Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND discuss ways to improve and create a more effective and rewarding practice.

by Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND

Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND are the authors of The Practitioner’s Journey, a practice growth guide for alternative and integrative health professionals.

In the last article, The River of Doubt, we looked at risk from the perspective of the patient, and how perceived risks— things like cost, effectiveness and credibility—create a barrier that stops prospective clients from joining your practice. 

Just as there are barriers for patients, though, there are barriers that may be stopping you from moving ahead in your practice. What makes them challenging is that you may not even suspect them.

1. Working Too Much

Too much? It seems paradoxical. Conventional wisdom tells us that when we want more, we need to work more. But conventional wisdom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When faced with wanting more—to earn more, grow more or help more—most practitioners simply work more. The problem is that working more often makes us less efficient, and we end up getting similar results spread over more time.

Unless you’re already booked solid, working more creates a negative cascade in your practice. When you add more hours, it creates more flexibility in your schedule. When there’s more flexibility, you (or your staff) inadvertently allow more gaps in the schedule, making it hard to book effectively. When there’s slack in the schedule, patients cancel and reschedule more often because they can rebook more easily.

The result? Same patient volume, more hours.

The Solution

Cut your patient hours back until you’re at least 75% booked, preferably more. Don’t add extra hours until you can maintain that high booking rate for two consecutive months or more.

Apply the same principle to your administrative duties, too.  Remember Parkinson’s’ Law: work expands to fill the time available for it. Create a time for non-patient work each week, with a time limit. If you need to, book an appointment at the end of that time so you simply have to leave the office.

Most practitioners are missing out on a great secret of private practice: you can almost always work less and earn the same or more.

2. Fear of Risk

You may think of yourself as a risk-taker. Skydiving aside, your years of post-secondary education, the investment in opening a practice, the opportunity cost of not working during your training—they’re all risks you took to get where you are now.

But there are risks less tangible than the financial ones we take in practice that can be just as critical.

The Risk of Non-Clinical Learning

Are you continuing to invest in yourself by learning non-clinical skills like business and marketing? Learning to run a business might not seem risky, but if that’s the case, why are you only pursuing the same clinical CE year after year?

The same applies to expanding your practice by taking on the risk of staff. Learning to lead and manage others are true skills. Are you willing to accept the challenge of mastering them?

The Risk of Care

Are you working to the limits of your scope? Are you tackling increasingly difficult cases over time?

If you could have treated your last 50 patients in your sleep, it may be time to stretch yourself. Learn a new skill. Tackle some tougher cases. Risk and reward are linked; if you want more of the latter, you need to take some of the former.

The Risk of Authenticity

To grow your practice, you need help. To get help, you need to be able to tell the truth. To create relationships, build referrals, or get coaching, you need to be able to be honest about the state of your practice.

It’s not easy. We’re trained to adopt a confident, positive manner. When was the last time you told someone you could really use more patients? Or that you were struggling?

Most important, are you honest with yourself about the state of your practice? Being authentic and honest is a risk. Are you willing to take it?

3. Lack of In-Person Connection

Health care is personal. Your practice is based on building relationships of trust, in person, with people who need your help. So how is it that a lack of people, of all things, could be holding you back?

To really grow your practice, remember this: A practice that runs on in-person relationships needs to be grown by building them, too. And the rule applies beyond just patients.

Making new relationships that can help your practice is a scary prospect. For many people, it’s the ultimate risk. Are you hiding behind Facebook, Twitter and email because it’s easier than connecting with people in person? Social media is valuable, but are you avoiding the real work of getting out there in the world?

How much time or money did you spend on your last print ad or flyer? Would that time have been better spent connecting with people in your community who can support your practice?

Your practice is about people, and it will grow to the extent that you connect with people, too.

Risk and Reward

As a practitioner, you’re also an entrepreneur. It may be an uncomfortable combination, but it’s a reality for most integrative care professionals. If you’re in private practice, you’re also in business.

That combination means that you’re rewarded for doing two things: taking risk, and providing value.  Most of us are comfortable with the second one—we understand great service. We love to provide great care. But stretching ourselves by taking on something new is a different thing altogether.

As a practitioner, you spend your days asking patients to leave their comfort zones. When was the last time you did the same?

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.