Ivan Delman, DC provides an example of a practitioner who was unable to retain patients because of his unsavory “bedside manner”. He also gives tips on how to avoid this pitfall.

by Ivan Delman, DC 

The other evening, I was watching an old movie about a pompous professor. He was trying to deal with the fact that his classes were getting smaller every semester. Let’s call him Professor Pompous.

Just down the hall was a professor who was teaching the same subject. His classes were getting larger every semester. Let’s call him Professor Paternal.

The first part of the film showed the differences in the teaching styles between the two professors. The story line revealed that students were leaving Professor Pompous classes and going down the hall to join the classes of Professor Paternal. (I’ll bet by now you know how this is going to end up.)

The rest of this movie showed why the students opted to join the second professor. The major reason was they felt he had their interests at heart. (Well, waddya want for an old movie?) Eventually, Professor Pompous had no classes to teach.

Professor Pompous in Real Life

That movie plus recent events triggered my recollection of a situation that happened during my early years in practice.

I had a practice in the same town as a chiropractic friend. Let’s call him Dr. Blah-Blah, or Dr. B for short.

I know for a fact that he was a good and caring DC. We were friendly both professionally and socially. He was an excellent doc and had a good heart. We had known each other since our chiropractic college days and ended up in the same town.

Since his techniques were quite different from mine, we were able to refer patients back and forth, to the benefit of our patients. The alliance between our two practices was working out very well.

Besides being an excellent chiropractor, my friend was an intellectual and brilliant researcher. He taught classes at several colleges and held packed seminars in his specialty. I greatly admired his abilities and was happy to see our different practices growing nicely.

An Interesting Change

After several years, I noticed an increasing number of his patients transferring to us. I checked our records and it seemed that our patients were pretty much staying in our practice. Apparently the flow of patients was a one-way road from him to us.

I checked with some of the other DCs in town and found the same pattern. They were getting a steady trickle of Dr. B’s patients.

My staff found out that Dr. B’s patients had three major complaints:

“I felt he was too busy for me.”

“He didn’t seem to listen to my complaints.”

“Doc runs me through the office doing the same old thing.”

I knew that he and I spent about the same time with our patients; therefore, I figured there must be some other reason for those complaints.

Eventually, we discovered that he spent much of his patients’ appointment time telling them about a new technique, some wondrous thing one of his children accomplished, or the fabulous college class he was teaching. The patients perceived him as being uninterested in their own state of health.

Since the other DCs knew I was friends with Dr. B, I was elected to tell him of the situation. We met for lunch to discuss the matter. As diplomatically as possible, I broached the subject to him. No matter how I stated the problem, Dr. B didn’t agree. He felt that by talking to the patients, as he’d been doing, he was educating them and validating himself to them as a good practitioner.

I tried to tell him that his patient appointments consisted of a monologue from him to the patient. The end result was that the patients felt their problems weren’t being heard.

Unfortunately, he never did change his way of handling patients.

Over a period of time, our office ended up with too many of his patients. Of course, we were glad to have new patients, but I was not happy that they came from the office of a friend.

As time went on, he increasingly complained that his marketing overhead was higher than just about anyone else’s in town, plus his profit margins were very slim.

The reason for this was that Dr. B had to spend a much higher percentage of his budget for advertising. He was forced to “buy” more new patients to try to bolster his dwindling practice volume. I’m very sad to report that recently my friend’s practice collapsed and is now gone. So how does all this apply to you?

How to Avoid Dr. B’s Problem

Well, for starters, please be sensitive in how you interact with your patients. Who does more talking, you or your patient? Do you follow the ear-mouth ratio? (Listen twice as much as you talk.)

Consider evaluating the answers to these questions:

• Are you spending an inordinate amount of time discussing yourself?

• Do you go on and on about your latest seminar, a new vitamin or the exploits of your children?

• Are you trying to make friends and admirers out of your patients, or are you trying to help their current problems?

Someone (don’t know who) once said, “As a doctor, if you want a buddy…Get a pet! If you want to help your patients…Listen to them…then handle their complaints.”

Instead of sharing the wondrous things you or your little Johnny did over the weekend, try listening (really listening) to what your patients are telling you. Then, try asking pertinent questions about their situation.

Go further than just asking the regular examination questions about pain levels, origins and histories. Interrelate their problems with their ADL. This will give you a better picture of your patient’s activities and provide a guide to help you determine the success of your treatment program.

For example, after you’ve pretty well nailed their presenting problems, you should ask a few of these questions:

• What daily functions are being interfered with as a result of this problem?

• Is this problem affecting your hobby activities?

• What expectations do you have regarding an end result of your treatment program?

• How fast do you expect to return to a more stable condition?

• How do you plan to help your recovery?

• Do you understand the purpose of your treatments?

I imagine you can come up with several more pages of questions to ask your patients once you get a handle on their lifestyles and presenting problems.

My chiropractor friend (Dr. B ) failed to understand that his patients don’t give a hoot about his latest seminar or graduate accomplishments. Basically, their main concern is what you can do to help them with their problem(s). That’s it!

Please don’t misunderstand my point. This is not to say that patients should not like you or develop a friendship with you. My point is…That’s not the purpose of their visit. That’s a side benefit.

They want their problem fixed. All the friendship-building, let’s-be-neighbors stuff and other related emotional content is just frosting on that basic fact.

Sure, it’s great to have friendly relations with your patients, but build them on a foundation of results from your chiropractic services.

If you want to build a long-standing commitment with a patient, use your talents to resolve their complaints and help them achieve a better state of health. They’ll love you for it. They might even be happy to listen as you tell them about your great weekend.

Heck, they may even share with you what their Little Johnny did over the weekend!

by Ivan Delman, DC. Reprinted with permission from Do Write Publishing.  

Dr. Delman is the author of the book The Business of Chiropractic: How to Prosper AFTER Startup. He has degrees in both business and chiropractic. After 38 years of enjoyable, productive work in both fields, he and his wife have retired to travel and write. He can be contacted at:   Ivan@BusinessofChiropractic.com.

Dr. Chris Clark, a chiropractor and consultant, purchased Do Write Publishing and Business of Chiropractic Publications in 2007. For more ways to improve your practice, visit www.businessofchiropractic.com