Monday, April 18, 2016

Patient Communication is a Key to the Kingdom of Practice Success

A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my friend Marilyn Allen (whom many of you know, I am sure!), discussing ways that business education and levels of success could be improved for acupuncture students and practitioners in the US and how we could continue to participate in that effort. We agreed that, while anyone can learn what needs to be learned with respect to budgets and bookkeeping, taxes, insurance forms, and charting, the difficult and more important part of practice success had to do with patient communication and management.

Why? You can (and as a new practitioner you probably will) spend lots of time out in your community building a clientele through volunteering, giving talks, joining networking groups, writing blogs, and working on your website. But once someone decides to book an appointment or come to a free consultation, how do you WOW them enough to keep them coming back for life and believing in our medicine, and more importantly, in you? We need new bookings every week as a new practitioner, but we need steady, long-term patients for success over the long life of a successful practice.

So what are my five keys to making a life-long patient?

  1. The greased-bannister effect
You want a prospective patient to find there way onto your treatment table as easily as if they were sliding down a greased banister…in other words, effortless and natural. A prospective patient’s experience should be such that they think “why would I go anywhere else” or “how could I not choose this person to be on my healthcare team.
To get that response, you have to think about every experience a person coming in for the first time or two will have: phone service, ease of finding you, parking or public transport, paperwork, educational materials, smells, sights, sounds, lighting, retail displays, office accoutrements, your library, your bedside manner, the way you touch them and work with them in that first session, and the ease of the check out process. To get a more objective assessment of how well you are doing in all of these areas. Consider creating a check list of these things and having a good friend (one who is willing to be unflinchingly honest) walk through this experience and give you feedback. Then decide what you are able to improve or change to make a new patient’s experience “wow” them.
  1. Generate trust and relaxation
My suggestions in this area might begin before they ever arrive at your door. Trust could begin when they meet you at a lecture, a volunteer event in the community, or because of something they read on your website. If you send out a “Welcome Packet” it can include a number of simple educational items to help a patient understand that you are a professional and you are going to take good care of them. If there is more than one room, show a new patient around your clinic so they know there’s nothing “weird behind door number three.” Introduce them to anyone else who works at the clinic (or train for front desk person to do that). Offer water or tea. Then, the room or area where you take histories and do initial consults should:
    1. include a library, which could be an impressive sight for a new patient, and have a significant placebo effect
    2. be clean, comfortable, and nicely appointed so that it looks professional
    3. include educational signage as well as or instead of just artwork.
  1. Make a real connection 
    1. Whenever you are with a patient, you must control the time but allow them to ask questions to the extent that you can and stay within your time frame.
    2. Always educate them about their own body or their health condition…a little at a time. Your knowledge also has a placebo effect.
    3. Touch and treat with confidence. Even if you are shaking in your boots, your body language must remain confident, calm, and assuring. Even if you can only be certain of one or two things in your treatment for that day, those things should be done with the grace of a master.
    4. Make eye contact. Nod your head. Let them know you hear them, you are listening to them, and you understand them. There is more power in that, perhaps, than anything else you do with a patient.
  2. Educate for the long term
Make the assumption that this person will be using Chinese medicine for their health care for the long haul. In order for that to happen, you must slowly and continuously share with them more and more about Chinese medicine and acupuncture. For the first three-four-five visits, your patients should go home with some information about the medicine, a brochure, an article, a piece of research, an assignment such as a food diary on a form that you create, a recipe, an exercise or self-massage regimen (on paper with illustrations), a book to read, a liniment or plaster or poultice to use (with instructions). These things both keep you in your patient’s mind when they are not with you and they increase understanding and enthusiasm. Both of these are requirements for keep patients for the long haul.
One word of caution about education: be careful of Chinese medical jargon. Try to speak in terms that most people can understand. Talk about immune modulation, increased blood flow, energetic balance, reducing energetic stagnation, increased endorphins and brain neurotransmitters, etc. rather than “qi” and other Chinese technical terms. This helps patients share their experience of your care with others more easily.
  1. Make as many decisions as you can for the patient
A person coming for treatment is often worried or even frightened about their condition (will it go away, will it get worse, will I have this for life?). One of the mistakes I used to make as a newbee was to say something like “do you want to come in again next week?” to my patients. This was a really uninformed and poor choice of words. I should have been saying “I’d like to see you again this week if possible and again next week at least once as well.” But you can learn from my ignorance!
      You should be the one to decide what the treatment plan should be and tell the patient what your findings are. This is what most patients want. It gives them confidence that you know what you are doing, what the treatment should look like in their case, and how long it should take. You can suggest a course of so-many-acupuncture treatments over a specific period of time, and/or how long they will need to take Chinese herbal medicine. Write it down on a form with your clinic contact information and go over it with the patient. Ask them if they have questions about the protocol and perhaps offer them payment options to save money. Send a copy of this form this home with them.

