After 104 years of chiropractic, where are we in terms of total patient education and communication? Many people all over the world still don’t know what a chiropractor is or does. It would follow, then, that something is noticeably “out of whack” with the way we are communicating.
Just what does out of whack mean, anyhow? It’s funny, because in 17 years of chiropractic practice, with over 400,000 adjustments under my clinics belt, I have never been able to figure out exactly what this whack thing is. I’m talking about those oft-spoken words, “I’m out of whack, Doc. Can you fix it?”
What we do know, though, is that when something is out of whack, we need to correct it. When I first started seeing patients, I realized patient communication needed to be improved, and I changed the way in which my staff and I educated our patients. I have found these changes to be extremely beneficial for both my patients and my practice. What follows is an action plan that will help you take your patient communication and education to the next level.
First, clean out your closets and get rid of the junk. Relieve yourself of the outdated, inaccurate or just plain unprofessional patient education materials you may have accumulated over the years. If you’re still handing out photocopies of the spine taken from one of your college books, stop. As a printer friend once told me, “You are what you print.” In other words, how your communication materials look greatly affects the way in which patients will perceive your practice. Also, please note that quality patient education materials are not necessarily expensive materials.
Next, realize that the real patient education is done by you, the doctor. I’ve watched some great chiropractors effectively explain the concepts of chiropractic with nothing more than a stick and a rock. I’ve also seen others use thousands of dollars worth of machines, tools and paper in an attempt to explain a subluxation. What determines how effectively the information is communicated? I believe the answer is summed up in one word: Passion!
Let’s face it – even if you have one bad day and don’t communicate as well as you should, you may influence the way in which many patients judge their chiropractic experience. Those are patients you can’t afford to lose. You must always remain passionate, because with passion comes energy. When you have energy, you step with enthusiasm and express genuine interest in the latest news from your patients. Co-workers enjoy your company and are more efficient; children are less apprehensive about giving you a “high five”; and patients look up from their magazines when you enter the waiting room. Passion gives you a presence.
Now, replace any junk you may have with communication materials that are truly interesting and educational. Patient literature that you believe in serves as a true extension of yourself and your philosophy. Use your patient education materials and models to accentuate your teachings, not as a substitute for one-on-one time. The printed piece is a great reinforcement for seeds you have already planted. Effective literature will solidify patients’ thoughts, promoting a feeling of confidence in their decision to choose you as their doctor. Educated patients will be more involved in their treatment, and they will be walking billboards for your services. There is no advertising as effective as a satisfied and educated patient.
Technology is the final point to discuss when analyzing contemporary patient communication ideas and tools. Do you have a website promoting your practice? Do you use today’s computer technology to its fullest? If you answered no, you are missing out on the one medium that has helped me understand more about the patient’s point of view than anything else during the past decade.
The use of computers and the Internet is not a passing fad. Statistics indicate the number of adults using the Internet has dramatically increased from 9 percent to 44 percent in just four years. According to The Harris Poll, #11, January 1999, 60 million adults searched the web for health-care information in 1998.
That means more and more of your patients and potential patients are spending free time surfing the web. They shop on-line, they correspond with friends and family by e-mail, and they research different issues, including healthcare, on the web. These patients are computer-savvy, educated people who value their time and their money. Many of them are looking for an alternative to the same old, tired model of healthcare. In short, they are looking for a doctor like you. Will they be able to find you? Start by hiring an accomplished webmaster and make your presence known on the World Wide Web. The results can be amazing.
Patient education and communication tools are more important now than ever. The information age is upon us, and with a little know-how, people are able to research their options and make informed decisions. They have become aware of their choices, and chiropractic is fully poised to offer the solutions they want.
Great patient communication tools can make your job easier. They can help you communicate more with less effort, and the results will be more compliant patients who refer others to your door.