Before I share the gist of my phone conversation with this chiropractor, allow me to install an uncharacteristic plug for my tenth book in the Patient’s Point of View series, Adjusting, Observations of a Chiropractic Advocate During a Time of Change. Between its 240 pages and the hundreds of blog posts here (click on Musings in the “Categories” index to the left) I give more complete direction for a way out. So if you find the following suggestions wanting, realize that this is merely a quick overview.
After I called Jim back and we exchanged pleasantries, I asked him a simple question. “So tell me, why did you become a chiropractor?”
His first answer was predictable.
I say first answer because the first words out of his mouth were something like, “Well, you don’t understand Bill, I’m having to take $20,000 a month out of my retirement fund to keep this thing going. And I’m afraid that…”
“Whoa! Hold it! Hey!” I practically had to shout to derail his rant.
Having been in his situation myself, I knew the drill: try to enlist others in your plight and agree with you that things are tough. Get someone else to affirm that the situation is bad and more importantly that it’s not your fault. I wasn’t going to fall for it.
“Why did you become a chiropractor?” I repeated.
He took another run at it and his answer was spectacular.
“I wanted to help as many people as I could and by doing that, be able to enjoy a wonderful lifestyle with my family.”
Rarely do doctors connect the dots between serving others and being rewarded with a fulfilling lifestyle. Most, simply mumble something prompting an outbreak of Type 2 diabetes about helping people and making the world a better place. When these chiropractors call, we have to back track and get them congruent with the idea that making a profit is not only honorable but desirable. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.
“That’s great. It sounds like it’s the lifestyle part, which is a symptom, outcome or effect of serving others, isn’t in the equation now,” I volunteered.
“That’s right,” he agreed.
“So do the principles of chiropractic still work?” I asked.
“Are there people in your community who could benefit from chiropractic care?”
“Yes. With stress levels the way they are these days, the number of people who could benefit is probably greater than ever,” he added.
“Okay, so the market is still there. It’s not as though you cleaned up all the subluxations in your town during The Insurance Era and now you’re obsolete. So my guess is that what’s manifesting in your practice has more to do with the serving others part of the equation.”
I won’t give you the entire transcript of our conversation, but here are the high points of what I learned:
Still living in the 1980s. He is largely dependent upon the generosity of the insurance policies his patients have. Which these days often includes little more than token chiropractic coverage that seduces many chiropractors into thinking that better coding or electronic SOAP notes will return their incomes to pre-1995 levels. Worse, he’s still carrying $5 million in receivables on his books that he’ll never see and still not discussing money issues directly with patients. In other words, he’s practicing Reagan-era chiropractic in an Obama world.
Too coachable. His mentor passed away two years ago and ever since has been floundering. His is situation is the opposite of what I usually see; a chiropractor who hires a coach but resists implementing the recommendations. Instead, he is willing, maybe too willing to do whatever someone in authority suggests will lead to his former level of success. While I haven’t experienced his consultation or heard his report, my guess is that it’s a confusing mess, layer upon layer added by each consultant and now the beauty and simplicity of chiropractic is obscured.
No internal North Star. Now, with three or four different mentors whispering in his ear, he’s become dangerous, swerving in and out of his lane, begging to be pulled over for a DUI. Lacking an internal benchmark, he’s been on a quest to find patient education videos that would “work” and a report of findings that would “work.” Not only was he expecting someone else’s stuff to do the “work,” but by “working” he envisioned practice as it was 20 years ago. Impossible on both counts.
Sequestered in his office. Instead of getting out into his community and sharing the chiropractic message with strangers, he’s been holed up in his office waiting for patients to show up. And while his print and television ads used to produce, they no longer do, which is great since affording them is beyond his current budget. And while he has a website, I would call it a 1980s website—if the Internet had existed in the 1980s.
So, I gave him some homework to help get him up to speed quickly about what it takes to make it as a chiropractor these days. I suggested that he read the 260 posts on this blog going back to August of 2006.
“You can probably do it over the weekend if you’re in a hurry,” I observed. “My guess is that the types of questions you ask me and of yourself will radically change afterwards,” I ventured. “So be sure to call me back so we can continue this conversation, okay?”
“Sure thing. I will.”
I think he’s going to make it.
By the way it turned out to be a 48-minute call. Just another sign of underestimating what it's going to take to turn things around!