Are you happy with your patient retention numbers? If you think they could be better, perhaps you’re throwing words at your patients instead of producing pictures in their minds.
When you tell patients you want to give them a “check-up,” does that term create an understanding and a picture to the patient of what you’re trying to communicate? Or, do you have to go into a longer explanation to justify your statement?
Instead of saying, “I want to perform a spinal check-up on you,” try changing the wording of that statement to, “Let’s find out how that damaged area we worked on last time is moving and functioning.”
The word “check-up” fails to create any particular picture in my mind. Therefore, it’s likely it won’t automatically create any pictures or concepts in the minds of your patients. People visualize pictures better than the more abstract word forms. Since the goal of this patient interaction is to communicate an idea, placing a picture in their mind seems to make more sense.
Properly applied, words will set the tone of a conversation and determine its outcome. For example, what creates a stronger picture in your mind, the word “panhandler” or an “unaffiliated applicant for private sector funding?” How about the difference between being “dishonest” as opposed to being “ethically disoriented?” Does being called “ignorant” bring out your neck veins more than being called a “knowledge-based non-possessor?” I’m sure you “get the picture.”
The same concepts apply in handling verbiage when talking to your patients. Do you tell the patient you are “recalling” them or inviting them in for a “necessary periodic re-examination?”
The proper application of words also extends to what your patients are saying to you. If you listen carefully to what patients are saying, they will tell you what they are thinking. As an example, your patient presents to you saying, “Hey Doc, I just need an adjustment.” This patient is telling you that they are in charge of their chiropractic treatment. You’re just another tool in their arsenal, to be used and put back in the box. We should not accept nor act upon that type of demand. Instead, perform whatever work you feel is professionally correct before the requested adjustment.
By doing this, you are showing your patients:
- You don’t take the administration of their care lightly.
- You are showing them you respect their bodies; therefore, in return, they should respect your expertise.
And, in return, you can:
- Make certain you communicate your findings to the patient.
- Perhaps just charge for the adjustment, not the check-up (state and local regulations and insurance guidelines allowing, of course).
In the previous examples, the issue is a matter of leadership between you and your patient. You are the manager of your practice, and you also have to be a leader and guide your practice toward your goals.
I once heard a goal defined as: “A dream with a deadline.” Your dream is your vision or mission. Most doctors want to lead a practice toward achieving its goals. To do this, you must be both a leader and manager.
There’s a difference between leadership and management. Leadership sets up the systems and goals, and management ensures they work. To operate a strong clinic, you must do both.
Speaking of goals, know that you’ll have to establish some before exploring the issues regarding patient retention. First, determine your definition of patient retention. Try to do it by percentages, which will make it easier to track your numbers.
Then, determine the actual size of your patient base by determining your active base vs. your inactive, base (participating vs. non-participating patients). Again, using participating instead of active, we’re playing with words, but they have an impact when your patient hears them described as one or the other. Non-participating, for example, gives the sense of not belonging, as opposed to inactive, which gives the sense of a sleeping Koala hanging down from a eucalyptus tree.
You can define participating as any patient, at the time of determination, whose last appointment was during the past 30 days or within the next 30 days, or a patient who is on some sort of established schedule. Obviously, non-participating patients fall outside those parameters.
The best time to start preparing patients for a lifetime of wellness care is right at the time when they tell you how much better they feel and how much they admire you as their guru of wellness. In other words, when you have a rapport with that patient.
That’s the time to begin communicating to them about taking care of their entire body, and not just adjusting their neck or back.
You should work on getting across to patients the idea that their body is not a static situation like Stone Mountain in Georgia, which has remained unchanged for years. Try to communicate to them the idea that the adjustment they are receiving should be looked at as a lifelong commitment for a living, changing mechanism that requires periodic maintenance.
Establish a connection with whatever your patients are familiar with, such as their cars. Help them understand the concept of pay now or pay later (i.e., if ignored, pay a lot later, including unnecessary suffering).
Why do we want to get our stabilized patients on an established schedule, as opposed to, “Well, just drop in any time you feel the need.” Because it is the beginning of a commitment. If the time they return is left to them, the appointment drops very low on their priority list. You lose control and turn into an unused tool sitting in the box, waiting for your patients to determine the status of their own health.
A week or so before a follow-up appointment, contact the patient and either confirm or have the patient call you to confirm. Again, the idea behind this is to get the patient involved in the appointment process. which strengthens the commitment. The key words here are involvement and confirmation.
Your staff has an important role to play in implementing your retention goals. Time should be set aside at each of your weekly staff meetings for training your staff to be aware of and how to use the proper words in order to get across your goals and ideas. Your goals are to educate, not befuddle; encourage, not provoke; and involve, not preclude your patients in regard to their lifelong health process.
As far as practice management, think of patient retention as a comfortable pair of shoes. They’ll support you as you travel along the road of practice success. When your destination is reached, you’ll still feel good about the trip.
Oh, by the way, have a pleasant journey!