The term marketing myopia made its debut in 1960 in a paper published in the Harvard Business Review. In the article, Harvard Business School lecturer Theodore Levitt introduced the idea that organizations that interpret their role too narrowly run the risk of becoming obsolete as time and people change.
You probably know the rest of the story. Levitt laid out the now-famous argument that, if railroad executives had seen themselves as being in the transportation business, rather than the railroad business, they would have continued to grow and thrive. They would have had a far broader vision of the real service they were providing, rather than being wedded to the mechanisms of exactly how they provided it at the moment.
Is it possible we suffer from a similar myopia in chiropractic? Have we painted ourselves into a corner as "spine specialists" rather than educating people about our expertise in neurological function and the critical impact of the nerve system in enabling the body to adapt, heal and maintain itself in a state of optimal function?
Is It the Spine or What's Inside?
By repeatedly describing and portraying ourselves as spine specialists rather than experts in human neurology, we have spent years teaching people to think of us as back doctors, rather than health and wellness practitioners. Certainly, chiropractors know more about the spine than any other health care provider. But it's not really the bony structures of the spine itself that we're concerned about. We know the real power lies beneath, in the nerve system.
While DCs work with the spine, our goal is not simply to rearrange the vertebrae, of course. The spine and its joints are more like a window to the nerve system, and our goal is restoring and improving nerve system function to facilitate communication among the tissues and organs of the body.
It's no wonder the public often thinks of chiropractors as back doctors or "bone crackers." Even today, we focus so much attention in lay lectures, public-education campaigns and advertising on the spine itself. We make it out to be the end, rather than the means.
I understand that the spine serves as an immediately recognizable symbol, something that can be distilled into a sound bite, visual aid or logo on a business card. But that over-simplification not only misleads and misinforms the public we hope to serve, but also distracts chiropractors and gets them off track.
It's like a railroad car logo on a B&O executive's business card. If you keep telling me you're in the railroad business, I'm not going to seek your help in getting people from point A to point B unless I want to do it over tracks. If you keep telling me you're a spine doctor, I may think of you when I have pain in my back, a crook in my neck or maybe a scoliosis. But you aren't going to hear from me if I'm wondering how to get my kids' immune systems to function better, help my body manage diabetes, cope with allergies or be as fit and healthy at 80 as possible. I'm not going to think of you as someone who can help my entire body adapt and function better.
Prioritizing Nerve Function
Everything our bodies perceive in the environment from myriad nerve receptors is transmitted via the spinal cord to the brain, which interprets the information and sends signals back to every cell in the body about how to respond. All of the sense receptors, joints, muscles and nerves, together with the spine and brain, form a single, integrated system in constant communication with itself.
It all happens in the nerve system and its communication with the brain. We adjust the bones of the spine to eliminate subluxation so the nerve system can function better, not so the bones just line up more neatly.
Many things can cause nerve system interference besides physical traumas to the spine, such as toxins in the environment or emotional stress. In Life University's Functional Neurology Laboratory, Frederick. Carrick, DC, PhD, world-renowned educator and clinician, and a team of board-certified chiropractic neurologists and researchers are having tremendous impact on the nerve system.
Life faculty and student researchers are conducting in-depth studies of the vestibular system and other regions of the brain that impact balance and spatial orientation with a sophisticated balance training system — one of only six machines operating in the world, two of which are owned by Life and utilized by Dr. Carrick. The sophisticated clinical device is a fully automated, computer-controlled, multi-axis rotating chair that helps people who need balance training or reconditioning, even those physically incapable of actively participating in balance training exercises.
Individuals with age-related deterioration in balance, those experiencing dizziness or loss of balance due to concussion or other brain injury, and even athletes seeking to enhance their performance are all candidates for this type of training and intervention. Recently, star center for the Pittsburgh Penguins ice hockey team and leading scorer for the National Hockey League at the time, Sidney Crosby, came to Life for care with the device. It is helping chiropractors impact the function of the nerve system.
Why the Message Matters
Confining chiropractic's role and message to the arena of the spine does not just simplify the chiropractic message; it completely distorts it. The bones are not inconsequential, but it's the connection between why a bone is out of place and the neurological impact associated with it that concerns us. In practice, that focus will translate into a greater emphasis on nervous system impact on function and total well-being, including utilizing a greater range of neurological assessments to gauge how the body reacts to chiropractic adjustments.
D.D. Palmer talked more than 100 years ago about the mental impulse emanating from the nerve system to all parts of the body to impact the total well-being of the organism. His provocative theories unfortunately morphed into a small corner of the back pain market as chiropractic struggled to survive against mechanistic healing models.
I understand the temptation to stake out a claim for that turf. I just don't think that it's turf worth owning. Let's expand our vision again (and that of the public) so we can see what we're really doing: correcting interference to the nerve system so the body can function at peak performance.
Dr. Guy F. Riekeman, president of Life University in Marietta, Ga., has held leadership positions in chiropractic education essentially since his graduation from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1972. He was appointed vice president of Sherman College in 1975 and has served as president of all three Palmer campuses and as chancellor of the Palmer Chiropractic University System. In 2006, he was elected to the board of directors of the Council on Chiropractic Education.