First-year learning curve – Part 1

When I first started this blog I promised that it would speak to multiple audiences (including current and prospective chiropractic students, new and seasoned practicing docs, other healthcare practitioners, and the general public), and discuss multiple topics.  While I’ve covered some quite well (and much, much more to come, since this is my safe little anonymous sounding board and semi-soap box), I’ve neglected to pay attention to the other part (not quite half) of this blog’s intended purpose: to document our successes and lessons learned and our progress as we make it.  So here goes.

Year 1 in practice is in the books…for real.  While it’s true we celebrated our official one-year anniversary two months ago, we didn’t get to treat our first patient until sometime in May, which leaves June 1 as the beginning of our first full month in actual practice.  Which was about a year ago.  OK, now that all the boring semantics are out of the way, here’s a chronicle of our journey…

We learned that genuinely earning the patient’s trust is the most important.  So many people struggle with practice-building seminars on how to get referrals and how to ensure that each patient stays, pays, and refers.  Well, it’s not that simple.  It has to come from the heart–yep, somewhere between the shoulders.

It comes down to trust, and that’s not really something for which there’s a shortcut.  Patients can instinctively pick up on any reason to trust you–or not.  When they don’t trust you, they drop out of care and you never hear from them again.  They don’t respond to your reactivation calls/letters.  When they do trust you, they do stick around and refer their friends and family, without you having to suggest it.

Now, there’s a caveat – some people just aren’t referrers, even if they do trust you.  That’s OK.  That doesn’t mean you didn’t get them better.  Doesn’t mean they don’t like you.  They just may not know many people in the area, or they’re shy or whatever.  They may not know someone who’s looking for a DC or in need of care.

Others drop out without a word–again, even if they trust you.  That’s OK, too.  If they trust you, you’ll be the first person they think of when they have a friend in need or if/when they re-injure themselves.  Which brings me to…

Our professor was right: if you make it easy for them to leave, it’s easy for them to come back.  What he meant was, if the patient wants to stop coming in, let them go, without judgment.  Don’t hound them or try to pressure them into reconsidering.  Don’t lay on a thick guilt trip or resort to scare tactics.

Don’t take it personally, either; there are many reasons for discontinuing care that have nothing to do with you.  If you try to strongarm them and you somehow convince them to say, you can be guaranteed it will only last for a little while…and then when they leave (for real this time), they won’t be back–even if they were thinking about coming back before.

So, instead, smile sincerely and say, “Mary, thank you for your patronage; please don’t hesitate to call if you need us again.” And then drop it.  You never know; chances are good you’ll see Mary again, even if it’s not until later.

If you can give it away, you truly own it…but you’ll stay stuck in low-income housing with a 10-year-old pickup forever.  What I’m referring to in the first part is an old adage that comes from many a seminar taken a long time ago, when a favorite catchphrase made the rounds: “if you can give it away, you truly own it”, meaning your technique, your services, your love for your patients, whatever.  It was meant to be a virtue.

Of course, who knew for sure whether or not these seminar speakers actually gave much away or not?  Many who preached one thing on the seminar stage did things quite differently in actual practice, a fact they didn’t readily disclose.  When we first started out, we gave away our first treatment.  Our mentor had done this, and having observed his success with it and his vibe of liberation when describing it to us, we figured we wouldn’t reinvent the wheel; his method was tried-and-true and we might as well follow in his footsteps.

What we failed to consider was that what worked for our mentor didn’t work at all for us.  I’m still not exactly sure why, but I have the feeling it had to do with multiple factors.  I think one factor was the source of patients – after 8 years in practice, our mentor was solidly referral-only, whereas we were just putting out our first ads.

Also, we ended up moving to a different city than our mentor, and the cultures and expectations are wildly different–thus, the patient acquisition strategies vary, too.  We found ourselves with plenty of takers (hell, who doesn’t want a free adjustment?) but with no compensation at the end of the day.  While our friendly colleagues were disappointed when we announced that we were changing our methods (would someone please tell me why?  I mean, they most likely wouldn’t work for free, especially not on a regular basis!) they seemed to understand our position.

Once we started employing the universal Law of Fair Exchange (one of the only tenets of Parker Seminars that actually stuck with me to this day besides Sherrie Hodge’s awesome CA classes on how to schedule), that made a helluva difference.  The anemic feeling we had before transformed into healthy nourishment.  We weren’t nearly as busy, but all was right with the universe again.  So, don’t give away something for free, unless there’s something in it for you.  And exposure in the community may or may not be enough; that’s up for debate.

When hiring an employee or independent contractor to work with you, treat them like real human beings.  Respect them, pay them decently, keep your expectations realistic, be clear in your expectations of them, follow through with what you say, remember that the whole relationship is a two-way street, stay inside the law (if they’re an independent contractor, don’t treat them like an employee, etc), and generally remember the Golden Rule, treating them like you’d like to be treated.

Don’t use the current dismal job climate as an excuse to crap all over the people who work for/with you.  Don’t take on the attitude, “what are you gonna do, leave?”  You don’t want them to be able to mistake you for some psychologically-abusive significant other.  Play nice; they’re people too.

Salespeople are relentless; just get them out of your office and make it clear you don’t want any further solicitation.  If it’s a product or service you’re interested in, have them leave the written information and state in no uncertain terms that you’ll be the one to initiate contact if you’re interested.  They will stop at nothing.  They will ignore your “no soliciting” signs, they will call to “verify” your (bogus) “listing” in some (bogus) “directory”, and they’ll ignore your requests to be placed on their internal “do not call” list or have your info removed from their systems.

They will want to come talk to you at your office.  Usually they’ll show up but sometimes even after having made the appointment (that they requested!) they’ll no-show, blowing you off.  When they visit and you have set time parameters (“we leave for lunch at noon”) they often repeatedly overstay their welcome, eating into the time you set aside for other activities.  If that’s not enough, they’ll repeatedly ask you if you’d “like to make a decision today???” although this question will be asked in many different ways.  This also leads me to a related suggestion that deserves its own mention…

Do not believe it for a second when the salesperson acts interested in your product or service.  They’re not.  Once in a while, they might go so far as to become your patient/client/customer for a while, as long as they think you’re interested in their product/service, but they’ll drop off the face of the earth the minute you make a decision either way.

Even if you buy what they’re selling, they’ll still disappear when it comes time to schedule their next appointment with you.  They’re already on to the next prospect, wining and dining them.  So, despite a salesperson’s attempt to convince you otherwise, do not fall for the idea that they’re there for the long term; they’re not.

More to come…

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