Patient-centered care communication hacks, strategies and techniques for combining education with attention-grabbing messaging
Chiropractors committed to leading and influencing patients recognize the value of patient-centered care communication. Most would acknowledge that excellent clinical skills, when backed up with effective patient communication, are an unbeatable combination.
The best chiropractic communicators rely on a handful of techniques and strategies to get their message across. We’ll call them “hacks.”
Hack #1: Set appropriate expectations
You’ll want to install a chiropractic covenant. Because if you don’t, most patients will bring their medical doctor covenant and project it onto you. That’s unhelpful, like playing basketball to the rules of hockey. They both have goals and nets and timed periods, but that’s where the similarity ends.
What is the medical doctor covenant? It’s what patients come to expect from consulting someone of the medical persuasion — either personally or by consuming media.
During a patient’s first couple of visits, you’ll want to explain these important distinctions:
- Chiropractic is different from medicine.
- Health, ease and well-being are normal.
- Your nervous system controls everything.
- Stress can overload your nervous system.
- This can produce vertebral subluxation.
- We will conduct a thorough examination.
- We’ll explain our findings in plain language.
- A series of adjustments will be necessary.
- Adjustments do not treat your symptoms.
- Consistent visits help retrain your spine.
- You control the speed of your recovery.
- Choose wellness care to avoid a relapse.
Explain these patient-centered care communication distinctions early on, and you’ll avoid a variety of misunderstandings and communication challenges later.
Hack #2: Pre-frame the goodbye
You’d want to talk about how a patient can disengage from the practice when they’ve had enough care. Why? Because the myth still abounds that once you go to a chiropractor, you have to go for the rest of your life.
And while you and I might think it best for everyone to avail themselves of some type of ongoing supportive care, many new patients are wary. They’re afraid that by consulting you, they may be getting into something from which they won’t be able to extricate themselves.
That’s a problem.
The key is to talk about the dismissal process at the beginning — even if the patient doesn’t mention it. Rest assured that if they lack the courage to raise the issue, they’re thinking about it. Be proactive.
“Hey, have you ever heard that once you go to a chiropractor, you have to go for the rest of your life? Yes? Well, I just want you to know that it’s not true. How long you decide to benefit from chiropractic care is always up to you. All I ask is that you let me know on your last visit so we can celebrate and close your case file properly. Because my job is to provide you the best chiropractic care possible. And your job is to decide how much of it you want.”
I’m guessing you don’t regularly get patients announcing their last visit. Make no mistake. They know it’s going to be their last visit — even if they march out to the front desk to dutifully make future appointments that they have no intention of keeping.
Hack #3: Use metaphors
Since the beginning of time, the best communicators have used parables, allegories, stories, metaphors and other literary devices. Metaphors are communication tools that suggest this “new thing” is like this other thing you already understand.
If you want to amp-up your patient-centered care communication, you’ll want to become a master at some of the more effective metaphors. There are some you already use — even if you don’t recognize them as metaphors.
Use metaphors regularly, and you’ll see a light bulb brighten above a patient’s head. Which, as you may have noticed, is a metaphor!
Hack #4: Ask rather than tell
When it comes to chiropractic patient education, most of the modeling you’ve received is from a professor at the front of the room, yakking. Yakking isn’t education. It’s called education, but it’s teaching. If you’re talking, you’re teaching. The distinction is important.
It’s interesting that chiropractors who recognize the value of patient education are often unable to produce a syllabus or even a rudimentary curriculum of what every patient should know. Here’s my stab at it. It’s not that extensive, and much of it was introduced on the first visit when you installed your chiropractic covenant:
- Chiropractic care is different from medicine.
- Chiropractic care doesn’t treat anything.
- The nervous system is the master system.
- Vertebral subluxation is the result of stress.
- A series of consistent visits will be needed.
- Patients control the speed of their recovery.
- How long a patient benefits is up to them.
How many of your patients know and understand these principles? Would a visitor to your practice encounter something similar on a practice tour?
Hack #5: Use pattern interruptions
Our reticular activating system is responsible for many cognitive functions related to the awareness of our surroundings. Virtually every piece of sensory information is first evaluated by this system to determine its importance.
Based on a typical patient’s experience in a chiropractic practice, wall graphics are only used on the first and second visit — and many times, not even then. Within a handful of visits, the messages on your walls, both implicit and explicit, are ignored. They become invisible. Simply having them within a patient’s sightline is not enough.
Rotating your posters and charts each month means patients (and you) are more likely to see them. It’s a simple use of a pattern interruption. Turns out we humans are wired for noticing patterns. What’s different? Which one isn’t like the others? What’s changed? Is it a threat? Am I safe?
Use pattern interruptions as part of your patient-centered care communication to provoke conversations with patients. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Worn tire — Visit a tire store and pick up a tire that’s seriously worn from poor front-end alignment. Clean it up if necessary and lean it against a wall in your practice. “What’s the tire for?” some will ask, inviting you to share your observations about the importance of spinal alignment.
Pile of sugar — Measure out 39 grams of sugar onto a pile at your front desk. “What’s that?” asks a patient. “It’s what comes in one of these,” your front desk team member smiles, reaching below the counter and producing a 12-ounce can of Coke.
Annotate your posters — If you value the wall graphics and chiropractic art on your practice walls, you’ve had them professionally framed behind glass. That creates a surface on which to use dry erasable marketing pens to circle key points, make annotations and draw attention to your wall charts.
The idea is to break the pattern and interrupt the routine. During that brief gap, you have an opportunity to connect.
Patient-centered care communication: a ‘hack’ isn’t a shortcut
When it comes to patient-centered care communication, there aren’t any shortcuts. These simple hacks are a distillation of strategies used by the busiest chiropractors to lead and inspire patients who are interested in better health. If you limit your practice to the low-tech resolution of spinal pain syndromes, your patient education obligations are modest.
Today, in the era of coronavirus, offering health care rather than mere pain relief is probably a wise choice. Seems those chiropractors who do are busier than ever. Coincidence?
BILL ESTEB has been a chiropractic patient and advocate since 1981. He is the creative director of Patient Media and cofounder of the Perfect Patients digital marketing website service.