In the November 2008 issue of Acupuncture Today, of 182 respondents to the question of Do you want more articles on practice building, 90 percent were interested in more information. Sometimes I am truly amazed at the apparent apathy within the profession in regard to the need to develop ongoing classes and seminars in this area.
As a practicing acupuncturist for more than 30 years, I can tell you that during the 80s in Florida most people inquiring about our medicine could not even pronounce the word acupuncture correctly. I remember the excitement and joy wed experience whenever wed get press coverage, any coverage, even bad press coverage. Just about any news about our medicine would cause some people to inquire about acupuncture.
Thirty years later, the challenge is up to us to develop programs that call attention to our work and demonstrate the effects and benefits of acupuncture. It is our medicine, so we are the ones responsible for promoting it to the general public.
The first rule of practice building that I will offer is to take care of the patients that you now have. Get to know them well and get them to know you even better. You may be wondering how to do this. Its really simple. It requires of you to become a wellness teacher and the expert to whom your patients turn when they have a question about their health.
This will require you to hold regularly scheduled lectures at least once a month in your office and once a month at another location. Choose topics that you know will be of interest to your patient base. Give free information on how to improve their health and their lifestyle. You will develop good rapport with your old patients and get to know their friends and relatives.
Keep in mind that sitting back and grumbling about your lack of patients is not a good decision. For your business to grow you will need to actively get out there and let the public know about you and your profession. You must make this commitment. The results will be outstanding.
There are two other strategies Id like to offer that will help you get to know your patients better and encourage them to return to you for treatment.
The free birthday visit: I am sure that many of you have received birthday cards from your dentist or some other health practitioner. Did that make you smile? Sure it did. Did that entice you to call that practitioner and say book me for an appointment today? I am sure it didnt, but that was the intent of the birthday card, wasnt it? So what went wrong? How do you send a card and have that person call your office to book that free birthday appointment? If you want someone to do something, ask them to do it. There is a definite percentage of the population that will respond positively, so just ask or, even better, make them an offer they just cannot refuse.
How would you like to receive a birthday card from your health practitioner that says, Its your birthday and we care about you. Please call our office today to schedule a free birthday treatment? I am sure that 90 percent of you would respond positively. The other 10 percent are either too busy or too lazy. The cost to you is a stamp. The result is that when you see the patient, you have the opportunity to rebook them for a series of treatments.
The seasonal checkup: If you are presently seeing over 30 patients per week, you may not want to make this offer but you may consider using it to offer half off, or something to that effect. Again, you want to make an offer that the patient cannot refuse. Spring cleaning is a good time to come and have a checkup and a treatment. Consider either a free or a discounted treatment.
If you want to be successful, you will need to stay focused. So ask yourself regularly, Why am I doing this? Am I building my practice by getting to know my patients and at the same time allowing my patients to get to know me better? When a patient connects with their health care practitioner on a real level, they will be more inclined to refer their family and friends. Remember, the actual purpose is not just about the treatment youre offering; its also about making that connection with your patient.
Schedule the visit for 45 minutes, but give them 60 minutes of your time. The principle is to give more than they expected while being aware of whatever time constraint they may be under. Do not overdo it. Begin the visit with a 10-minute chat; catch up on whats going on in their lives, i.e., family, business or hobbies. Make a personal connection. Follow up with a review of their case. Retake the case and compare the present with the past. You now have ample information to give a good treatment and justify booking for future treatments.
After getting to know more about your patient subjectively, get into the objective aspect of the visit. Do whatever tests you are skilled at performing. For example, do a pulse, tongue and abdominal exam. If you are trained, give them a muscle test, Vega test or a physical exam. Make sure that you record all your findings. Upon completion of this aspect of the visit, you are ready to give the actual treatment.
Before I begin, I like to give a short facial massage and a cranial hold. This easily puts the patient into an alpha state, allowing them to get the best from the treatment. Now, based upon your findings and your experience, give the best acupuncture treatment, designed specifically for this patient.
I try to end the visit in the reverse order that I started. Again, Id do a cranial hold, facial massage and add a guided meditation. Follow with retesting the pulse, muscles, etc. This allows us to confirm the positive gains from the treatment and gives us the ability to recommend further follow-up treatments. Before ending the visit, make sure to instruct your patient on the need for them to do some homework. Teach them a meditation, a qi gong routine to reduce stress and/or an exercise series to improve stretching. Recommend herbs and/or dietary therapy.
Remember that the purpose of these visits is to grow your practice. To do so, you will have to be bold and ask your patient to rebook for a series of treatments. I suggest that you imagine and visualize having a nice talk with each of your patients at the end of their treatment in which you advise them to continue treatment for six, 12 or even 24 treatments. See them signing up. This is where most acupuncturists fail. They are afraid to ask for the sale. Be brave and do your patient a favor. Ask them to continue to receive treatment; it would do them a world of good.
Over the years I have come to realize that people love to receive gifts. Just about any gift is a way to say thank you and I love you. Give and surely you too will receive.
Dr. Richard Browne is the co-founder of the Acupuncture and Massage College in Miami, Fla. He has been in practice since 1978.