Hi, thanks for giving me a few minutes of your time, I’m excited to share with you 3 tips that I’ve learned, to double referrals. In this first training, I’ll cover the overview, and the first tip.
When I was in school, I dreamed of a practice that would help lots of people and provide me and my family with the financial stability needed for a comfortable lifestyle. I quickly found out that it wasn’t as easy as putting up a sign and handing out cards. In fact, in those early years, I had more time to spend on politics, than I did working on patients – that was back in 1996. I volunteered to take on the role as Chair of Acupuncture Education Day, and later become President of FSOMA and helped make changes to the Acupuncture Laws we enjoy today. However, that didn’t necessarily build my practice, nor was it what I wanted.
I just wanted to treat patients!
Getting involved in politics did expose me to some of the most influential opinion leaders in our state, and I am still grateful for their input and mentoring, but I still wanted a busy practice; one that was predictable and sustainable. I learned very quickly that the traditional methods for building a business did not work for our profession.
I soon realized that I had lots to learn about how to build a practice. Over the course of years of training with some of the best consultants in the natural healthcare business, I learned a few things. One of the most important things, besides getting great results, was to learn how to communicate a very esoteric idea about medicine, to the general public.
It took me years to learn that it has to start with a very specific dialogue to get people to even listen to what I had to offer, and then refer others.
Communicate with your patients about the medicine and educate them about your practice. Its fine to talk about the weather and their children or grandchildren, but it’s more important to talk to them about the types of illnesses you treat, how the people who use it for maintenance get sick less often and not as severe. How in China, people have a medicine cabinet full of herbs, not drugs, to treat stomachache, colds, allergies, headache, insomnia, etc. This will not only get their minds engaged about the full scope of our medicine, it will cause them to consider who in their family should see you as well.
But be careful on how in-depth you go – "The Web that has no Weaver" is a little deep for a new patient. In the beginning educating them doesn’t involve going into depth about qi and it’s relationships with organ function or the channels or spleen dampness or liver fire. That just sounds crazy, especially if their labs are normal. Remember: People have been led to believe that if they have clean, normal labs that they are healthy! WE know better, but they don’t. When the time comes, you must explain to them that labs only show disease – not the body’s function, the way subtle symptoms, a pulse test or tongue test or range of motion test or palpation test can show. This is why the first symptom of heart disease is a heart attack and it can kill you! The bottom line is this, the US ranks at number 42 in life expectancy – it’s in your patients best interest that they are fully informed and educated about their option to use Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine as a form of primary healthcare!
I didn't always educate my patients the way I do today. You see, I wasn’t sure what to say, and I was afraid of losing them or offending their belief about health and medicine.
I learned this lesson the hard way early in practice. I had a patient that loved the work we did for her adult daughter, but like many, she thought she was just fine. She just wanted treatment to lift her chin, she had heard about acupuncture face lifts and knew I had been trained. In her words, her hormone replacement therapy (HRT) worked just fine and she felt great. This was back in the 90’s before the big study proving the dangers of HRT. Well, she did some treatment to lift her chin, and was delighted, but didn’t keep up with it . I remember her tongue well, still to this day I can clearly see the fire and yin deficiency and stagnation. It was crimson red, no coating, thick, purple under – I remember thinking how bad it looked, but I didn’t know how to communicate what I saw without her thinking I was nuts. In her mind, she was fine, and I didn’t want to “step on her toes” and make a big deal of what I saw on her tongue, besides, her labs were fine. She came for treatment for a few months, then I didn't see her again.
A few years later I heard that she had died of cancer. By the time they found it, it was so advanced that she died within a few months. I was horrified. I saw this coming - her tongue showed it At that point, I realized I needed to change, and do something different with how I educate my patients.
I wanted to figure out a way to make sure the people in my clinic know and understand the wide scope of practice our medicine offers. I didn’t want to miss any more opportunities to educate my patients about the primary care aspect of our practice.
They needed to be given the information, asked the questions and given a choice. The biggest reason they don’t line up outside our doors is that they don’t understand how amazing the full scope practice of Oriental Medicine is! If they truly realized the impact it would have on their lives, it would already be integrated into our healthcare system, the way it is in China.
But it isn’t. People don’t know, and their viewpoint regarding health is so far away from ours, they truly believe clean labs mean they are healthy. They don’t know there’s more to health than diet and exercise, and visiting their MD to check labs and do scans once a year. This is a huge public relations and branding issue that needs to be addressed by each and every one of us in our own clinics on a grass roots level, and with momentum on fundraising, my hope is to be able to hire a firm that specializes in this type of branding.
Did you know that the Florida Medical Association was founded in 1874, and they established the Dept of Health as a result of an outbreak of yellow fever 1884? They’ve been at the forefront of public health in Florida ever since. On the other hand, we have Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. In 1972 Richard Nixon opened China to us, and in the 80’s, Florida established a regulatory board and licensure for Acupuncture as a form of primary healthcare. This is so new for people!
