Chiropractic Assistant Education
By Brandi MacDonald
By Brandi MacDonald
Not long ago, our practice conducted a neurological screening in
Edmonton. We talked to hundreds of prospective patients about
chiropractic, asking them what they thought chiropractic was, how it
worked, what a chiropractic adjustment looked like, and so forth.
| Chiropractic health assistants have approximately four to six minutes with a patient, at the front desk where processing occurs.
Not long ago, our practice conducted a neurological screening in Edmonton. We talked to hundreds of prospective patients about chiropractic, asking them what they thought chiropractic was, how it worked, what a chiropractic adjustment looked like, and so forth. We were surprised at the response! What we realized was that the general public – people who haven’t seen a chiropractor before – were not only fearful about it, but believed it was something foreign and secretive. The other component that really surprised us was the sheer number of current chiropractic patients who couldn’t explain it to us! These observations propelled us to action, in our practice and in the community, and to commit to becoming stronger communicators with our patients, especially by harnessing our four-to-six minutes at the front desk to maximize its utility and impact.
Educating patients in your practice is obviously a priority, but I wonder what level of focus we place on patient education? Why are we teaching people about chiropractic? In my experience, the front desk staff is primarily involving themselves in the education process to help a patient stay on recommended treatment plans and encourage referrals of family and friends.
While important, how much focus do we place on teaching people to explain chiropractic to their friends and families? Why would this even be important?
The critical four-to-six minutes and how to maximize them
In most practices, the chiropractic health assistants (CHAs) have approximately four to six minutes with a patient, at the front desk where processing occurs. By processing, I mean booking the patient, taking payments, and answering questions about insurance, if applicable. Again, while these steps are crucial, it is possible to use these four-to-six minutes differently.
I believe that having patient-to-patient interaction is critical for chiropractic to flourish in the community. In those four-to-six minutes, your CHA is a basically a patient talking to another patient.
Simplifying the message of chiropractic is easy – just ask your CHA what it means to them? Patients don’t remember diagnoses, treatment types, or even textbook anatomical terms. Patients remember stories about people, healing philosophies, and personal accounts of healing.
Finally, in order for anything else to occur, in these four-to-six minutes, internal systems must be organized and arranged well, otherwise the CHA’s focus will be on processing, and not educating.
Keeping the above points in mind, we can now set guidelines to leverage that four-to-six minutes better:
- Internal systems must be efficient, focused and organized. Chaos cannot reign at the front desk. If chaos ensues, the CHA’s focus is on “getting the patient out the door,” not maximizing their experience and educating them.
- The two critical internal systems include pre-booking of appointments and payments. When these two things are taken care of, imagine the time this frees up in that four-to-six minutes! Now, the CHA and patient can communicate about other things such as chiropractic, personal accounts of healing, testimonies, etc.
- Create an automatic education system, that is, educational tips and points that occur on every visit for the patient, or periodically throughout their care.
- Ensure that it is clear when these should happen and what they might be. For example; set topics of the week for discussion, bulletin boards that stimulate questions from the patient, literature that they can take with them home, etc.
- Train, train, train! I have written extensively about training. Your staff must understand your message in your practice, what do you want your patients to say about chiropractic in the community. What questions might patients have about your educative information? Try and anticipate these and then role play!
- Role play, role play, role play! Determine the amount of time a patient spends with your staff member. Video tape their interaction – with the patient’s consent of course – and then replay it for your staff. What are they talking about? What is the focus in those four-to-six minutes? Then practice alternative responses on each other. I believe strongly we should not be “practicing” our skills on our patients, we should “practice” on one another. It makes us stronger and more confident, and the benefit to the patient is astronomical. They receive the best of who we are!
- Create an experience that is stimulating for your patients to learn within. There are different types of learners in the world. Some are auditory, visual, tactile (touch focused) – or verbal. Try and incorporate a variety of strategies that cover these areas.
- Does this seem like a lot of work? As the DC – or leadership personnel – in the practice, you have to understand that the importance of educating your patients is greater than just compliance for treatment. If training your staff to educate your patients is not a priority for your practice, you will wind up meeting patients in the community who have not told one other person about chiropractic because they cannot explain it!
This is not beneficial for chiropractic or for any of your patients’ friends or families who might benefit from visiting your office.
Generally, satisfaction with chiropractic amongst patients of individual offices is very high. But, if a patient has a good experience in your office but tells no one, is that good enough? Is it possible for us to envision our patients being comfortable with explaining what we do and encouraging others to try it out? I think it is possible; we are doing this every day in our practices across Canada. I think we can do it better by changing our focus in that critical four-to-six minutes that our patients spend at the front desk.