Acupuncture Today – August, 2011, Vol. 12, Issue 08 >> Philosophy

Building Lifelong Relationships

By Jeffrey Grossman, LAc

Buildings have them. Martial artists and Tai Chi practitioners also have them—a solid foundation on which to build. The foundation of any private practice is built upon a steady flow of new patients.

To grow a thriving practice, you have to build and foster every single patient relationship in such a way that your current patients will want to continue to work with you—and also refer new patients to you. This may sound simple, but it's a crucial concept that should not be overlooked if you want to succeed in practice and reach your goals. How do you go about creating these relationships? Read on...

The Fox and the Prince

The classic children's book "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint Exupery contains a chapter in which the prince meets a fox. The fox desperately wants a friend but is wild and must first be tamed. He instructs the prince to visit each day at the same time. During these visits, the prince is to do nothing but sit quietly and observe the fox. Each day, the prince is to draw ever nearer until he is close enough to touch the fox, at which point the fox will become tame. Over time, the prince succeeds and the fox and the prince both gain a new friend.

This story illustrates what marketing is all about: building trusting relationships over time through ongoing contact. This is achieved by guiding prospective patients through a series of protocols that create trust and rapport and inspires patients to continue care and even refer others.

You can assume that the prince and the fox went on to share many adventures. Likewise, someone who has taken the step of patronizing your practice is far more likely to do so again if they have a positive experience right from the beginning.

One way to ensure that this happens is to take yourself out of the equation and focus on giving, not taking. The more you give, the more you will receive. Everything you do in your clinic must have a real perceived value for your prospective, active and inactive patients.

Keep the Circle Active

Think of marketing as a relationship circle. This circle begins with meeting a new potential patient, either through an ad, screening, lecture or referral, and ends when that patient refers other patients to you and keeps on coming back to you. And around and around you go... Is it that easy? Well yes and no. You need to have clear and specific protocols in place in order to keep the circle moving.

The importance of having clear and effective practice protocols in place cannot be overstated. By using these protocols for every patient visit, you'll maximize patient education.

Think of each patient visit as an opportunity to both educate the patient and to market your practice.

You should now know that marketing permeates your entire practice. Most people see marketing as a series of "things to do." This approach is like running down the aisles in a supermarket grabbing random ingredients, only to return home and wonder why you can't cook a specific meal. This can be very costly—and not as effective.

What if you took some time to plan your menu for the coming week before going shopping? Your supermarket visit would be guided by this higher purpose and you would select the ingredients needed to prepare certain dishes.

Approach your marketing in the same way. Decide what you want your long-term results to be, and then design each component of your marketing to contribute to this vision as a whole. Each piece of marketing you do is like a piece of wood in a house that contributes its share to the overall structure. Add or remove any piece from that structure, and it will be incomplete and off balance.

The Initial Visit

The initial visit is important because it's your chance to introduce new patients to acupuncture and to your care. It is also the first step in building your relationship with them. The initial visit is when you gather the patient's medical history and all diagnostic criteria: tongue, pulse, abdominal diagnosis, ashi points, etc.

Keep your communication during this visit very clear and succinct. If questions should arise, assure your patient that you will try to answer everything during the next visit, when you present them with their individualized Report of Findings.

After they leave, mail a "Welcome" postcard right away to welcome your new patient to your clinic and to a whole new paradigm of healthcare.

Report Of Findings

A Report of Findings is imperative to private practice. It is a synopsis of all the diagnostic criteria you gathered from their initial visit. A Report of Findings is usually given at the second visit and includes: what you found, what meridians/organs are out of balance, what you are going to do, how long it will take, a re-evaluation date, self-care recommendations, and any do's and don'ts you want to suggest.

Your Report of Findings should clearly illustrate a pattern of disharmony, a clear picture of the specific meridian/organ imbalances, and help set a course of treatments and timeline of care. You patients will take notice when you place all the pieces of their health puzzle together in this simple and organized way.

Over the years, I have had my fair share of blank stares when discussing organ system imbalance. So when I discuss my Report of Findings with my patients, I recommend something I call KISS: Keep It Super Simple. As practitioners, we receive extensive schooling and have the capacity to recognize underlying blockages or imbalances. But for patients, too much information may be confusing, so keep the discussion simple and concise.

When discussing things like Liver qi stagnation or Spleen qi deficiency, I just mention the organs that showed up as out of balance, "spleen, liver, kidney, etc..." I know what the underlying problem is, but all I want to get across to them is a pattern of disharmony without going too deeply into theory.

During your Report of Findings, there are four important questions that you will need to answer, whether or not your patient asks them. They are:

  1. What's wrong with me? Patients want to know what is causing their symptoms. As a practitioner, you will need to answer this question to ease their minds. When you do so, it is extremely important to preface any conversation about specific organs with "The information I am going to share with you today is strictly according to the theories and concepts of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). So, if I say that your heart is out of balance, please, don't run out of here thinking that your heart is messed up. Remember, I am not making a Western diagnosis. Everything from here on out is in terms of TCM. Does that make sense? Good! During your exam I found a few things that are out of balance..." I can't tell you how many patients might leave the clinic thinking they had a heart condition if you didn't make this distinction. Please don't let this happen in your practice.

  2. What will you do to help me? Patients want to know not only "if" you can help, but also "how" you will do it. You may find that a case may be too difficult to treat. Your patients will deeply respect your judgment if you suggest this and refer them out. If you are going to take their case, remember that acupuncture is foreign to them, so it will be important to convey how you will provide their care.

  3. How long will it take? This is important, as it will create a timeframe for both you and your patients. It will let them know how many visits they can expect, which will allow them to schedule the necessary time and money.

  4. How much will it cost? It is important to include this in your Report of Findings so that patients will be able to budget as appropriate. Be sure to include potential costs of adjunct therapies such as herbs, tuina, electrical stimulation, etc.

These are simple questions that require direct answers from you. The more answers you provide, the more at ease your patients will feel. Weave your answers into your report.

The greater your patients' depth of understanding about the type of care they're receiving, the more committed they will be to following their entire treatment plan. That equals more visits, which translates as more income for you. Patients who are educated about their treatments are also more likely to refer new patients to you. Referrals are the backbone of a thriving practice.

Jeffrey Grossman, LAc, graduated from the New England School of Acupuncture In 1997 and shortly thereafter, moved to Seattle to open his practice. He specializes in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, including herbs, meridian exercises, nutrition and ancient breathing techniques. He heads up Acupuncture Media Works, a publishing company that produces and develops marketing tools and practice management materials to help acupuncturists grow their practices You can contact them at


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