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August, 2012

A New Look at Patient Retention

By Eric Huntington, DC

There are few careers that can challenge the wits of an individual more than that of a health care provider practicing outside the mainstream health care model. This includes most alternative medicine practitioners and certainly, to a large degree, chiropractors. By being outside the mainstream model, I am specifically referring to the fact that as chiropractors, we are outside of the medical system which directs patients in and through to various providers and services.

At the front end of the system, the major marketing campaigns are funded by big pharma. This fact obviously leaves us out. Once a patient is in the system, we are generally outside the traditional referral network of most physicians. Finally, and maybe most significantly, the insurance system does not make it easy for patients to choose chiropractic. Even when there is coverage, it's always limited in some way, shape or form. Compared to chiropractic insurance benefits, medical benefits might as well be unlimited — and sometimes are.

This situation has unfortunately resulted in many greatly skilled chiropractors closing their doors. The fact is, to thrive as a successful chiropractor in the current practice environment, a chiropractor must not only provide great service to their patients, but they must also be skilled in marketing, sales and administration. In today's health care arena, the chiropractor must not only be the doctor, but must also wear or delegate these other vital hats. For those of us who wish to only wear the "chiropractor" hat, this can be frustrating. Chiropractors do not currently have this luxury that most medical doctors enjoy due to the fact that medicos are plugged into a larger system where others do those services for them.

However, should the entire medical system fall apart (not outside the realm of future possibility), the chiropractor will find themselves much more prepared than their counterparts that currently depend on that established system. There is nothing lost in enjoying however little bit of solace that thought might provide. So, what is one to do in present time? Simply stated, get skills in marketing, sales and business administration. More practically given the length of this article, learn how to improve your patient retention!

Since no doctor should ever provide a service to a patient that is unnecessary, you must first start by figuring out exactly what the patient does, in fact, need. This probably sounds over simplistic, but most doctors have never thought this all the way through.

Figuring out what the patient needs can include delivering a more complete service. For example, if you've traditionally offered more of a pain relief type service to patients, you might want to explore other chiropractic services such as functional rehab or structural rehab. These additional services can be completely necessary to a particular patient, whereas further treatment for pain relief might not be indicated. Also, incorporating nutrition for the patient's condition can also increase revenue and retention. Nutrition along this line can be for the acute stage of care and can also be recommended for general health maintenance.

Of course, there is also a place for routine spinal maintenance. Depending on your technique goals, as well as the condition of each individual patient, the recommendations will vary. In theory, this service should last as long as the patient is alive. Most of the population takes better care of their teeth than they do of their spine. The two reasons this is true are, first, they have been educated as to the importance of having healthy teeth and also how to go about having healthy teeth. Secondly, people are able to see their teeth. So, unhealthy teeth are a bit more real to them than an unhealthy spine. This is one reason why spinal imaging is an important part of patient care.

Determining patient needs can also include looking outside traditional chiropractic practice and incorporating more advanced nutritional handlings for conditions not normally handled by chiropractors, such as weight loss, diabetes or thyroid conditions. To get an idea of what could be most beneficial to your patients and also your bottom line, take a survey of your current patient base to discover what other health conditions they currently suffer from — this can be done via their charts or face to face. By adding additional services, you broaden the likelihood that you will have a service that the patient actually needs.

Once you discover WHAT you should deliver, you must then decide or learn how to promote it. To "promote" means "to make known or well thought of." In this case, you would be making known what services you provide both inside and outside your practice. Also, you would want to "make known" to each individual patient what you recommend for further or continuing care.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. It's time to sell! If you have back-off on the idea of selling, there could be several reasons for it. However, one area to look at is: did you really determine exactly what the patient needs? If so, how could you possibly have back-off from selling it? To be quite frank, get over yourself! If the patient needs it, you better do your best to sell it, and for your sake and theirs, they better buy it! Because if they don't buy it, and they really need it, then they are worse off for not buying. And if you had back-off in selling it, you let them down! Once you realize this, the thought of a failed "sale" becomes a little bit difficult to live with, not because you lost income, but because you let somebody down — somebody who must have thought enough of you or your clinic to trust your opinion.

If you are unsure of the validity of this concept, here is THE test. Think of someone who you really love and would never harm. Maybe this is a parent, a child or a friend. Now, if they had whatever condition your patient had and needed the service you determined that the patient needed, how would you handle the parent/child/friend? If you would insist that they follow your recommendations, then you should handle your patient the same way.

If you are sure they need what you are recommending, then you should skillfully, politely and professionally insist that they buy. If you care as much for your patients as you do for those you love, you will treat them the same in this regard. I don't know any other way to say it. It's your responsibility as their doctor. If the patient can't count on you to do what is right, what chance do they have with regard to attaining/maintaining health?

With the background for this topic set, here are some key points to patient retention.

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