Four Leaders Dish About What Works And What Doesn’t
On a recent day, four prominent chiropractors who ended up in the same room started talking about one of their favorite topics — their practices. These DCs were all past presidents of state or national associations, all very successful doctors. The one concern shared by all of them stemmed from the many telephone calls each was receiving from other doctors complaining about how horrible the practice environment is today because of HMOs and managed care, how they couldn’t build their practices, how times were tough and they didn’t know how much longer they could keep their doors open.
To put things into perspective, the four began to discuss what they had done to build their practices during one of the toughest times in chiropractic history, the 1960s. This was an era when surveys showed that only 10% of the public liked or trusted chiropractic. The overwhelming public distrust of chiropractic was fueled by a steady barrage of anti-chiropractic articles, radio and television interviews, etc., all sponsored by the American Medical Association. This was the same anti-chiropractic propaganda that lead to the infamous Wilkes lawsuit. However, in spite of this most hostile environment, these four chiropractic presidents built highly successful practices.
In comparing their early experiences, these chiropractic leaders soon realized they had all basically done the same thing — they learned and implemented practice-building activities and strategies aimed at the 10% of the public who did trust chiropractic. The doctors agreed that attitude, determination and many of the patient-attracting procedures that worked in the 1960s, continue to work today — in spite of HMOs and managed care. It’s simply a matter of learning and doing.
Here are some of the practice-building activities these past presidents discussed:
Team physicians: Consider applying to become the team physician for a local high school. You can routinely examine team members free of charge; however, when an athlete is injured and is treated in your office, there is a charge. Chances are, many of these young athletes will remain as patients well into their adulthood, as some sports injuries continue to require periodic attention. The relatives of these athletes may also become patients, and the chain of referrals from families, friends and their business associates will continue on.
Civic clubs: All of these doctors joined civic clubs and were active members. They became officers, met lots of people, and built their practices through these clubs. You will reap numerous rewards if you do the same.
Public speaking: All four presidents were regular speakers at numerous civic clubs. They also spoke to condominium associations, church/synagogue groups, mobile home park associations, etc. Every time you speak to one of these groups, it’s likely you will receive two to three new patients. Eventually, you may even want to set a goal of one talk per week.
Little League teams: Sponsoring a Little League team can be rewarding. It’s fun to see little kids playing a sport and wearing shirts with the name of your clinic on the back. You may even consider coaching a Little League team. You get to meet the players’ parents, and they get to know you — the person dedicating his or her time to helping their children play their chosen sport. You may even end up seeing some of the players as patients, and eventually, their families and friends.
Back-to-school physicals: You can give your practice a seasonal boost by performing back-to-school physicals. When the children came in for their back-to-school physicals, you can determine if they have any physical problems that might require chiropractic care.
Scoliosis screening examinations: The daughter of one of the presidents, also a chiropractor, built a large practice by examining female children for scoliosis. She examined nearly every Girl Scout and Brownie member in town, free of charge, and found many cases of varying degrees of scoliosis. From this work, many young girls avoided the debilitating effects of untreated, or medically treated, scoliosis, and from the resulting referrals, a large practice grew. You can begin to do the same in your town by starting with just one Girl Scout troop, or any similar organization.
Personal injury practice: Mastering certain skills and strategies will build a good personal injury practice today. However, building a practice on personal injury in the 1960s was a loftier goal. At that time, 90% of the public didn’t trust chiropractors; attorneys and judges wouldn’t allow us to testify; and insurance companies often refused to pay for our services. Despite those challenges, these four past presidents built their PI practices by educating patients, providing excellent patient care, writing superb narrative reports, and consistently impressing the legal world with their knowledge, expertise and professionalism. Those same strategies still work today.
Developing relationships with medical doctors: Developing relationships with medical doctors is becoming more common within the chiropractic profession. But, back in the era when the American Medical Association was attacking chiropractic, MDs were outspoken in their criticism of chiropractors. The AMA actually prohibited medical doctors from referring patients to a chiropractor. MDs were also prohibited from performing any patient services for a chiropractor, including reading X-rays, taking X-rays, interpreting laboratory procedures, drawing blood or taking urine samples for testing. Again, the presidents were not defeated by this environment. They developed good referral relationships with the medical community by consistently taking excellent care of their patients, and by unhesitatingly referring health problems that rightly belonged in the medical doctor’s office. Again, that basic philosophy still holds true.
Getting involved with the political process: Each of these four presidents was actively involved with local politics, helping to get mayors, county commissioners, representatives and senators elected. One of the reasons they volunteered for this extra work is that they got to meet lots of people. The presidents knew that the more people who know who you are, what you are, where you are, and like you, the larger your practice will be. However, these leaders were mostly motivated to devote time and energy to the political process for the chance to give back to their communities. Two past presidents of the Florida Chiropractic Association used these practice building methods and succeeded in being elected to the Florida House of Representatives, in addition to building highly successful practices.
Spinal screenings: One past president built a significant portion of his large practice by performing spinal screenings. This time-tested method of bringing in new patients still works today.
Health-care classes: A common denominator among all successful practices is their strong emphasis on patient education. The more patients you can educate about the benefits of chiropractic care and the health problems you can treat, the more your patients will use your services and the more they will refer.
Encouraging referrals: All four past presidents had referral practices. Referred patients come to you because someone they trusted told them you could help them. Therefore, they are anticipating help from you, are enthusiastic about absorbing the information, and are willing to follow most everything you tell them.
Advertising: In the late 1970s, and having received the right to do so through the Supreme Court’s Bates decision, professionals started to advertise. It was at this time that a couple of the presidents started advertising in the Yellow Pages, etc. If you’re going to advertise, make sure you hire someone experienced in designing ads that reflect you and your practice in the professional light that will bring you the patients you want. Good advertising works.
These strategies that attracted new patients for the four presidents when they started their practices — in a truly challenging environment — still work today. And today, DCs have a much greater advantage, since the public’s perception of chiropractic has improved dramatically since the 1960s. If the presidents were able to build large practices with only 10% of the public receptive to them, imagine what we’re capable of today.
A French saying comes to mind, “Plus les choses changent, plus elles demeurent les memes.” This means, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Today’s practice environment is not so different from the 1960s environment encountered by many chiropractors. Though the specific situations have changed, many of the challenges and solutions are similar.
The bottom line is renew and flourish, or resist and wither. Times are not bad today. They’re just different. Times are good, if you make them good.