That’s my top five patient communication suggestions for maintenance of a successful long-term relationship with a patient who will come back again and again for life. Of course, this list could have had ten points instead of five, but these are the ones that I believe are not optional for your prosperity.

Thanks for reading. Best wishes for success. Send me your ideas for a happy and successful practice any time.

Honora Wolfe is the author of Points for Profit: The Essential Guide to Practice Success for Acupuncturists. She paints watercolors, practices Buddhist meditation, cooks gourmet meals, and  tries to make at least a little bit of trouble from her home in Lafayette, CO.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Green Willow Liniment vs. Dragon's Blood LIniment

In January of 2015 Bob and I were lucky to be invited to Sikkim as companions of one of our Buddhist teachers. It was a really interesting journey and Sikkim is a beautiful, steep, Himalayan landscape with wonderful scenery and a pretty comfortable climate, even in January. Still, travel there is slow and arduous. What looks like it's "right across the valley" can take an entire day of switchbacks down one and up another mountain to get to!

The most difficult challenge for me, however, was that two days into the trip I fell and badly sprained my ankle. Though Bob treated me almost every day for the remainder of the trip, it was at least a minor irritation with all the hiking through relatively mountainous terrain.

Months of treating it with moxa and Green Willow liniment provided very slow improvement; baking it in the sun during the summer helped a little bit more. Still, a year later it was not really healed and I felt very discouraged.

Recently the famous statement from the Nei Jing occurred to me that "new injuries are in the channels and old injuries are in the network vessels." Thus, I decided to switch from using Green Willow, which is for traumatic injuries, including old ones, causing pain due to cold, damp, and blood stasis and to try Dragon's Blood instead. I have usually used this liniment for new injuries with bruising and frank, immediate, visible signs of blood stasis. I had never really used it for OLD blood stasis that will not resolve and, frankly, often shied away from this liniment due to the skin-staining nature of its main ingredients. But no more!

Lo and behold, the ankle has started to improve again and is getting stronger. While it is clear that injuries in an older human being don't heal quickly, I have developed a new respect for this liniment and I'm glad to have discovered another use for it with my patients as well as for myself. Just thought I should share this with any of you who use liniments in your practice. While I expect I'll always love Green Willow, Dragon's Blood is my new fave.

Good luck and best wishes!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Front Desk Saavy in Our Clinics

Have you re-considered your front office procedures recently? How is your phone answered? (I hope you are not still answering it yourself all the time). Whoever is answering it, have you written down exactly how, at what speed, and with what tone of voice you want the phone to be answered? For example…have you ever called a company in our industry that you weren’t sure if you got the company you thought you called? You need to make sure that when anyone calls they are immediately

  • Sure of whom they called
  • Know that the person on the phone was happy to answer the phone
  • That the person will help them with whatever reason they called
  • The person or people who answer your phone are the voice of your business! Make sure that your customers will like what they hear. If that person is you, practice with a recording to see if you need to sound more “perky” or speak more slowly.

Finally, have you written specific scripts for your reception person for the four or five most common questions people ask. These are pretty universal questions and you can write out exactly what you want your staff to say in response. Ask them to memorize these simple sentences. If you are the answerer, have a script will help you sound professional and will also help you be clear about what you really want to do say about “how many treatments,” “how much it costs,” “will it hurt,” “can you take my insurance,” and can you treat my ___ (named condition or disease).”

