What Your New Patients Can Teach You About Your Practice

in Patient

If you've been in practice for any length of time, you've done a LOT of initial assessments & treatment recommendations.

If you're reading this, chances are you've done a few thousand at minimum, and quite possibly 10,000 or more. So what can you learn about how to improve your initial assessment (and hence make it more likely you'll develop a lasting relationship with new patients) from one more new patient?

The answer, of course, is A LOT.

Unconscious Competence

Eventually, just about everybody develops what is often called "unconscious competence" in things they do often. This simply means that you can do it well without thinking about it.

The classic example is driving a car. Can you remember when you were first learning to drive? Everything seemed overwhelming. How to accelerate, how to brake, how much to turn the wheel, how often to check the mirrors, watching for street signs - you name it, it took a lot of effort.

It was probably hard for you to image that you'd ever be able to do ALL of that, and be able to hold an engaging conversation, or sing along with the radio.

(If you can't remember, hop in a car with somebody who just got their learners permit - when you finish being terrified, you'll see exactly what I mean.)

But of course you learned to drive, and pretty quickly, you could do it without thinking at all. Sure, when there are terrible conditions, you might turn off the radio, or stop talking and concentrate - but for the most part, you can do it on 'automatic pilot.' And that's great news for driving.

But it's not always so great for your practice.

The Experience trap

When people get to the stage of unconscious competence, they rarely consider the processes behind what they're doing any more. After all, they've 'mastered' it, and there are more pressing things to think about.

And in most areas, that's absolutely the right decision. After all, you don't need to think about walking, or talking, or driving, or reading any more - Those are skills you've developed, that are serving you wonderfully.

But there are areas where you ALWAYS need to be getting better. Neglecting to "peel back the curtain" and look at the processes behind what you've mastered in these areas is called the experience trap

In your practice, for example, a few tiny improvements can mean a BIG difference in how well you can treat patients, and arguably as importantly, how you interact and communicate with them in a way that makes them more receptive to your treatment. If you leave these on 'auto-pilot', which is natural after having done thousands of them, then you're not being fair to your patients or to yourself.

Butchering an old saying

I'm going to illustrate my point by paraphrasing an old saying:

"There's a BIG difference between somebody with 20 years experience, and somebody who has 1 year of experience, 20 times."

When we slip into the realm of unconscious competence, we tend to stick to whatever model got us there. So once you get comfortable with "Your Way" of doing things, it takes a lot to change them, and there isn't a whole lot of difference between year 3 and year 13.

Consider the thousands of times you've performed an initial assessment with a new patient.

After thousands of times doing the same thing, it's EXTREMELY hard to always be conscious of the fact that for the patient, this is likely their FIRST time doing this.

You know exactly what's going to happen with the assessment as a whole, you know exactly why you're doing each step, you know exactly what you're looking for, and you know exactly how to find it.

At an even more rudimentary level, you know things like how much formal education you've had, your technical qualifications, and your history of thousands of patients who you've helped in the past.

Because you know all of this so well, it can be hard to remember that the patient DOESN'T know it. Even worse, though, is that much of what they know, just ain't so (to borrow another old saying).

Closing The Gap

One of the quickest ways to develop a more effective first visit (and hence, a better relationship with every patient who walks through your door) is to find ways to close the gaps between what you wish they knew, and what they walk in knowing.

There are dozens of questions you can ask yourself in this area to help spot opportunities for improving what you're doing. Here's just one: How long has it been since you've listened to somebody who didn't know you were a chiropractor talk about chiropractic? How long has it been since you've taken the pulse of the worries, fears, and misconceptions that are floating around about chiropractic?

That's EXTREMELY important to do on a regular basis - because you need to know what pre-conceptions people walk into your office with. There's a big difference between a new patient who knows the undergraduate and postgraduate education you're required to have, and the additional training you've received, and a new patient who thinks "What the hell - He may have only gone to 'Back Cracker U' for 2 weeks, but I'll try anything to get rid of this pain."

(The latter is a stereotype taken directly from a current hit television show about 2.5 men, which is wildly popular but extremely unfair to the chiropractic profession as a whole)

If a patient walks in with a bad stereotype of what to expect from a chiropractor, what mechanisms do you have in place to ensure that they don't hold that same view by the time they leave?

A similar question is: "What questions, concerns or worries do new patients have that they're NOT asking me? And how can I address these unspoken concerns?"

This is extremely important because in most cases, patients won't ask you about things that are bothering them. They'll ask their neighbor. Their father in law. Yahoo answers. But they won't ask you. So if you're not prepared to bring up & handle the most common worries or fears that a patient might have, you're losing out on a great opportunity.

From Specific to Broad

I wandered a bit there, because I always love to work with concrete examples & immediately useful, actionable material. But the scope of this article is MUCH bigger than a couple of examples or ideas for questions to ask.

What I'm really challenging you to do is to look at everything you do habitually in your practice, and ask yourself if it's the BEST way that you could do it.

Not the best way for you, or your staff. Not the way you learned it. Not the way that makes sense to you.

But rather, the way that serves the best interest of a patient who walks into your practice knowing almost nothing about chiropractic, who needs your help.

Author Box
Scott K Newman has 1 articles online

Shawn Veltman is a practice growth expert operating out of Hamilton, Ontario, and the founder of SV&A Chiropractic Consulting. He has helped practices in Canada, and the U.S., develop systems to bring back patients, retain existing patients, and run their practices more effectively. For more information about SV&A Chiropractic, visit http://www.svachiro.com.

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What Your New Patients Can Teach You About Your Practice

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This article was published on 2010/03/27