Many chiropractors, even the most principled-philosophical-vitalistic chiropractors often use a linear-medical-mechanistic strategy when conducting their so-called "patient education."
They take a concept, speak it into a patient's ear and expect their words to produce new, healthier patient behaviors. This cookbook approach to patient communications (Input A produces Behavior B) is just as absurd as when it is applied to patient care. Granted, it saves you the work of having to truly understand a patient's ground of being. And it certainly saves you the creativity necessary to make your message relevant to each patient.
Too bad it's largely ineffective. In fact, in some instances it may be counter productive, doing little more than distancing you by creating a set of expectations that patients have little interest or resources in living up to.
Such communication strategies ignore one or more of these five common patient education errors.
Error #1 – Assuming patients are a blank canvas
Most chiropractors ignore the preexisting beliefs that patients bring in with them, formed over an entire lifetime of being immersed in an allopathic world and consulting medical practitioners. Unless you can effectively neutralize the habit of symptom treating, the fear of germs, the faith in vaccinations, DNA as destiny and other popularly-held beliefs, your above-down-inside-out-subluxation model is a tough sell.
Error #2 – Assuming patients are rationale
These are the chiropractors who put stock in millimeters, phases, degrees, curves, angles and other analytics, thinking it moves patients into making a change. Or expect that a reverse cervical curve should strike deep levels of concern from its owner. Or that a pattern of red bars on their sEMG printout should be cause for an automatic lifestyle change. Instead, frame your findings emotionally and support with the facts.
Error #3 – Assuming patients want better health
Showing up with a "spinal boo-boo" doesn't mean a patient wants better health! Keep in mind these are the same individuals who thoughtlessly reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever to suppress their headache symptoms. Granted, there are those who begin care with the desire for lasting health. The key is to ferret out these needles in a haystack from those who have the far modest goal of pain relief. (Problem is, ask this question incorrectly and patients will lie to make you happy.) The art is being able to support both types of patient, and to do so without dissuading the pain-relief-only patient from returning to your practice when they have their inevitable relapse.
Error #4 – Assuming patients are eager to make meaningful change
Many agree that the most significant adjustment you can make is to a patient's cerebral cortex. Yet, most patients, especially chiropractic virgins, want a short-term "diet" of chiropractic care so they can get back to their job, golf game or normal routine without being beset with pain. Like January diets that are undertaken with the hope of returning to desserts and a sedentary lifestyle in March, many patients are only available to make short-term modifications.
Error #5 – Assuming if patients know what you know they will do what you do.
This form of projection is almost as unhelpful as superimposing your financial lack onto patients, assuming they can't afford the care you’re recommending. Frankly, there isn't a way to quickly and effectively convey the book learning, the years of clinical experience, continuing education, interest in natural health and your own trial and error conclusions in a way that will move others to make identical choices. This isn't a failure or shortcoming. It simply acknowledges the sovereignty of each patient. (Most of us know we should floss, but only a fraction of us do.)
The Simple Solution
Please don't slit your wrists or succumb to discussing the weather, sports scores and last night's reality TV show.
Because there is a way in. But you have to use the back door. Attempt to enter through the front door by traditional means and patients are likely to appear interested, even nodding at the right times, but rebuff your intentions. They will exhibit the same politeness we show to salesmen we have no intent in purchasing from, the sales clerk who delivers her extended warranty script and the mechanic who warns us of a possible breakdown in 25,000 miles.
No, the way in requires that you do something far more difficult than relying on a practiced script. It requires that you engage. Ask questions. Seek to understand how they see the world. (Understand, as in to "stand under;" to support.) Rather than solely making claims, show up curious about their model of health and healing. Find out what they believe. Why they think it's true. Then, maybe, just maybe, they'll ask you what you believe.
That’s a gilded, no-RSVP-necessary invitation in. Don't blow it.