Ideal Health’s nutritional program).
Outside of office visits, Wood keeps patients up-to-date via in-office classes, patient lectures and focus groups. The focus groups entail meeting with long-time patients and picking their brains for things they like and dislike about the practice, as well as brainstorming to devise ways to make the practice better and more patient-friendly.
The many options, the family atmosphere, the comfort level and the constant education are some of the reasons why at least 65 of Woods’ patients have come in every single week for at least two years. For them, and for all of Woods’ patients, school is in session year round. And as long as the teacher shows up for work every day, there will be more than an apple on her desk. There will be an office full of students with no desire to ever graduate.
Wood Family Chiropractic
838 Washington St.
Holliston, MA 01706
M-F: 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; 3 p.m.-7 p.m.
(Closed Wednesday mornings)
SAT: 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
Dr. Lisa Wood, owner
Dr. Richard Chudzikiewicz, associate DC
Dawn Baker, CA, licensed massage therapist
Pam Piorkowski, CA
Ron Charpentier, licensed massage therapist
Cat Parah, intuitive counseling
Gross annual billings: $520,000
Gross annual collections: $494,000 (95%)
Patient visits: 300 per week
New patient visits: 20 per week
Practice Revenue by Payment Type:
Workers’ Comp: 5%
Auto Insurance/PI: 5%Marketing Budget:
Newspaper advertising: $100/month for 6 months = $600 per year
Community donations: $180/10 per year = $1,800 per year
Advertisement at YMCA: $300 per year
Local phone book advertising: $2,400 per year
Patient Appreciation Party: $1,200 per year
Printing costs (flyers, patient literature,
business cards, etc.): $1,000 per year
Total annual marketing budget: $7,300
Pounding the Pavement
When it comes to marketing, don’t try to tell Dr. Lisa Wood a knock-knock joke. She probably wouldn’t think it was very funny. Wood, you see, takes knocking on doors very seriously.
Eight years ago, shortly after she opened Wood Family Chiropractic practice in Holliston, Mass., Wood was in need of a way to get some patients. She took the direct route (no, not direct mail- more direct than that).Literally making her way up and down neighborhood streets, Wood went out door-to-door and brought in new patients for a then fledgling practice.
“I said, ‘Hi, I’m Dr. Lisa Wood, and I’m the new chiropractor in town…. I’m on a mission to check everyone’s spine,’ ” Wood recalls. “They were taken aback, of course. They sort of looked at me. Some people had me in for tea. I never got negative responses, though.”
Some weren’t interested in what Wood had to say, but enough were that she was seeing 100 patients per week after just six months in practice. Even when people weren’t immediately interested, Wood handed them a business card and bid them a cheerful farewell.
Wood attributes some of that early success – and the nerve to forge it – to a seminar offered by Anthony Tremaine called “Walk the Walk.” She took the advice
literally and ran (well, walked) with it. She still has patients from those early days. “I kind of got good at it,” she says. “We laugh about it now.”
Although Wood no longer goes door-to-door to market her practice, she’s carried over some of the lessons learned to the marketing she does today. Wood says she still believes that lasting impressions are better made face-to-face. She says: “You can’t just sit in your office and hope people walk in.”