If you don’t have any front desk help, what would it take for you to hire someone? I absolutely guarantee that you can make more money with someone to run your front desk that you can by doing it yourself. Think about this…if you pay someone $13-15 per hour, but you are charging $50-60-70 per treatment, would you rather pay yourself the $15 or the $60? There is even a list of 20 other things this person could be doing when the phone is not ringing in Points for Profit (my biz for acupracs book). And, if this person’s presence allowed you to treat 1.5 extra patients per day on average, you’d more than pay for their services, be able to give someone a job, and make your office more professional at the same time.

It's worth thinking about.

Thanks for reading and best wishes. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Real Marketing

A wonderful quote from Allyn Lewis's blog article "The Mental Cost of Owning A Business That We Need to Talk About"

"Being a human is a far more powerful way to market your brand than any Facebook Ad, finely executed sales copy, or super high profile press placement will ever be. Being authentic is a long term strategy. It’s not a fast track to a few quick sales like other methods. It’s the foundation of a successful creative entrepreneur. When people can trust, relate, and connect with you, in time, they will buy ANYTHING you tell them to."

That's it. Think about it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Do you use massage therapy in your acupuncture practice?

So little many things to do in one treatment, right? I love to use massage therapy during, before, after, or all three along with acumoxa therapy treatments though there is often little time for it. Still, I have a few basics to share with you about how I work massage into my treatments since I think the power of touch can never be overestimated.
Here are a few ideas that I use regularly with my patients.

1. Rocking the body from the occipital ridge. This move can be used as long as you don't have needles in the head and the person is lying supine. Standing above the patient's head, place the fingers of both your hands (back of your hands on the table, fingers curled up) under the back of the head with the finger tips pressing lightly along the occipital ridge. Rock your fingers slightly toward yourself, as if you were beckoning someone toward you. This can be very gentle and small or it can be more forceful depending upon the patient's condition, how many needles you have in, and where they are placed. You will notice that this small movement will move the entire body down to the toes.

From a Western medical point of view, this moves the cerebral-spinal fluid, slightly stimulates the entire spine, relaxes the eyes, and increases blood circulation to the brain. It also relaxes the musculo-skeletal attachments along the base of the skull.

From a Chinese medical point of view it encourages increased flow of qi and blood to and from the brain via the foot tai yang and foot shao yang channels, and quiets and spirit.

30-60 seconds is adequate.

2. Dragging and pulling the toes. As long as there are no needles in the feet, this is a very easy thing to do and really grounding and relaxing to the patient. Remembering that all the foot yin and yang channels can be strongly accessed at the toes, releasing them in this way is usually appreciated unless the person is very ticklish!

Using your thumb and index finger, firmly and slowly pull each toe from its root to its tip. Take your time with this, sliding your fingers in between the toes. If you like, you can use a soft cloth to help you hold the toes and limit the tendency to ticklishness. This also is nice if it is summertime and people's feet are somewhat sweaty.

We are effectively opening all the foot channels (all the way to eyes, face, and chest) and releasing or relaxing the flow of qi with this movement. Be careful not to move the legs too much if you have needles there. Gentle but firm touch makes this powerfully relaxing.

If there are no needles in the arms, you can do the same thing with the fingers. Or, if you do have needles in the arms or feet, you can add this movement at the end of the needle portion of your treatment.

If you would like to see video of me doing these movements or if you have an interest in seriously combining acupuncture with bodywork, you might take a look at my short online video course on this subject, in which I share an entire approach to this type of work. All the Blue Poppy online courses are 30% off this month. I guarantee that 99% of your patients will love it!

Good luck and remember the power of body work in the context of your treatments.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Useful Podcast for Those of You Getting Ready to Hire (or Fire!!) a New Employee

Licensed Acupuncturist. Maureen Feeney, female business owner extraordinaire is sharing the ups and downs of growing

a successful acupuncture practice in Omaha, Nebraska. Hold on to your pants because this is a brutally honest look at

what it is like to hire and fire your first employee. Maureen talks about the mistakes she made and the difficulty of having to

fire someone. She also dives in to a powerful lesson in business, first and foremost you are running a business! This is

something we hear all the time, but until we really experience how it feels to have to put your big girl pants on and

make the tough decisions, we really don’t know the full extent of this lesson. Stick around for this entire interview because

you do not want to miss the conversation on defining and redefining success in your business.