Do you remember your first time? When you had your first experience with Acupuncture? Remember that first week in school? That first month in school? We need to get thinking about how we felt when we were first exposed. I remember my first year in school, everyone thought I was crazy – that it was a fad. That was back in 1993 when the needles were still considered experimental by the FDA! How far we have come! Now we have this amazing medicine we get to use for ourselves, our family, and those in the community that find us. When we are working in the clinic with those patients that just make us know it was all worth it, it’s the best feeling ever. We are making a difference in people’s lives that had few options left. What an awesome profession! We need to remember what it was like the first time, every time we talk to someone. The way we thought it was weird, is what they are thinking... its so weird. I still forget that they didn't go through school like I did, they don't know the language. i have to keep reminding myself to keep it simple, and stayed engaged and truly concerned for their situation. This is hard. Especially since we all have other concerns.
There are the other issues we deal with, and we forget what it was like in the beginning. We don't even think about what that new person is thinking. Being so far out from graduating school and starting a career, many have concerns of not having enough paying patients on the schedule to pay the bills or take a paycheck.
Then there's the issue of maybe getting some respect in the local medical community for what we do. I can think of two DOMs, licensed in Florida that did volunteer work on committees with other medical professionals. They were listed as “non-physician” and “consumer”, instead of being given the due respect of their licensure. But they weren’t. I don’t believe it had anything to do with malice or blatant disrespect, it’s really just ignorance. It’s a public relations and branding issue. It’s the same reason why our practice act keeps getting left out of the long list of primary care providers when a law is written. They copy and paste – we are skipped. That’s why we keep watching the laws that are written, and keep asking to be put in the list.
Eventually, we’ll get there. We’re better now than we were when I became licensed in 1996, we’ll be better in the next 20 years. It’s a process that needs continued attention. The same communication and education your patients need to refer you more patients, are the same things we bring to the Capitol and to our local legislators in their home districts.
So, all that being said, Tip #1: Ask for a referral.
So many times we don’t get referrals because we don’t ask. Now, here’s the thing, only ask those that come in feeling GREAT! If someone is having a bad day, or just an okay day, that’s not the time to ask for a referral.
I say something like this: “I’m so glad you are doing so great, this is such an awesome medicine. You know we love to share the gift of health, and we want to help as many people as possible, so I was wondering if you know of someone that would benefit from our care. Do you know anyone who suffers with headaches, neck pain, digestive problems, hormone issues, allergies, sleep,” etc. Get specific. They haven’t memorized the WHO list of diseases. It will get them thinking, and if they say yes, offer to give them a gift certificate for an evaluation. As a courtesy we offer these for free to our patients, and i keep them available at our front desk.
Keep in mind: People don’t realize that western medicine is a disease-based emergency care system. The primary care practice of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine fills in the gap between emergency care and vibrant health!
In fact they may not even realize you are licensed. There are many unlicensed “natural health” coaches, etc, out there doing all kinds of things, and even putting Dr in front of their name since they got some online PhD. The public doesn’t know the difference between your recommendation for food and herbs based on pulses and tongue, and the online “life coach”. The biggest difference is licensure by the Department of Health as a form of Primary Healthcare.
If no one ever explains it to them, and makes the offer, how will they ever know that Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can enhance health, and be used for family health and wellness? Too many people are struggling in their body because they don’t know there’s another way. They only hear about using Acupuncture for pain, and if they do an internet search, they’ll find other conditions, but rarely do they find out that it’s a system of medicine that can be used as a form of primary care!
Now some of you may say, I can’t ask for a referral. If you have a receptionist, ask them to do it! They know the value of your work, and the miracles that happen in your office. They also know the importance of keeping your schedule filled, so they have an interest in helping you succeed.
You can have the practice you dreamed about in school, but you have to do the work!
This week, look at your schedule and look at the ones you think would be good to ask, and either you or your receptionist need to make a plan, and just ask. The worst that can happen is they say, no, I don’t know anyone. But, the best that can happen is you get the opportunity to help another person in your community get the help they need.
Okay, so some of you are still apprehensive. Try this then, make a big sign and put it out on your front desk. Have it say in big letters: “Help us share the gift of health! Ask about our Free Gift Certificates for our patients to give to someone they know with … “ (list your favorite types of patients to work with)
What you say to that person, once they come in for an evaluation, needs to be carefully communicated as well, otherwise you will lose them. Just because they came in doesn’t mean they’ll stay. They are checking you out - its kind of like dating. In the next training, I’ll talk about how I have found the absolute best way for this first visit to go right, so a curiosity seeker turns into a patient.
I hope this training helped, but it will only work if you implement! Do me a favor and give me your feedback on what you learned, and feel free to let me know if you have any questions.
For your homework:
1. Make a list of 5 patients you will ask for a referral from this week, and let me know what they said in the forum below.
2. Share your thoughts below in our forum, on what your “dream practice” looked like in your mind when you were in school, and if you’ve achieved it yet or not.
3. What's your preference for online trainings? Written, like this, audio recording or video or all of the above? I'd love to hear your throughts.