By Richard C. Schafer, DC, PhD, FICC
Please keep in mind a fact
of life: "Doctors need patients. Patients do not need you as
their doctor. You can be easily replaced."
In the beginning of any solo practice, professional community
relations are necessary to inform the public who you are, what
you do, and where you are located. It is a period when it is not
uncommon to have feelings of worry, anxiety, and insecurity. For
a professional who doesn't believe in blatant advertising, this
means joining and actively participating in as many church,
civic, social, or fraternal organizations and clubs as possible.
It is a period when you must become known as a nice honest
It means leaving or exchanging your professional card
wherever you can. It means writing a "health hints" column for
your community newspaper or mailing a newsletter. It means
sending notes of congratulations to those you have learned have
been promoted, received an award, had a baby, celebrated an
anniversary, etc. In time, such commitments can be minimized.
As I was beginning practice, a friend gave me some direction
that I came to realize would assure most any health-care
professional in practice for 5 years of never worrying about
patient procurement again. With a few years more, one will
likely find that he or she will have to turn down requests for
appointments by prospective patients.
This advice will likely not be new to you. You have probably
have had knowledge of it since childhood but never thought of
applying it personally and thoroughly with the correct esprit
de corps. But with insight, it will be new --possibly a
revelation when you read between the lines and embed it within
your inner self.
The suggestion is so simple that many will ignore it. That's
okay. Yet, it can be proved without any doubt with any little
calculator. If followed, it will be more profitable, more
rewarding than any office-management system or scheme costing
thousands of dollars.
If you clutch the spirit of this counsel and thoroughly
bestow it, you will have no need for television or radio
advertising. You can save the high cost of yellow page displays.
A simple listing will do. You will have no need for a billboard
sign. A small unpretentious high-quality shingle will do fine.
There will be no need to "compete" with anyone.
The key is simply this. You are in health care. Thus,
you are concerned with correcting health problems, maintenance,
prevention, and monitoring a patient's health status according
to your scope of practice. To accomplish this, a simple act is
necessary. That is, every patient that leaves your office
departs with an appointment card for a specific future date and
time --be it a week, a month, or several months in the future.
Assure that every patient is convinced that you care
about them, that they occupy a special place in your
thoughts. A patient without a specific appointment may feel that
they are "discharged," that you have nothing more to offer.
Feelings of your disinterest, rejection, or abandonment may
arise. They may feel "dismissed" or expelled from your practice.
Such "released" patients will then be inclined to seek some
doctor a few minutes closer or some doctor whom really
What does this simple advanced specific appointment
represent? Overtly and/or subconsciously, it indicates to the
patient that you are attentive to the patient's health
permanently --both now and in the future. It is a subtle
contract, a commitment between doctor and patient. It is a
covenant that the patient will return and that you will be there
Especially, it is a reminder to the patient that you
care. You will not abandon them. Your professional
knowledge, experience, and concern are there, waiting to serve
If an appointment is made for much more than 2 months in the
future, the patient should be advised that this appointment is
for a check up, to assure good progress or to catch anything
that might be going wrong in its early stage. If symptoms arise
before the appointed date, the patient should call the office
If an appointment is made for a date over a month in the
future, the doctor's office should send a reminder card and/or
possibly a telephone call to confirm the appointment. Even the
most sincere patient can be forgetful.
Doctors who are forever seeking new patients do not know how
to maintain a psychic kinship with those patients they have.
Once you have this wisdom and affix it, every doctor-patient
bond is nourished and thrives for life. And this link can
contagiously extend to the patient's spouse, children,
relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
There is much more in this philosophy than that which can be
truly absorbed with one reading. Relish its subtle clues. Have
you read it three times? Read it again tomorrow.
Who led me to this philosophy? My dentist. He also advised,
"Dare, do, and keep silent." For you, I have broken the silence.
Why? Because you are special.
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