Q: "I love your MMM every week. This is the first time I've ever responded regarding a MMM. I've been in practice for 30 years and I still love what I do. But this MMM intrigues me. I always treat a patient like I want to be treated. And I wouldn't want to be scolded or belittled. However, even with very good communication, I still experience patients returning after a hiatus with their tail between their legs or expecting to be scolded. What is the best way to defuse this? I just love them up. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I do the best I can and still some patients react with fear. Is that my responsibility? I'm always willing to look in the mirror, but isn't that some of their stuff?"
A: There's a simple action step you can implement to defuse this all too common patient reaction.
First, address the often unspoken fear that every patient has heard about chiropractors. You know, the "once-you-go-you-have-to-go-for-the-rest-of-your-life" issue. Accept that patients don't have to do anything. It may be helpful to embrace chiropractic care as a long-term lifestyle adjunct. It might be ideal. It might even help avoid a needless relapse. But they don't have to do anything.
The way I'd do it, probably at the consultation, might go like this:
"Oh, and one more thing. Have you heard the one about once you go to a chiropractor you have to go for the rest of your life?" (Patient likely responds in the affirmative.) "I just want you to know that that's not true. How long you choose to benefit from chiropractic care is always up to you. It's true that we have some practice members who have chosen to come in on a regular basis to maintain their health and avoid a relapse, but that's a personal decision. And you don't have to decide now.
"I see my job as providing the very best chiropractic care possible. And your job is to decide how much of it you want. So, when you've had enough, let me know so we can celebrate your success and close your case file properly. Okay?"
Naturally, put it in your own words, but the idea is to neutralize the lifetime myth and perhaps more importantly, communicate that you are unattached to their decision—all while giving them a clue about how to say goodbye. Specifically, that it will be a time of celebration, not a guilt-ridden attempt to overpower their free will or make them feel small for not measuring up to your expectations.
Some chiropractors fear that by discussing this topic in such a respectful, grown up fashion that it will actually increase patient attrition. Yet, these same chiropractors have so many inactive patient file folders that it creates a storage problem! Clearly, patients leave whether you discuss it not. At least by reducing the guilt and shame, you have a chance of benefiting from their referrals and subsequent reactivations.