Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND discuss effective ways to grow your practice and encourage prospective patients to walk through your door.

Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND are the authors of The Practitioner’s Journey, a practice growth guide for alternative and integrative health professionals. You can learn more about growing your practice at www.practitionersjourney.com.

by Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND

After months of hard work and heavy spending on marketing, a frustrated practitioner once told us, “It’s as if there’s something physically stopping patients from coming through the door.”

She was speaking about a phenomenon we’ve all experienced. There are times when, despite our best efforts to promote what we do, patients still don’t seem to arrive—at those moments, it really can feel like there’s something stopping people from taking those final steps into our offices.

That invisible barrier is the uncertainty and risk that prospective patients feel when they consider your services. We call it the river—the practice equivalent of a cold and dangerous torrent that people need to cross to reach you.

Of course, there’s no actual river blocking people from coming through your door, but the risks that prospective patients feel when they consider your services are no less daunting. Instead of slippery rocks and dangerous currents, they wonder, “Will it work? Is it safe? Will it cost too much? What will my other health care provider think? What will my family say?”

Those unanswered questions are enough to turn an enormous number of potential patients away.

Getting Patients Across the River

The best tool for the job is as simple as it is effective: The 15-minute complimentary visit.

This isn’t news to many practitioners—in fact, this approach can be found in just about every profession, from the no-obligation quote you receive from a window installer, to the free retirement assessment offered by your local financial planner. They’re all designed to help people cross the river by allowing you to connect personally with them and address their unique concerns.

But while the idea may not be new, many practitioners aren’t using it to their advantage. Here’s how you can dramatically increase new patient numbers with a few simple changes.

First, Do The Math

Many practitioners don’t use the complimentary visit at all because it involves giving away time for free. That’s true – in fact, we did nearly 200 of these last year, and if you add up all those 15-minute blocks, you discover it’s over a week of unbilled time.

But over 80% of those people became patients. That’s six figures of revenue in many clinics, plus referrals and ongoing care. And many of those patients would never have crossed the river at all without that few minutes of time.

Make it a Default Entry Point

To make the visit really work, you need to treat it as more than just a “last resort” for reluctant prospects. When you start treating the free visit as the natural entry point to the clinic, a few interesting things happen.

First of all, because the initial experience with the clinic has nothing to with money, people are rarely disappointed. People leaving a free appointment are far less likely to complain to others. On the other hand, when the first interaction involves paying for service, a patient who discovers that what you offer isn’t what they expected, feels at best, lighter in the wallet, and at worst, duped or deceived.

Second, those 15 minutes offer you something, too: the opportunity to screen patients, and choose those who are a good fit. And if they aren’t, you can easily refer them to someone who is.

The result is happy, informed patients who fit your practice, and know exactly what they’re getting into before they get into it. That, in turn, means more success, and less disappointment.

To put your 15-minute visit first, it should be obvious in all your marketing. We’d always offered the visit, but patient numbers really took off when we started saying, “Come in and meet the doctor. We’ll answer all your questions and tell you how we can help.”

When we added the visit to our print ads, our new patient numbers began to climb. When we put it on cards for our existing patients to share with family and colleagues, business rose again. When we suggested on our website that it was a great place for people to start, new patients climbed further still.

In other words, the visit worked best when people knew it was there before they picked up the phone.

Measure It

It’s easy to track how well your 15-minute visitors turn into real patients. Simply add up the number who joined your practice, and divide by the total number of complimentary visits. The percentage you get is your ‘conversion’ rate – a fancy term for how successful you are at helping people across the river. Ours consistently runs above 80%, but many practitioners do much better.

Improve it

If you’re struggling to turn 15-minute test-drivers into paying patients, though, try the following:
• Focus less on your modality or profession, and more on the solution that you can provide. Remember: the person in front of you doesn’t want the tools or techniques you offer. They want to feel better.
• Make a clear recommendation for a treatment plan. Patients love informed choice, but they also want the benefit of your expertise. Give it to them in a clear, concise, and confident manner.

Stay in Touch

Not everyone crosses the river right away. It can take time for people to make a decision. When they do decide, however, the odds of them choosing you increase if you stay in touch.

The easiest way is email. Collect addresses from your 15-minute visitors, and ask permission to stay in touch. Send a short follow-up note after the appointment, and, if appropriate, add them to your email newsletter if you have one. You’ll be surprised at how many show up weeks, months, or even years later.

The currents of the river are strong, and they run deep. But perhaps the greatest challenge is that as a practitioner, you don’t see the risk. You got over that before you started your training. In your mind, what you do is the safest, surest, most effective option going. You crossed the river long ago.

Not so for your prospective patients—for them, the river can be a powerful deterrent. Fortunately, just a few minutes of time is often all it takes to create a stepping stone to bring them safely across.

And don’t forget how much the visit helps you, too. Those 15 minutes are a small price to pay for patients who fit your practice, who get results, and who can help others across the river by spreading the word far and wide.

Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND are the owners of StoneTree Clinic in Collingwood, ON, and the authors of The Practitioner’s Journey, a practice growth guide for alternative and integrative practitioners. You can learn more about growing your practice and getting your patients across the river at www.PractitionersJourney.com