Dynamic Chiropractic – August 24, 1998, Vol. 16, Issue 18

Healing Patients at the Front Desk

By William Esteb

Ask chiropractors or staff members if their office is patient-friendly and you're likely to get an indignant, "Of course!" However, ask ex-chiropractic patients to be candid about their experiences in a chiropractic office and you might hear a different response.

The procedures used in many chiropractic offices are the result of seminars, management specialists, doctor convenience, staff oversight, gut instinct, and sometimes just plain guesswork. Some of these protocols have been handed down from previous generations of chiropractors and are often taken as immutable gospel. Still other procedures, instituted just five or 10 years ago, are simply no longer appropriate in the context of the increasing influence from third parties and the maturing of the time and quality-conscious baby-boom generation.

Perhaps the most significant omission is the realization that chiropractic is fundamentally a service. It's not a "product" that can be manufactured to some agreed-upon measurements or tolerances. That's not to diminish the power and value of the chiropractic adjustment, but merely the recognition that patient perceptions play an integral role in our services.

The process of delivering chiropractic care can influence a patient's perception of your office as significantly as the restoration of improved biomechanics or the disappearance of a chronic headache. In fact, the "taste left in the patient's mouth" from the process of their office experience may overshadow the patient satisfaction from the relief of their symptoms! In other words, you can win the battle (relieve of the patient's presenting complaint) but lose the war (the patient doesn't comply or refer others).

In this regard, the chiropractic assistant can play a considerable role in shaping the patient's perception of the caliber of service (caring) rendered in a chiropractic office. Here are a few ideas that many staff members employ to create the perception of extraordinary service necessary to produce delighted patients who are more inclined to refer others.

Pre-registration over the Phone

Serving patients and establishing a relationship can be started before the new patient even shows up in your office. "Mrs. Jones, we will have some brief paperwork for you to complete when you get to the office. I could have some of it filled out for you in advance if you have a few moments. Would this be a good time?"

How many patients wrestle with their decision to consult a chiropractic office, make the phone call, and then chicken out because of fear? Besides providing an extraordinary service of having basic information completed in advance so all patients have to do is proof it upon their arrival, you've started to build a relationship. Your new patients will be less likely to disappear off your "radar screen" if they've already volunteered their address, phone number, where they work, social security number, driver's license number, and other personal information. Consider making the top half-page or so of your admitting paperwork into a pad that you can keep handy by the phone.

Staff Photograph and Biography

While there have been recent improvements in the reputation of chiropractic and the countless myths and misconceptions circulating about this profession, patients are keenly interested in the people who would choose to work in a chiropractic office. Many patients consult with chiropractic staff members to get the real story about chiropractic. They expect the "company line" from the doctor making recommendations, but what does the staff say?

Many chiropractors are unaware how frequently this occurs. So, it's important that the answers, attitudes, and information that staff members supply these inquisitive patients are congruent with the philosophy, clinical goals and long-term practice objectives of the doctor. The staff needs to share the comments and questions from patients with the doctor. This provides doctors with valuable feedback about the effectiveness of their own patient communications. (Note: You don't want staff people diagnosing. They don't have a license or malpractice insurance!)

While some doctors may be dismayed that patients seem more comfortable asking questions of staff members rather than the doctor, it's something not likely to change unless the doctor receives a personality transplant or suddenly becomes more vulnerable and approachable. So why not increase communication from patients by revealing more about the staff who work in the office? Consider placing a photograph and short biography of each person who works in the office somewhere in the reception room. The biography will explain their interests, hobbies, and what brought them to chiropractic. Include information that could serve as conversation starters or encourage patients to feel more comfortable asking them questions. The staff becomes the eyes and ears of the doctor!

Anticipate Needs

There are few things that make patients feel pampered and cared for more than the simple act of anticipating their needs. Patients enter a chiropractic office with a variety of physical, mental, social, psychological, financial and other needs. While many patients invest large amounts of energy to disguise their fears or to appear nonchalant, most patients would be incredibly grateful if you could "read their minds" and address their fears. Many patients are rarely bold or confident enough to express these fears, concerns and needs. Instead, they worry, stew and become distracted by the "fear of the unknown." New patients who hear the cries of children coming from the inner recesses of the office, or the unexplained clunking of adjusting table drop pieces, are practically invited to dream up the scariest image possible!

Empowering patients with information and putting them at ease is a wonderful art that the best chiropractic staff members have perfected. In the heat of battle, it's easy for the staff to forget to share this information, but that next patient may never have been in a chiropractic office. Anticipating the individual needs of new patients makes them feel important and welcomed. These are key aspects of how patients judge the quality of the service rendered by any type of service provider.

Patient Conversation Database

It seems that virtually everyone is hosting their own late night TV talk show. The king of all late night show hosts was probably Johnny Carson. He was once asked what he thought was the key to his enormous success. Among other things, he mentioned that a critical ingredient was his genuine and authentic interest in his guests.

How true! On some talk shows, the guests sometimes appear to be nothing more than the "straight man" to set up or platform the jokes or personality of the host!

Many of the most effective staff members have taken this observation seriously and use it to their advantage to develop strong bonds between the office and patients. Some staff members have an incredible memory or seem innately equipped to track the dozens of conversation fragments that occur around them at the front desk. Other staff members will enter a key word, name, event, or circumstance onto a Rolodex card or the patient's file so they can follow up the subject on a future patient visit. What else could you say or do that would communicate your interest (and apparent keen memory skills!) and make them feel important?

These and countless other more subtle action steps can be implemented this very moment at little or virtually no cost. A common ingredient to each one is the ability and willingness to rethink the many opportunities you have to affect the patient's perception of your office. These simple action steps can contribute immeasurably to the patient's confidence and trust in the doctor. They can help impatient patients to become less angered by occasional periods of waiting, and they can help keep new patients engaged in the office long enough to see the benefits of chiropractic care.

In short, each chiropractic staff member has the opportunity to dramatically affect the healing process without even possessing the skill to adjust a patient!

Bill Esteb is a chiropractic advocate and new-patient marketing specialist with more than three decades of experience in the profession. He is the co-founder of Perfect Patients (www.perfectpatients.com) and the author of 11 books that explore the doctor-patient relationship from the patient's point of view.


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