The “difficult patient” has challenged every chiropractor who has ever been in practice.
It is likely most of us have experienced a difficult patient within the last month or even the last week.
In our offices we hear questions like, “Do I really have to come in for that many visits?” and statements such as, “I will have to discuss it with my spouse.” Chiropractors have been quoted as saying, “If people would only understand the benefits of chiropractic they would be holding us at gunpoint forcing us to adjust them.”
It is true that chiropractic goes against the grain of Western medicine with its philosophy toward health, and in general it remains somewhat controversial in the eyes of the public.
However, while taking popular culture into account, when you say you have a difficult patient, are they actually difficult or is there a misunderstanding at work?
When a patient enters a chiropractic practice, they are looking for guidance and relief. Typically, if a patient acts difficult there may be several causes, the most common being a misunderstanding between yourself and the patient.
When a patient reports that they are not going to follow your recommendations, you tend to defend your point and lose track of your purpose. If you step back for a minute and ask the patient why they are not choosing care, then you can address their specific concerns. It boils down to this: When you consult with the patient and they feel you are making the wrong decisions for them, they will want to leave your office. Do not use manipulative sales techniques in these situations.
The intention and focus of your practice should be centered on creating and maintaining beneficial doctor-patient relationships, which takes time and effort. When you are having difficulties with a patient, it’s time to focus on your communication skills. Listen first, speak second.
Many of the communication strategies taught by chiropractic management companies and coaching firms include techniques that are often aggressive, scripted and controversial. Most chiropractors, ironically, speak ill of the word “manipulation,” but perhaps unknowingly still use these techniques in their practices. The doctor-patient relationship often falls to the wayside in these scenarios.
Certain strategies taught by management companies may damage your reputation as a chiropractor. Patients want to feel well and be validated. So, do you really have difficult patients or are they being misunderstood? Focus on communication and prioritize care.
That said, there will invariably be patients who present you with struggles that are beyond your scope. Factors such as obstinacy or mental illness may prevent you from being effective with certain individuals and inhibit your ability to build rapport. In such cases, look to refer this patient to another chiropractor or health care professional.
Developing your practice begins with communication and your dedication to patients. It emphasizes a philosophy that should be incorporated into every procedure and reinforced by every employee in your practice. Patient care is more than the technique you use; it is about building rapport with your patients. Rapport is a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, and empathy that makes communication possible.
Misunderstandings can make a relationship strained and difficult. Aim to build confidence in each patient by acknowledging them and making them feel special. Become an active listener and give the patient hope that they are in the right place. Lastly, show empathy and respect and you will discover the recommendations and guidance you give will be followed as you support patients toward their health goals.
The book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, is a great reference on how to relate with people. Connection is the most important component in communication. Your ability to connect with others is a vital determinant of your ability to build the practice of your dreams. While connecting generally isn’t an inherent strength, it is a skill you can develop and apply in your practice to build relationships with patients.
As you master your communication skills, you will quickly find that the number of your difficult patients begins to diminish accordingly. You will have fewer misunderstandings as your connecting with each patient increases the influence you have with them, and builds the trust they have in you.
As your communication skills improve, your ability to learn and adapt will be recognized by others. You’ll find that “keeping it simple” when discussing health issues will be inspire patients to incorporate changes to their health. If you develop and continue to improve your communication skills and connection with your patients, the success of your practice will increase. Patients stay with you longer, refer their friends and family, and follow through on your recommendations. Ultimately, if you minimize this form of stress in your office, you will catapult your way to building the practice of your dreams.
You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want. — Zig Ziglar
Brian Rector, DC, owns and operates In8coach and Consulting Group, LLC. He also is CEO and owner of Monterey Chiropractic Group, a multidoctor clinic for 24 years. He has worked with numerous offices throughout the U.S. for the past 10 years on business leadership and development resulting in average growth rates of 30 percent within the first year. He can be contacted at 831-601-9510, firstname.lastname@example.org, or through in8coach.com.