This is my first guest column for Marilyn Allen. Those of you who have read Acupuncture Today from the start know that the copy of AT you hold in your hands is the paper's 30th issue, which incidentally marks the two-and-a-half year anniversary of our first edition.
It's hard to believe so much time has passed since the first issue of Acupuncture Today was published. I can still remember what the last few months of 1999 were like, when Marilyn was still busy contacting people to become columnists and I was running around the office looking frantically for something newsworthy to put on the front page of the paper.
Now, Marilyn no longer has to scramble for columnists anymore - people actually contact us about writing for the paper instead of it being the other way around - and I no longer worry about finding enough stories to write about. In fact, sometimes it's more of an issue deciding what we items have to leave out than what we have to put in.
It's a good feeling. I'm glad to be a part of it, and I'm extremely grateful to our columnists, advertisers and readers for the different jobs you do. You may not think you play a part in our publication, but you do. The fact is, without you, there simply wouldn't be an Acupuncture Today.
I mentioned in a previous paragraph that we sometimes have to decide what stories are important enough to be printed right away versus stories that can wait until the next issue. As the managing editor, my job involves weeding through a wide range of material that passes by my desk, from press releases about new products and services, to article submissions from students and practitioners, to important updates from colleges and associations. This week, while looking for items to fill the front page, I happened to read a pair of studies I think you will find quite interesting. While they don't involve acupuncturists per se, I thought they would be worth mentioning in this column, and that you, our readers, might find them useful in your acupuncture practice.
Image Isn't Everything - Or Is It?
The first study I found appeared in the Archives of Dermatology. They say that "clothes make the man," but how many of you have thought about how patients may be affected by your appearance? This study1 shows that how you look and dress can have a significant impact on the way patients perceive their health care provider.
Two hundred seventy-five patients in dermatology offices in Fremont and San Jose, California were surveyed and asked to report on more than a dozen physical characteristics of their providers. Characteristics were graded either "desirable," "undesirable" or "neutral"; both male and female practitioners were graded.
What characteristics did the patients find most desirable? Name badges, white coats, dress pants (or skirts/dresses for female providers), dress shoes and "traditional" hairstyles. What did they find most undesirable? Sandals, clogs, blue jeans and tennis shoes. In male providers, wearing earrings and open shirts, or having a long hair or ponytail, were all graded as "significantly undesirable"; more than one-fourth of those surveyed didn't like their doctors to wear cologne.
"The results of this study show that some physical characteristics of medical care providers are important to patients," the researchers wrote in their conclusion. "Respecting patients' preferences with regard to physical appearance might help put the patient at ease during the history and physical examination."
I know, I know I can just imagine some of you reading this saying, "I'm not a medical doctor; I'm an acupuncturist. What does this have to do with me?" If you want to keep patients coming back and generate new referrals from those patients, I think it has a lot to do with you.
I've been treated by a variety of health care providers over the years - internists, dentists, general practitioners, oral surgeons (I could write an entire series of articles on that profession), nurse practitioners, chiropractors and acupuncturists - over the years, in various states of dress and appearance. Like it or not, a first impression does go a long way. As a patient, I have certain expectations when I go to a health care provider, one of which is that whoever is treating me should "look the part." How many of you would like to be needled (or better yet, operated on) by someone who looks like he should be working at the local pizza place or used record store? I know I wouldn't.
The bottom line: Dressing like a doctor doesn't mean that you've somehow "given in" to Western medicine or turned your back on the Oriental medicine community. Wearing a lab coat and name tag isn't going to have a negative effect on your skills as a practitioner, either. If anything, it will instill a deeper sense of trust and confidence between you and your patients, which, I believe, could lead to a more enjoyable experience for your patients and a greater feeling of professionalism in your practice.
Online Communication: The Wave of the Future
The next study I found was from Harris Interactive, a large online polling service.2 One of the Harris polls for April discussed patient/doctor communication. As it is, very few people communicate with their doctors via e-mail because of concerns about privacy and not getting a timely response. Most doctors are likewise concerned about giving their e-mail addresses out to patients for a variety of reasons: privacy, confidentiality, and the potential for malpractice.
A lack of space prohibits me from giving you the full details of the report, so I'll provide you with some of the highlights. For those of you who are interested, you can obtain a full copy of the survey's results at www.harrisinteractive.com.
An overwhelming 90% of the people surveyed said that they would like to have the ability to communicate with their doctors online.
More than half (55%) of the survey respondents said that the ability to communicate online would influence the type of health plan they choose; another 56% said that online communication would influence their choice of doctors.
Most people would like to be able to do one of four things online with their doctor:
ask questions instead of having to make an unnecessary visit (77%);
schedule appointments (71%);
get new prescriptions for medications (71%); and
receive test results (70%).
More than one-third of the respondents said they would be willing to pay out-of-pocket for online communication with their doctor. Of those who were willing to pay, the average amount they would pay was $10.60 per month, or $6.90 for every answered e-mail, even though other survey questions suggested that paying on a per e-mail basis would not save them money.
Online patient-doctor communication is fairly inevitable, the authors of the poll concluded. "When so many people want something the system (or the marketplace) will eventually provide it. It seems safe to predict that within a fairly short space of time, many doctors will be communicating with their patients on the Internet."
There are no hard numbers as to how many acupuncturists have Internet access. If the percentage of LAcs with Net access is the same as the general population, however, it would mean more than 10,000 acupuncturists are already online, with thousands more who are considering getting Internet access.
As someone who has been online since 1997 - a time when people hadn't heard of MP3 players, lightning-fast computer processors and a whole slew of technology we've now become accustomed to - I have seen the Internet grow by leaps in bounds in the past half-decade. I can say personally that the Internet plays an invaluable role in the production of Acupuncture Today. Most of the articles we receive from columnists are sent via e-mail; many of the studies we report on are viewed or downloaded from websites; and news items are often obtained from college and association websites. In many ways, the Internet is responsible for AT's existence.
The bottom line: Like the appearance study above, the Internet survey speaks volumes about the state of health care in this country. Tens of millions of people in the U.S. access the Internet every day - most of whom know next to nothing about acupuncture. As acupuncturists, the Internet presents a great opportunity for you to grow with your patients and to inform potential patients about the benefits of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. If you do not already have Internet access, I recommend you do so in the immediate future.
I hope you have found the information in this article useful. I also plan on writing more guest columns for Acupuncture Today in the future (with Marilyn's permission, of course). As always, we would like to hear from you. If there's something you like (or don't like) about the publication, or an issue about acupuncture and Oriental medicine you would like to discuss, please don't hesitate to contact us at the phone number or e-mail address below.
Kanzler MH, Gorsulowsky DC. Patients' attitudes regarding physical characteristics of medical care providers in dermatologic practices. Archives of Dermatology April 2002;138(4):463-466.
Patient/physician online communication: many patients want it, would pay for it, and it would influence their choice of doctors and health plans. Harris Interactive Healthcare News, April 17, 2002. Available online at www.harrisinteractive.com.
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