After asking one of the top practice-management consultants about the most common, but overlooked, mistakes chiropractors make in terms of their practices that can cause problems – and how to avoid them – I got a wide array of tips centered around some fundamental principles: leadership, teamwork and communication.
1. Stop Talking and Listen
I got my first practice-management training as a chatty young child. My mother had to repeatedly remind me to stop talking so much. It's a lesson I remind myself of daily. Every one of your patients has a unique story they would like to tell. Let your patients tell their story before you begin telling them what you want them to hear about chiropractic.
Ask your patients about their interests and about what they've heard about chiropractic care. Listen to what they have to say; really listen. By listening to what your patients have to say, you will find out exactly what you can do to be sure they receive the greatest benefits from your care.
2. Greet Patients Sincerely
"Hi! How are you today?" is overused and one of the most knee-jerk greetings you could use with your patients. Why not have each member of your practice team greet patients with their own unique greeting? Your front-desk receptionist could say, "Welcome! It's great to have you here today." Your therapy assistant could say, "Welcome back! I can see on your face that you are feeling better."
It is most important for chiropractors to be familiar with their patients' initial concerns and any special events, such as a trip, birthday or referral, before entering the adjusting room. A quick glance at notes jotted in the patient record before walking into the room is a great memory refresher. With this information, you can great your patient with a sincere, "Hi! It's so good to see you. How was your vacation last week?" Put this tip in place and you'll recognize its value within a day.
3. Answer the Telephone With a Smile
The telephone could be the Achilles' heel of your practice. It is the connection between your practice and all current and potential new patients. How the members of your practice team answer an inbound call is vital to your success.
Role play telephone technique with all of your team members. Practice answering calls in a courteous, unhurried and professional manner, and remember to smile. A smile can actually be "heard" across the telephone line.
Callers should never feel as if they are calling the local pizza parlor on a busy Saturday night. The person answering the call should clearly state the name of your practice, as well as their name. I know a successful chiropractor who has his team say, "I can help you," rather than, "How can I help you?" I love the confidence conveyed by this courteous touch. All of your very best marketing efforts will be for naught if you fumble the phone call when a potential new patient calls.
4. Conduct Efficient Team Meetings
Chiropractic practices succeed and flourish when they have regularly scheduled, efficient team meetings. A well-run team meeting is a forum for strategic planning. It provides your practice team with a means of monitoring standards and reviewing how well your systems are functioning. It's the time to discuss making changes, implementing a new technology or adding a new service.
Morning huddles and regular team meetings are crucial for effective communication. Add well-defined job descriptions, and task lists with goals and responsibilities clearly explained, and you will tighten up the performance of your team and nurture a team that works cohesively toward a common purpose and set of goals. There is a great acronym for the word team that highlights the value of this tip: Together Everyone Achieves More.
5. Do Your Homework When Hiring
There are times in the life cycle of every practice when it becomes necessary to hire a new team member. It may be that your practice has grown and you need to expand your team; or that you need to replace an existing team member. Doing your homework before hiring is an unskippable first step.
Take time to prepare yourself as a leader, and the rest of your practice team, prior to promoting the new position. Have a clear, written job description for the position you are seeking to fill. With your team, make a list of the traits that would make a person perfectly suited for the job. What level of experience, values, and personality style would ensure that someone excels at the position and becomes an ideal member of your team?
Create a list of behavior-based questions to ask during the interview process. Have high-scoring candidates return for an assessment of their skills. Once you select and hire your new team member, implementing a detailed training plan will stack the odds in favor of their success.
6. Focus on Delivering the Services You Like to Provide
A good portion of success rests on your practice team's ability to stay positive and focused. In an attempt to stave off the stresses that can come from the day-to-day operation of a practice, many chiropractors jump from seminar to seminar and technique to technique, hoping to find the one that provides the big windfall.
One of my mentors, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, would remind me each time I saw him not to forget the acres of diamonds in my own backyard. You'll find that you are best at doing what you enjoy the most. Select the services you offer in your practice based on the fact that they are effective and that you enjoy providing them. In this way, you can confidently tell patients what they need and what you can do for them. Expecting acceptance and delivering care with compassion and joy has always been a recipe for success.
