Create a Safe Place to Fail

Most patients don’t “get” chiropractic on their first exposure to it.  So, if you’d like to increase the likelihood of subsequent reactivations, even referrals, create a safe place for new patients to “fail.”

Failing, is when a patient begins chiropractic care, enjoys symptomatic relief, discontinues their care and suffers a relapse months or years later.  Failure is an essential ingredient of true patient “education.”

Failure is underrated in our culture.  Yet, it’s how we really learn.  Most of us were “taught” not to touch the hot stove, and were “educated” when we did.  While the painful burn might have been seen as a failure by your parents, it was all part of the plan.  That’s why, these days, you don’t have to be told not to touch a hot stove.  You and I have learned much more from our failures than our successes.

If a patient must fail on their first (and probably their second or third!) exposure to chiropractic, then consider creating an environment in which a patient can receive chiropractic care, discover its implications and discontinue without shame or fear of judgment.  (Something difficult for many chiropractors who care about a patient’s health more than the patient does.)

What would a “successful” patient failure look like?  A patient who has a positive chiropractic experience discontinues care, has a relapse, knows not to blame you or chiropractic, returns to your office without an “I-told-you-so,” resumes care and after a couple of these episodes (possibly spanning years!), comes to accept regular chiropractic care as they do bathing, teeth brushing, eating healthy foods and other healthy habits. 

Ready to play the “long game” and plant the seeds necessary to perhaps, possibly, maybe, someday enjoy a harvest of appreciative, stable, cash-paying patients who see chiropractic as a way of life?  Then create a safe place for patients to fail.

Begin by assuming a healthy detachment about how much chiropractic care patients opt to receive.  Acknowledge their sovereignty and appreciate the fact that they have the freedom to abuse their bodies, reject your suggestions and value other things more than their health.

Second, make sure patients understand that they are likely to feel better before muscles and soft tissues supporting their spine are fully healed.  Set the stage during your report of findings to “future pace” each patient:  “We had a patient in here a couple of months ago who got great results and then dropped out of care as soon as she felt better and later suffered a relapse.  Fortunately, I had explained that she would be susceptible to a relapse and she didn’t blame chiropractic or me, and came back in.  Of course, how long you benefit from chiropractic care is always up to you.”

Make sure every patient knows that you’re genuinely interested in serving and honoring their health goals.  (Remember, they have to fail first.)  Help each patient see that they won’t be “letting you down” or disappointing you by discontinuing their care early or won’t be judged for not doing what “good” patients do.  (That’s the hard part!)
Even more daring, at your report of findings, while the relationship is still being established, discuss the “office disengagement process” when they’ve had enough chiropractic care.

“We have a little ceremony my staff and I like to conduct when patients reach their health goals, so please let us know when you’ve had enough so we can celebrate.”  It may seem counterintuitive to celebrate when the patient is seemingly sabotaging their health, but, remember, they still have to have a relapse or two before they’re likely to appreciate the lifestyle benefits of periodic chiropractic care.

Some might criticize this as actually putting the “premature dismissal seed” into a patient’s brain.  Hardly.  Most patients have heard that “once-you-go-you-have-to-go-for-the-rest-of-your-life” anyway, so most patients are plotting their escape from the first visit!

Take a quick inventory of those wonderful “once-a-monthers” who are a delight to serve.  You rarely have to force-feed them chiropractic.  In fact, on most visits you rarely even talk about health!  How did these individuals acquire their healthy habit?  Many observe that these special patients have usually had a couple of previous chiropractic experiences—often in someone else’s office!

Yours? TAC

William Esteb is the president and creative director of Patient Media, Inc.  His new company provides state-of-the-art, visually-based patient communication tools from a patient’s-point-of-view.  Request a free copy of his 64-page catalog and subscribe to Monday Morning Motivation, his free, weekly emailed practice tip or patient communication idea by visiting or calling (800) 486-2337.

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