Why You Don't Need to - and Don't Want to - Undercharge for Your Services
By Honora Lee Wolfe, Dipl. Ac.
Undercutting the pricing of the acupuncturist down the street is a great way to get his or her patients into your office, right? Wrong. There are actually several reasons why this is a bad idea, and in this article, I will do by best to convince you of this assertion.
First - and possibly most important at the present time - is that a wide variety of third-party payers are trying to determine the customary and standard charges for the services provided by acupuncturists. If someone researching the subject for Blue Cross hears that acupuncturist #1 is charging $80 per treatment, acupuncturist #2 is charging $50 and acupuncturist #3 is charging $35, that person will probably conclude that $55 is an acceptable reimbursement amount. It also is illegal to charge patients who pay you with cash more than those who pay you through insurance. What message do you want the insurance researcher to pass along to the people who make the "customary and standard" decisions?
Second, no one wants cheap health care. What people want is reliable, trustworthy, effective, low-risk health care - but I'll discuss these points a little later.
The truth is, only a few people base their buying decisions solely on price, no matter what commodity or service you are discussing. You can verify this by noticing something as simple as, say, the fact that most people are not driving around in Hyundais. Similarly, it's a fact that at the supermarket, name brands such as Coke and Pepsi always outsell the "Brand X" cola by a margin of about 12-1. I could go on with examples from industry after industry.
Why is this true? It's because people don't want low price; they want low risk. Big K Cola, for example, might just taste fine - or it could be terrible! I don't know, but if it's only 85 cents more to buy the Coke, the "trusted source" feels like a great bargain. I know exactly what it will taste like, and there's no risk.
In your professional world, there will always be practitioners who offer lower prices than you do. But if you can make your services reliable, effective and low-risk, patients will not care what you charge them. As long as you are not fleecing people, but are giving good service and value, price can be quite irrelevant in relation to the size of your practice. In fact, a slightly higher price can even enhance your reputation, rather than hurt it.
So, how do you lower your prospective patients' risk? There are many ways to do this. The best, of course, is when someone uses your services, gets a good result, and tells their friends you are wonderful. However, if you are new in practice or moving to a new area, you have to offer people something to lower the risk of coming in to see you the very first time. What could this be?
Become a local expert. That means writing articles, speaking in public, getting on television or the radio, or better yet, all of the above. You'd be surprised how many small, local publications are looking for writers on health care subjects, and how many organizations need regular speakers. There are opportunities in both areas, if you go out and create them. If you're the one writing about acupuncture and Chinese medicine and a particular disease or diseases in the local media, people figure out you are knowledgeable on that subject.
Teach a class. This class could be on tai qi; qi gong; feng shui; diet; cooking; stress management; or whatever subject you can credibly offer to your community. I guarantee that unless you are a total jerk, people in the class will become your patients because you are credible, approachable and knowledgeable.
Join a service or volunteer organization and get involved. I do mean "get involved." This type of activity puts you in contact with a lot of people, but you may as well put in the time in your community, because if you don't have enough patients, sitting around your office studying treatment books won't bring them in; building a network of people who know you and consider you a credible, participatory member of your community will.
Talk about acupuncture and Chinese medicine with everyone you can. You believe in this medicine, and you have been trained to perform it well. If you engage people in a conversation about their health and let them talk to you, they will be drawn to you. Active listening is tremendously powerful. It builds your credibility and creates more referrals.
The above activities will help you build a network, gain credibility, and get referrals. If your prices are fair and your payment policy is easy to understand, people will begin to seek you out. If your prices are too low, your services will probably not be respected, and may even by suspected as not being that great. You get what you pay for, right?
I also suggest that you don't offer free acupuncture appointments. My experience is that you will get mostly "tourists," who don't come back once there is money involved.
Once you have people coming to see you, you must transfer the risk-lowering activities to the inside of your clinic. Keep it clean, tasteful, simple and conventional. You are operating a medical facility, and whether your services include acupuncture only or other treatments, people need (and expect) your office to look like a medical facility. Are your front desk staff dressed appropriately, and do they behave in a professional manner? Do your offer superbills, receipts, and appropriate release and intake forms? Do you keep your charts in a professional manner? Do you wear clean, new shoes? In other words, if a patient comes in believing you to be an expert, will that patient go out believing the same thing?
Is your "inside reality" the same as the way you portray it when you're out networking and marketing? You want people to feel and believe that you are reliable, credible, trustworthy and effective, right? The inside feel of your office, treatment rooms and building, and the entire experience of coming to see you, is part of creating that impression. All of these things go into the low risk factor.
Always Put Yourself in Your Prospect's Shoes
By this, I mean a prospect who has never heard of you, but takes a quick look at your office, advertisements, and brochures or business cards. Here are some questions to consider:
What will he or she think?
What's his or her risk in calling you?
What can you do to lower the risk?
Is there some way you can get the prospect to experience your service before committing to treatment?
Is there more information you can provide ahead of time to help the prospect make an intelligent decision?
Can you give any guidelines as to what to look out for when seeking acupuncture treatment?
Remember: You don't need to lower the cost of your treatments; you need to lower your prospective patients' risk in trying your services. People don't want low prices. They want low-risk, effective medical care.
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