Many DCs are taught the perfect script and delivery during a chiropractic consult will play the biggest role in new-patient care acceptance.
Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While your communications do play the most important role in patient perception, trust, and decision-making, how you communicate in today’s chiropractic practice is not taught in school, practice management seminars, or continuing education classes. So drop the script and start communicating with a patient-centered paradigm.
This will distinguish you from the other doctors your new patients have seen in the past. And it will produce far more care acceptance and referrals than you could imagine.
Playing it by ear
Strategic patient communication is the key. “Strategic” means you adapt to the conversation and change your words with every new patient.
Instead of finding this new model to be difficult, you’ll discover it’s actually easy to do. You won’t have the feeling of being a scripted robot, repeating the same monologue to every new patient, day after day with the same nodding- head response but no enthusiasm or care acceptance. You can separate yourself from that practice experience and escape to a better way.
If it’s broken, fix it
The utilization rate in chiropractic hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years. What’s being taught to chiropractors clearly isn’t working to make a difference in public perception.
And especially as third-party reimbursement declines, you need the latest tools to effectively maintain and grow your practice. Those tools are now here. And the first and most important is patient-centered communication that doesn’t involve scripts.
Scripting is a heavily outdated model. And the general public is savvier than ever before—they can pick up when you’re reciting a script. You hold your body differently, your tone and pace of speech are different, and you lack authenticity. And most people today now have an internal filter that detects this. Breaking rapport and trust is the quickest way to lose new patients after the first or second visit.
Accordingly, you’ll rarely meet a DC who enjoys scripting. It’s either draining, monotonous, or worse—the doctor doesn’t believe the words they’re saying.
Too often, practice management coaches instruct DCs to memorize and recite scripts that aren’t fully congruent with their values, and that always leads to practice sabotage. It may be the use of pressure, coercion, or even fear when it comes to getting a patient to accept and understand your care through a script.
But to drop your script and increase patient rapport, you need to understand patient-centered communication. This begins by truly listening to your patient, not just giving them time to speak.
Talking past each other
During a new-patient chiropractic consult, many DCs think patients are listening when in fact they’re not. Most new patients are in pain or symptomatic when they show up at your practice. They are nervous and anxious about their diagnosis and prognosis. They’re in an emotional state, which means the new patient won’t comprehend or retain much chiropractic education.
So, if you begin your chiropractic consult the traditional way (logic-based education), the patient will rarely remember the important details later— what their problem is and how you might be able to help. This is because they stopped listening to you early on.
Don’t jeopardize that part of the visit. If you don’t start by listening to your prospective new patient, you’ll dramatically reduce the chances of them listening to you and following your recommendations.
A better start
At the beginning of a new-patient visit, tell them exactly what to expect from start to finish during the visit, even if the CA has already done so. Let them know how long it’s going to take. Build rapport by asking your patient about their referrer or something else to establish common ground, e.g., “How long have you lived in the community?”
Then do what most other DCs fail to do: Listen carefully to your new patient and find out why he or she is coming to see you, paying particular attention to the language the patient uses.
Usually, when a person is sharing health concerns with you, they will use descriptive adjectives. They may describe their “excruciating headaches” or “stabbing sciatica.”
The words your patients use are not random. They’re personal and important to them. If you say “sharp sciatica” after they told you “stabbing sciatica,” or you say “horrible headaches” when they said “excruciating headaches,” you’ll leave the patient feeling like you didn’t listen or don’t understand. That causes a disconnect and diminishes patient trust going forward.
Now move from words to their emotions to tighten the connection. Find out how your patient’s health concern is making them feel in emotional terms, such as “frustrated,” “scared,” or “desperate.”
Emotional feelings can count even more than physical ones. Get to level two of building the best possible rapport with new patients by under- standing their emotional state. You want every new patient to think, “This doctor truly cares about me.”
Finally, find out what your new patients really want. Patients may come into your office with back and neck pain, fibromyalgia, or a host of other issues you can help with, but this issue alone isn’t the entirety of what the person wants resolved.
Most patients will be missing a vital part of their lives due to their health issues, and that’s what they want back in addition to a clean bill of health.
When you find that missing component, your care and recommendations take on an entirely new level of significance. And because every patient’s needs and drives are different, it’s impossible to script this. On the contrary, scripting can sabotage your success because you won’t be tapping into your new patients’ deepest desires.
For example: Your patient could be an elderly man who can’t play golf every weekend with his friends due to his back pain, or a woman who wants to lose 15 pounds before her son’s wedding but can’t exercise with her sciatica, or the man whose migraines are effecting his work performance.
The loss will be different for everyone. You may have to dig to find it, but when you discover what a patient’s larger desire is in healing and you frame your basis of care around it, you’ll see a significant increase in care acceptance, retention, and referrals.
Some patients will start telling others about you even before their first adjustment. It’s common for the patients of doctors using this approach to comment: “This is the best experience I’ve ever had in a doctor’s office in my life.”
Drop the script, truly listen to your patients, and apply these communication insights and you’ll need fewer new patients and marketing expenses, while watching your practice grow.
Josh Wagner, DC, graduated from Life University and is now in private practice in New York. He has authored e-books on fibromyalgia and nutrition, and most recently created The Perfect Patient Funnel System, for DCs to strengthen their practices and minimize stress. He can be contacted through perfectpatientfunnel.com.