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With 21 physicians and seven clinics, Sparlin Chiropractic Clinic ranked as one of Georgia’s Top 25 Physician Group Practicesand it is the first time a chiropractic group has been included. Dr. Eugene E. Sparlin shares his secrets to building his elite group of doctors in this exclusive interview.
I am involved in an organization that recently conducted a survey on Atlanta-area businesses. The results revealed our clinic is in a location between the two biggest money centers in the State of Georgiathe Atlanta airport and the downtown area, which involves the State Capitol we are right between the two of them. Another thing I never knewthe survey revealed there was only one other business that started in 1954 or before, besides mine. There was nobody that had been in business that long. I am proud of this fact, although I had never thought about it until now. My advice to young people is to hang in there.
I have seen people change careers, some on a regular basis and those are the ones who normally don’t get to the top. It’s the people who stay with it through thick and thin and continue to get smarter, who know more about what they are doing and continue to improve their skills without switching and changing.
How did you get started?
When I first started practicing, I struggled, although I came from a background in which I knew a lot of the basic information. It was a struggle when I went into a market where nobody knew much about chiropractic and it certainly was not a household word in the 50’s. This was not a popular profession at that time. However, I finally discovered a marketing procedure that allowed me to produce more patients than I could take care of. So, with my marketing skills, I hired a doctor to help me and as long as we continued to do all that we could do and more, we went on.
After recognizing that I had the ability to operate profitably with one associate, I added more associates over many years. During this time we were included in worker’s comp, then the federal Medicare program and then the State of Georgia obtained the insurance equality lawsall the while I continued marketing. I reached out into the community and educated the 90% who didn’t know about chiropractic. I hired another associate and then another.
What’s your secret to attracting and retaining good associates?
Obviously, all associates don’t fit the mold and while many of them work out, many of them don’t. My formula for success is to put my associates next to me and show them by examplelead by example. Stay in communication with them and don’t assume they know. When they come out of school, they know only the technical aspects of the practice. They don’t know about handling people or business, they need to be taught by example.
What prompted you to obtain the services of an MD in your clinic?
We decided we wanted to have an MD here on a regular basis and there is a large market of medical doctors who are available to work per hour. They, too are having problems in the managed care arena and many need employment that’s the primary reason they will work for you. If you have the ability to generate enough cases, you can hire medical doctors to do the workit’s not a lot different from hiring a chiropractor.
Does your MD refer patients to your associates?
Yes, she does. We send a volume of patients to her maybe they have an infectious process or we need her to do a second opinion for a legal case; when she has people who need soft tissue care or trauma patients, they come directly over to us.
When did you expand into your present 8,000 square foot facility?
In the early 80’s our first building was too crowded for our growing practice, so we tore it down and built a new 8,000 square foot facility with the capability of handling 2,000 people a week. We continued to work hard and we now have eleven doctors in this facility. We work in shifts with five doctors working Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and six doctors working Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The days they are not seeing patients they are doing paperwork, marketing and public relations work.
Has this arrangement worked well?
This formula has worked very well although it has not been copied much. Sometimes it is difficult for our associates to maximize the days they are not seeing patients we try to convey the value of this golden time as it is the key to success. Associates need accountability: part of our management philosophy is to help our doctors by making them accountable for their time and their efforts. We meet with them regularly.
What types of marketing do you do?
In the 50’s I obtained good results by inviting patients to gather their friends and relatives and have home lectures. This inexpensive form of marketing succeeded for many years. As we got more sophisticated and busier, we didn’t have time to do it anymore. Since then we have tried every known form of marketing, and we have found face-to-face marketing, direct response or impulse marketing to work best for us this is where we talk to a group of people and invite them to make appointments. We also do screenings or health fair presentations in malls, flea markets or retail stores such as K-Mart where there is high traffic flow. We also do “dinners with the doctor” where people can sign up to come in to our office.
Do you have a full-time marketing professional?
I am very fortunate that I have enough offices and people that we can have a specialist it does help us.
Is it cost-effective?
We pay a salary plus a bonus for each case over a pre-determined goal. If the marketing person is successful, it more than compensates our costs, it takes a certain type of person to do this. The trick is to find a person who is willing to work to go out and meet people face-to-face, arrange dinners and call on law firms and businesses. The person must be capable of this type of work and must know the product. Our marketing division works quite well and can be duplicated. I am willing for doctors interested in implementing this type of program to contact my marketing person.
How are your marketing efforts divided?
One fourth of our marketing efforts consist of sending mailings to past patients, which comprises a large number of people. We also spend approximately 1/2 of our efforts on patient referrals from our practice. With a practice of this size, we evaluate where our new patients come from. We found over 50% of our direct referrals come from our own patients. Wow, that’s great! Attorneys account for 20% and 20% from signage, direct mail and other efforts that is basically our marketing program.
What kinds of cases do you see?
We don’t have a real defined marketwe have a mix of patients’ personal injury, Medicare, workers compensation, group and private pay with no insurance. Our practice sees a fair amount of personal injury cases and we have become friends with local law firms. When we have patients who need legal help, we refer them and when they have people who need treatment as a result of an injury, they refer to us. We stay very active in the community and keep in contact with the spiritual leaders and all businesses. We have patients from a national biscuit factory near us, in addition to the Capitol of Georgia, the railroads and the telephone company, although we do not target one specific segment of the community.