7. Don't Take It Too Seriously
It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. Humor has a way of creating a strong bond between practice team members and patients alike. I have been in chiropractic practices where the tension is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It may not be visible, but it creates barriers between honest communication and connection.
The most successful practices I have worked with know how to work hard and play hard together, as a team. If your patients hear the sounds of good-natured laughter amid the sound of adjusting tables rising and falling, it's likely they will view your practice as a place they feel comfortable referring their friends and family to. Don't be so concerned about appearing as the authoritative doctor that you forget to connect with your patients on a human level.
8. Love Your Team
It may not be politically correct to say "love" your team, but in a day and age when employees work as much for their paycheck as they do for a sense of personal growth and belonging, it's a message not to be overlooked. Developing your practice team can be a challenging job. I've often found that it is best to hire for a great attitude and work ethic. You will be spending a lot of time together as a team, so make sure you hire people you enjoy being around. With that in place, the next step is to train for skills.
Schedule leisure time with your team that involves fun activities that take you away from the pressures of running a practice. A trip to the food court at the local mall, a summertime picnic or an afternoon at the movies are wonderful examples. This provides you with the opportunity to share your vision, listen to one another and share your victories. It's wonderful to reward exceptional practice contributions and to enjoy the unique personalities of your team members at a fun gathering.
9. Have a Consistent Message
Get your entire practice team on the same page when it comes to delivering a consistent message about what you do for patients. Your message becomes most valuable when your patients hear it reinforced on a consistent basis. Repetition over time is also the foundation to fostering your patients' ability to make the right decisions about their health.
Your ability to pass the baton to each other during the course of a patient's visit creates many benefits. Relaying important information the patient shares with you enables the next person in the line of care to pick up and deliver the same message. It also inspires confidence in your patients that your team is working together in a unified way for their good.
10. Cross-Train Your Team
There will never be a better time than right now to cross-train your practice team! Waiting until things slow down to carve out the time ensures that the time will never come. I can assure you that you have time now you won't have later.
Schedule a team meeting to discuss the functions that they perform that will be the most important to cross-train. A great way to begin is to ask the question, "What systems in our practice would break down first if we grew by 30 percent?" Follow this up with, "What if we grew 50 percent?" These are the things limiting your practice growth and should be the first on your list to support with cross-training to relieve blocks in your capacity to grow.
As your team members begin to support each other, your practice will run more smoothly and you'll manage future road bumps more capably. Take small steps first to instill confidence and enthusiasm among your team. Once your team is cross-trained on the easiest skills, you can move on to the more complex.
11. Manage Your Online Presence Effectively
More likely than not, your next new patient will search for your practice online. Your ability to manage and maximize your online presence may make the difference between new patients discovering your practice or deciding to try one of your competitors.
Your practice must have a communication strategy that encompasses the complete patient life cycle, from acquiring new patients to successful treatment completion and satisfaction, to the referral of new patients. These are the core elements that create a 360-degree connection to your existing patients and potential new patients.
Your website must be optimized to include patient login functionality. Don't overlook the important value that social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, bring to your ability to stay connected with your existing practice and to create a positive buzz about the benefits your practice delivers.
12. Remember, It's a Business
My father, a successful chiropractor for over five decades, says, "Never forget that you are in the business of healing – and without the business there is no healing." Never forget that your chiropractic practice is 51 percent health care and 49 percent business. The failure to understand the importance of both of these areas could mean that you are ignoring half of your responsibility to your patients, your team members, your family and yourself.
Most chiropractors know that the best way to strive for clinical excellence is to learn from the best. The same goes for the business aspect of your practice and it requires an equal amount of your attention. Develop relationships with mentors and professionals who have achieved the financial success you desire. Allow yourself to become accountable to them as you are learning and practicing your new business skills. Keep in mind that if you ignore the 49 percent, you won't get the opportunity to pick the 51 percent.
Dr. Mark Sanna, a 1987 graduate of New York Chiropractic College, is a member of the ACA Governor's Advisory Board and a member of the President's Circle of NYCC and Parker College of Chiropractic. He is the president and CEO of Breakthrough Coaching (www.mybreakthrough.com).