Chiropractic Patient Education 2.0

Article by William D. Esteb

What if chiropractic patient education, as practiced in most offices, was finally acknowledged as not being particularly effective? What if all the brochures and videos and neuropatholators were determined to be mostly a waste of time? Pretend for a moment that all the traditional so-called “patient education” tools and techniques don’t exist.

Yet, you’re probably convinced of a moral obligation to give your chiropractic care at least a modest amount of context and meaning to patients. That is, instead of a silent encounter in which you push and twist their spine, you see value in communicating what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what the patient can expect. This, if for no other reason than simply enhancing the healing process by invoking the mind/body connection. Starting from scratch, unaware of things like chiropractic brochures and chiropractic videos, how would communicate what you do to patients?

There are only a few communication channels available to you: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Most chiropractors would agree that the most effective, is sight, and in the case of chiropractic, probably touch. Obviously, sight being the most effective by a large margin. This is what’s behind the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Even with this being true, most chiropractors seem more fascinated by what new words they can add to their reports or yellow page ads, rather than what pictures or images they can deploy in their patient encounters. But words, printed or spoken, are mere pennies in the currency of patient communications.

And not all pictures are created equal. While some offices use X-rays and sEMG printouts, which are high octane images, there is a far more powerful image that is largely overlooked by all but the rarest of chiropractors: the chiropractor’s body.

I’m not referencing your weight, your clothing or whether your shoes are shined! Although they are factors. I’m referring to how you use your body when you are with a patient.

What if it wasn’t the words you used that persuaded patients, but your body language? What if it wasn’t your brilliant report that compelled patients to follow your recommendations, but the certainty they sensed from your body? What if the rational explanations you’ve attempted to convey are actually trumped by the sureness and the doubt-free conviction you exhibited? In other words, for a patient who has finally realized they need to get help and consult a specialist, it’s your enthusiasm, confidence and determination that wins them over, not your highly practiced report of findings!

What if all your previous patient education overtures were really for you, not them? What if the value of your videos and brochures came from how they affirm what you believe to be true? What if the benefit derived from your report documents and wall posters were what they do to substantiate your position and bolster your confidence?

What if?

Instead of using your arsenal of patient education tools to overtly “win over” patients so they believe what you believe, what if you saw these materials as merely ways to quickly express what you believe to be true? In other words, your patient education becomes the act of recounting why you believe what you’re proposing, will work for them. The purpose is to reveal what and why you believe, not why they should. By detecting your unshakable belief through the language of your body, you transcend the rational mind and tap into their emotional mind–the seat of decision making.

What communication resources would you need so you could acquire the body language that patients crave to see you express? What videos, brochures and report documents advance your vision of chiropractic to produce the body language patients find attractive?

Virtually every practice coach knows that success is ultimately about certainty and decisiveness. Everything else is window dressing, yielding only incremental productivity improvement.

Here are 10 of the most common certainty stealers:

1. Making their problem, your problem. It’s their headache, not yours. Their body is simply trying to get their attention so they’ll make a change. Rescuing patients from their body may prompt their gratitude and admiration, but it’s a trap that “fixers” fall for that “healers” avoid. Since so many factors are outside your control, when you buy into the temptation to make their problem yours, you set yourself up for those confidence-embezzling occasions in which chiropractic doesn’t appear to work.

2. The inclination to take credit for success. It’s counterintuitive, but if you’re anxious to take credit for the results that applying chiropractic principles produce, you must also take the blame when they don’t. Again, investing your life spirit in unpredictable outcomes is the perfect way to generate situations that will shake your confidence and produce unattractive uncertainty.

3. Unable to explain unexpected findings. Do you have a model that can explain unanticipated effects? A great example are chiropractors who pay thousands of dollars for sEMG equipment, only to assign it to a storage closet the first time they get scan that doesn’t look as they expect. Increase your certainty by having explanations that account for virtually anything you or a patient experiences or observes due to their care in your office. This makes you fearless, a highly attractive quality in the busiest practitioners.

4. Thinking you’re doing the healing. The scriptures are pretty clear that pride comes before the fall. And the egotism reflected by this attitude is breathtaking. I’ve said it elsewhere, but it bears repeating. What patients bring to your table is far more important than what you do on the table. Just ask those chiropractors who have had their confidence shaken by adjusting a spouse or loved one, only to discover their puny attempts at reducing tension to their nervous system was insufficient to reverse cancer or some other serious malady.

5. Unclear what an adjustment does. If you think you’re single-handedly putting wayward bones back into the place, no wonder you project an unattractive tentativeness. Their body put the bone there. For a reason. Bones are static structures that only move when muscles, controlled by the nervous system command them to do so. If their body isn’t using the energy you’re supplying to “right itself,” you’ll want to abandon your hubris long enough to dig deeper into what’s going on in the patient’s life.

6. Thinking your job is to win them over. Whenever you hand over your self-image to what someone else thinks or believes, you’ve lost your anchor. This is essentially a boundary issue. In the same way that it’s not your job to convince a prospect to become a new patient, it’s not your job to convert a skeptic. Instead, you plant your flag, proclaiming the truth, or at least what is true for you, and honor their choice.

7. Thinking your can change their beliefs. Another impossible feat that risks your all so important certainty is imagining you can change their beliefs. You can ask questions. You can create a safe environment to try on a new idea. You can give them time and space. But you can’t change a patient’s beliefs. Last time I checked that power cannot be hijacked by another. If there’s going to be any belief changing, the patient will do it, not you.

8. Wanting to be liked; caring instead of loving. Probably one of the most common (and avoidable) sources of uncertainty is caring too much. The biggest clue you care (emotional) instead of love (spiritual) is that there are strings attached, you expect reciprocity or you keep score. The I’ll-do-this-but-you-have-to-do-that mentality. This extraordinary level of mistrust (fearing you’ll look bad if they don’t follow your recommendations) is rewarded by pathetic levels of certainty and a lack of ease around patients.

9. Not being totally present with each patient. When your mind leaves the adjusting room and patients merely experience your physicality because your mind is absent, eavesdropping in on a conversation elsewhere in the office or distracted by your debt or the fight with your spouse or… then the patient’s experience is hollow and superficial. So they respond in kind, which creates a corrosive atmosphere of mistrust, sabotaging your attempts at projecting an upbeat optimism that patients seek.

10. Fear and doubt. Our chiropractic colleges are legendary at imbuing graduates with these twin certainty killers. Fearful of lawsuits, hurting the patient, what they don’t know, over “treating” or some other bogyman, it’s a wonder that graduates can muster enough courage to even adjust patients. And the fact is, many of them don’t. Or they do it so poorly that it manufactures sufficient doubt and their fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m sure there are others, but these are ones that come to mind and a great place to start if you know yourself well enough to know you’re not projecting the air of confidence and certainty patients want. You can’t fake it.

You’ve already tried that.

William Esteb is the creative director of Patient Media, Inc., a patient communication resource company for chiropractors. Review his materials, subscribe to Monday Morning Motivation and request a free 64-page New Patient catalog by visiting or calling (800) 486-2337.

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