So you work with industry?
Yes, we have achieved the most success by meeting with people, marketing directly through our patients and with our marketing person. We have yet to be successful in getting large companies to send their employees to us. Unions send us members, but the companies themselves don’t. They basically stay with the medical system.
How did you connect with Evander Holyfield?
I was involved in the Olympics and I offered to be a host. They assigned me the president of the International Federation of Boxing, a college professor from Pakistan who is the world’s president of all amateur boxing. Boxing in third world countries is a popular sport because they don’t have a lot of money for stadiums and they can feature a boxer without spending a lot. In the past when I have met celebrities, my patients would ask if I’d had my picture taken with them and I’d say, no. But I’ve found that they like to see their doctor pictured with important people because the association makes them proud.
What are the keys to successful management?
- Evaluate your formula for success.
- Don’t become weak in your beliefs.
- If you believe in chiropractic, then do it and keep it going.
- Work hard to keep a fair exchange throughout your whole organization.
- Ask yourself, “Is this beneficial for the doctor who works with us? Is it good for us?” If it’s not good for him, it’s not good for us.
- Let the light shine on you. Your business is a direct proportion to the attention you’re getting in your community.
We have a good organization, a strong marketing arm and a great office manager who has been with us for 16 years and is strong in billing third parties and collectionsshe collects multi-millions for us annually. On the front desk we have a greeter who calls patients by name as they come in, smiles and makes them feel better; once they are treated we have a person who makes their next appointment, writes a receipt, and sends them on their way very happy. Our organization is strong in all these areas.
With 2,000 patients weekly, do they wait long?
We are sensitive that people have a time limit to spend in a doctor’s office. If a patient spends more than 20 minutes from entry, treatment, therapy and are on their way out, we tighten up.
What type of therapies do you offer in your clinic?
We offer cervical traction, hot and cold therapy and integrated traction (Spinolator) which consists of a table with rollers to realign the spine, increase circulation and break down fixations.
Do you offer rehab?
We have some demand and realize it is a needed part of the total health picture, particularly with personal injury cases, but we’ve never divided our efforts into that area. We have been too busy with chiropractic care.
What about offering nutritional products?
We recommend nutrition and dieting. In past years we have offered products, but it has been more successful for us to refer people to a health food store and not carry products.
We educate our patients through health care classes three times a week. Patients in our classes learn how the body works and we discuss the different segments of health: that are very important to each patient. It’s wrong for a doctor to adjust a patient and not tell him the whole story so he can duplicate the experience with someone else. We have excelled in this area. Our doctors are very strong in their own beliefs and the patients pick up on this and refer others. People are attracted to persons with a strong belief system. They like that.
How have you been able to deal with down times?
If things aren’t good, the last place to cut back is marketing. You need to spend 10% of your gross income on marketingtake 10% and put it right back in. It’s not a whole lot different from farmers who harvest their crop and replant a percentage of the harvest the next year. In chiropractic you should do the same. If things are bad, then get back to basics. It’s a very basic thing to reinvest 10% in your marketing efforts, but you need to be smart and spend the money wisely. There were times I spent 10% of my gross income and couldn’t handle the business.
What hours are your clinics open?
We have someone available 24 hours a day, but we are no longer open seven days a week. We are now open 8 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday and open 8 am to 2 pm on Saturday. You should be open when people can come to you and copy the retail market’s business hours. We try to do thatit works. We learn more things about business by looking at other businesses than by looking at other chiropractors.
What else have you done to copy retailers?
To get people through the door we do special events such as Patient Appreciation Day every year. Recently we examined people in exchange for a $10 donation to Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity Organization. In two days our six clinics raised almost $5,000 for the Habitat organization. We also use various tools, such as coupons to get people to come in, and we make an effort to acknowledge and thank people who refer others.
There’s a lot to learn. If someone is having trouble, should they hire an expert?
Probably the best advice for young people is to work for someone who is doing well and will share their information. Doctors have agreed to work for us for two years, I tell them everything I know. At the end of two years, they can go out and do what they want to do. Our former associates are some of the most successful chiropractors in the country. Young doctors looking for associateships need to analyze the potential employer and make an effort to determine how much they are going to learn. That’s not an easy task, but it can be accomplished by looking at the doctors who are doing well, visiting with them and asking questions. If new graduates spend a year or two learning, they can save themselves a lot of heartache and effort. If you wish to practice in a particular state, get a list of every licensed chiropractor from the state and send a resume with a pictureit’s inexpensive and a good place to begin. If you get a dozen or responses from an area, arrange for a visit.
What advice for success do you offer others?
The future of chiropractic is gigantic. While it is difficult for the chiropractic colleges to teach all the scientific information, let alone business aspects, this is not unique to chiropractic. Chiropractors who are astute at marketing do well and it’s okay to not be like everybody else if you have something special to do or say in the marketing arena. Step out and do it and don’t back off. Don’t try to blend in; let the light shine right on you and tell the world about chiropractic, because it’s right and you’ll help more people. If you look at the most active groups in the world, they don’t worry about what people are thinking about them. They’re thinking about how much they’re helping people.s
Please contact Dr. Sparlin at 923 Dill Avenue, SW, Atlanta GA 30310 or call 404-753-3141.