The Ottawa chiropractor recently shared with Canadian Chiropractor some of the most important lessons he has learned throughout more than 30 years of clinical practice and management.
Canadian Chiropractor: You have had a reputable 35-year chiropractic career and a big part of that is building a good patient relationship. What is your philosophy when it comes to your patients?
Dr. Ken W. Dick: I consider each new patient to be analogous to a brick in a foundation and I tried to build a strong foundation. Many chiropractors focus on how many new patients they can book and use strategies that cause them to appear desperate. I have heard it said that the average clinic spends six times more money, time and energy to attract new patients than it does to keep present patients. I suggest that doctors should instead bring focus to the patient in their clinic and on preventing new patients from leaving their practice. The patient in your clinic is by far the best potential source for new patient referrals.
CC: What is the most important characteristic you believe makes for a successful chiropractor?
KD: Integrity. People of high integrity are like magnets and we are all drawn to be in their company. I define integrity by checking inward and honestly assessing if what one is feeling, thinking, saying and doing is congruent. I began my career by looking in the mirror at the end of each day and asking myself if I honestly felt good about my present consciousness and effort with my patients. If I could not answer with a definitive, “yes,” I would total my patient billings for the day and donate them to a charity. I soon learned to correct myself in the middle of a day when my effort and concentration was lacking. If you treat yourself with integrity you will ooze integrity and patients will gravitate to you.
CC: You have had the same two front desk staff throughout your entire practice career. What is the secret to keeping a happy and loyal staff?
KD: Staff turnover is perhaps the most expensive cost in running a practice and is often underestimated. When one finds good people to work with, they need to be paid and managed like a true professional. I found the staff enjoyed feeling ownership of the clinic and took great pride in its appearance and patient care. No one likes to be micromanaged and giving staff authority allows the doctor to focus on caring for the patient.
CC: What is your typical program for a new patient?
KD: I begin by purely stating I found the problem, I can help, let’s get started. I believe results will speak for themselves and seeing results really keeps me excited, and enthusiasm is contagious. I ask patients to commit to six weeks of care to demonstrate that chiropractic has a vital role in their health. Fractured bones, sprained ligaments or even new gym memberships require six weeks to make a change that is obvious. I feel I should be able to make appreciable change in that time period to justify more care and inspire referral of new patients.
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CC: What aspects of business building were you most interested in learning about and implementing in your practice?
KD: Many practice management programs focus on marketing and making the chiropractor a better salesman. I preferred to attend seminars and read materials that made me a better manager. I wanted to focus on how to motivate and inspire and be genuinely authentic with my patients and staff.
CC: You have had many associates who went on to become successful in our profession. Can you share any gems on managing associates?
KD: I can remember asking each associate: “If you were running a restaurant, would you rather own a fast-food or a five-star restaurant?” The fast-food restaurant has high staff turnover, lower fees, high volume and poor quality. The five-star restaurant serves fewer people, but it has excellent food, impeccable service, great décor, unique offerings and word-of-mouth referrals. I have never heard anyone say, “You have to try the new fast-food place in town.” More importantly, how does the owner of the fast-food place feel at the end of the day compared to the owner of the five-star restaurant? What would our profession be like if every chiropractor ran a five-star clinic?
CC: Talk about a mistake you’ve made in practice and the lessons you have learned from it?
KD: The most obvious is how I treated patients that decided to discontinue care prior to my recommendation. Early in practice, I would call, coerce and convince such patients to return and, usually, I could instill enough guilt that they would return for two or three visits before finding another excuse to leave – and then never returning. I changed the purpose of the recall phone call to simply express care and concern for their absence. If they mentioned financial hardship for example, my staff would respond with agreement by saying that it is unfortunate that our government pays for disease care but not for health care. The door was kept open for their return and usually they did. I always like to say that a patient’s innate mind can make an appointment as long as we have been successful in removing the interference.
CC: How do you mean?
KD: A chiropractor works with nature and nature slips and checks. Branches grow crooked and then straighten towards the light. There is a time for shedding and a time for new growth. We have all heard of helicopter parenting, which refers to parents that never allow their child to stumble, fall or fail. Many chiropractors practice helicopter chiropractic, never allowing their patients to make a poor health decision. Allowing your patients to slip and check will bring them around to understanding. It is so much easier to discuss supportive, maintenance care with a patient that has experienced a re-occurrence of symptoms.
CC: How did you motivate and inspire patients?
KD: I am fully aware of the negative consequences of failing to prioritize spinal health, but instilling fear and scaring patients by emphasizing degeneration and early death is a very weak way to grow a practice. One can catch more flies with honey than with a fly swatter. I decided to focus on the benefits of spinal health and help the patients be motivated by the positive changes such as returning to favourite hobbies or playing with their children or grandchildren. I dangled a carrot instead of yielding a whip.
CC: What are your thoughts on the financial barriers to practice growth?
KD: This is probably the biggest source of interference for many. I have a strong opinion against giving away free services for many reasons. Free exams and adjustments result in loss of integrity, loss of respect and cause one to appear desperate – damaging all the principles that I feel are integral to practice success. It has been my observation that many new graduates have an intention of only offering free consultations until they get busy. Unfortunately, it is difficult to break out of this mindset and the foundation of practice is once again built on sand instead of brick. I am fine with giving away free ice packs, pillows, back supports or books, but one’s professional time and services should be considered precious and valuable by doctors, staff and patients.
CC: How would you summarize your approach to healing?
KD: In simplest terms it can be summarized by “connection and prediction.” I had to find a way to connect with each patient and I would use a different approach for the engineer, the teenager, the single parent or the government worker. Nothing turns patients off more than a script. The quickest way to connect was to use palpation to tell patients how they felt and then predicting their response to an adjustment. That requires extreme concentration and focus but can create powerful patient conviction. That is the doctoring challenge.
CC: You have recently published your first book, Healing Satori. Tell us about it.
KD: I decided to write a book about what I have learned in 35 years of adjusting spines. It includes conversations that I have had frequently and repeatedly with patients about the most important healing principles that they have control over. There can be much divisiveness in our profession but I tried to focus on the principles that all chiropractors can agree on.