The other day I made a list of some of the assumptions I’ve made. (It’s a helpful exercise you might want to try.) One such assumption is the idea that patient education is something that every chiropractor has a responsibility to do.
This exercise revealed a distinction I had overlooked. Odd, since I’ve committed the last 30 years of my life to exploring the many facets of the doctor/patient relationship. You’d think this would have shown up earlier. Guess that’s the danger of assumptions.
You may think this is a luxurious nuance to explore at a time when many chiropractors are finding the current practice environment challenging, however it may also provide a clue as to why.
If you try to educate patients in your practice, ask yourself this simple question: What are your motives for educating patients? In other words, why bother?
Identify a few before continuing.
Seems to me, one reason to educate patients is to encourage their utilization of chiropractic beyond mere symptom treating. In other words, there’s no need to “educate” patients unless you have hopes that patients would embrace chiropractic on some basis beyond the relief that patients want. By implementing a program of patient education, you’re attempting to change the cultural instinct to patch rather than fix; to look short term rather than long.
When parsing some of the more common reasons for justifying the time and (often rebuffed) effort to educate patients, they seem to fall into two general categories—reasons that serve the practitioner and reasons that serve the patient.
Sharing chiropractic principles and the self-healing capability of their body helps patients set appropriate expectations and make informed decisions about their health. Explaining how their body works, the supremacy of the nervous system and self-care procedures that can enhance the healing process empowers patients, enriches their experience and gives your chiropractic intervention meaning and context. Helping patients appreciate the distinctions that make chiropractic different from their previous medical experiences fulfills your obligation to provide full disclosure, equipping patients to make better decisions about their usage of chiropractic care.
While these are honorable intentions and congruent with the desire to authentically serve patients, there are other reasons why some chiropractors commit to a regime of patient education.
Do any of these motives sound familiar?
1. Get patients to follow your recommendations. Educating patients, or perhaps more accurately, indoctrinating patients, may make it easier to manage patients and get them to do your bidding.
2. Increase patient respect. Chiropractors with a chip on their shoulder or who seek social self-esteem may be tempted to educate patients so as to appear more valid, often emphasizing the width and breadth of their chiropractic college curriculum.
3. Improve statistical performance. It’s well accepted that patient education, because it can boost PVA (patient visit average), can increase your income and practice volume.
4. Justify your approach. This can degenerate into boasting about the superiority of chiropractic and condemning medicine.
5. Fully exploit the resources of their insurance policy. Less likely these days, but there was a time when patients would discontinue care and “leave visits on the table” that their insurance carrier would have paid for. Horrors!
6. Grow your practice by improving each patient’s ability to refer others.
7. Pump yourself up. Remind yourself of chiropractic principles and why you choose chiropractic as a career.
That said, I still think teaching chiropractic principles and educating patients about their body, the cause of vertebral subluxation and the value of a chiropractic lifestyle is a worthy activity. Like most things, it’s good idea to be present to your motives.
Do your practice procedures serve you or serve patients?