Good wishes and Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Prescription for the Last-Day-of-the-Year-Blues

Speaking strictly for myself, it's easy to feel a little down at the end of the year. Some people LOVE the holiday season and the dark, yin time of year. Others, not so much. What's going on with this phenomenon? I suppose it's well documented and you could find all sorts of prescriptions with a single internet search. Here are my ideas about what is going on, for me at least.

First of all, I think many of us are more affected than we know by the smaller amount of yang qi from the sun that we are receiving unless you live pretty far below the Mason-Dixon Line. It mostly dark outside where I live. Second are the expectations many of us grew up with around what "the holidays" are supposed to look like but don't for most of us. Third, for those with businesses of their own, it's often slower for a few weeks around this time, which may add financial stress to the rest of the stuff in our heads. Finally, another year gone by on our small and struggling planet and how have I made it meaningful; what did I do for others; how have I made it better for myself or any one else? All this is definitely "up" for me.

What to do to perk ourselves back up? Here are a few suggestions of things I use for my own end-of-year emotional symptoms.

1. Add some yang qi. Get outside if there is any sunshine and it's not really inclement. The Brits have a good saying, "there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing." That could be a bit of a stretch if its below zero or raining cats and dogs. But if there is no sun outside, a trip to the gym with a good, hard workout and soak in the hot tub or sauna might be in order. That's yang qi as well. And/or how about doing a trade with someone for a nice deep, hot rock massage?  When there are fewer patients around, it's a really good time to take care of yourself.

2. Create, recreate, or update your business or marketing plan. What did you get right and where could you do better? How many more patients would you like to be seeing each week by, say, March 31st? What type of conditions do you feel most comfortable treating? What products, services, machines, skills, processes would you like to add to your clinic? What would it take to make these things happen? Where did you think about volunteering in 2015 but never got around to making it happen? How or with whom could you connect, imbed, or network more meaningfully within your community to expand your interconnectedness factor?

Give this thought process and note-taking some time; a whole day perhaps with a walk after lunch. Read your local paper; check out some of your competition websites, look at local Meet-Up opportunities, check out what's happening at local churches, clubs, and non-profits. If and when something looks interesting, what are the follow up steps you want to take before you forget about it. Follow through; follow through; follow through. Remember that if you keep doing what you did, you'll keep getting what you got. So what do you want to change?

3. Sign up for a local class; pick something that gets you out and meeting other people. That's where the new patients are.

4. Better yet, find a place to sign up to teach a class, free or paid. That's where more new patients are.

5. Eat your fruits and vegees and get adequate sleep. This does not need any explanation. Keep the booze, sugar, or whatever else (I live in Colorado) under some control.

6. Call someone you've not seen in a while and arrange for a walk, a tea, a dinner. An old friend, perhaps, or someone you've met and wanted to get to know better.

7. Send an actual letter or small gift to someone you know who is struggling just now. Or even someone who is not.

8. Throw a party for your friends and patients. Tell them that anyone they bring who books an appointment gets their first one (or second one??) at no cost. Put some juice into this...make it a really, really fun event.

9. Acknowledge what you're experiencing emotionally, but don't allow yourself to believe it's all that important. If you feel sad, okay. So what. It's not the end of the world, it will pass, and you still have to get up and do what needs to be done. I think the idea that we have to be happy all the time is a modern disease of its own. The idea of "being happy" is something we all think we want; but perhaps purpose, usefulness, self-awareness, and doing what needs to be done is a more realistic set of goals. Maybe those things ARE a more real definition of happiness. It's something to consider.

My Grandmother used to tell me that when I felt lousy, that was the time to do something for someone else. Not easy to do when you are sunk in total self-involvement, but I've come to see she was right. Who can I help, and how can I help them? It need not take a mob of people to make a difference in this world, and it's a great way to start, or end, any or every year.

Thanks for being a reader. Here's to a purpose-filled and meaningful 2016 to us all.