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Every Practice Needs a Constant Flow of Patients

by Alan Rouse

Your success in practice depends entirely upon your success in keeping your clinic filled with patients. The two key ingredients for achieving this are:

  1. Developing a practice relationship with your existing patients so that they keep coming back and keep sending you new patients.
  2. Ensuring that you get a steady supply of new patients from various promotional activities that you should undertake.

Building on Existing Clients

Every practice – and every business – replies on a developing relationship with existing clients. Once you have gained their trust they will seek your advice for all of their ailments – PLUS the ailments of their family, their friends and their work colleagues. But that doesn’t come naturally. You have to work at it…

Every patient you see should be able to send in two more – at the least. You will of course reward them for this – offer a 10 or 20 per cent discount off of their next treatment for introducing a new patient. But sometimes you need to delve a little, to help them remember who they know who might want to come to you.

Think of it from their point of view. They’ve come to you because they have a health problem. They may tell their family and workmates that they’re coming but not necessarily.

People often keep health matters to themselves – it’s rather personal – and they may not talk about it much, especially the men. Also they may be worried that your treatment won’t work on someone else, and they will look a fool if they go on about it. After all, they may think, they came to you for their headaches and that’s what you have treated. They may not know that you can treat their spouse’s bad knee, their child’s eating problems, their friend’s smoker’s cough, their neighbour’s painful feet, etc. But you need these other people, or some of them, in order to build your practice. So you need to inquire into your patient’s contacts.

It’s almost an extension of involving yourself with their life. While giving treatment you ask about their spouse and their children. You talk about other treatments you do, you ask about their workmates and their neighbours. Before long it all pours out, once they realise you are interested. You hear of this one and that one, all with different problems.

Make Treatment a Pleasure

Of course before asking your patients to recommend others you have to make sure that you give them the best treatment possible and that coming to your clinic is an experience to be enjoyed. Make it easy for them. Make sure you have easy car parking – a key issue in the growth of a practice – make the waiting room bright and cheerful, the chairs comfortable and ensure that any magazines are up to date.

Your clinic should be smart, decorated regularly. The treatment room should have discreet changing screens, a tidy equipment table, with any instruments in their boxes. There should be curtains or blinds so that passers-by can’t see in. You should have a tidy desk, with all unpaid bills and demands tidied away and there should be very little telephone interruption. While you’re with your patient give them your undivided attention.

Make yourself the best practitioner possible. Take post-graduate classes, keep up with new developments from new books and the trade magazines, and constantly work at improving your technique. Do your best to ensure that your patients are pleased that they are coming to you – and make them pleased to be able to recommend you to their friends.

Note Down all Prospects

Hopefully your patients will talk about their friend’s problems in case you can help them. You may not be able to help all of them but you should take careful notes so that you can think about them later. Also keep a note of possible contacts in this patient’s file. He or she will want to know how their friends got on and will of course expect their discount.

During this conversation pick the most appealing prospect and ask your patient to give them your card, perhaps with the information that you have had success with their problem. Then, after practice hours, do your homework. List the people you have been told about and decide what you can do about them, how you can draw them in.

You often can’t do much based on hearsay, without a full examination. But its worth giving them something in order to make contact. You might look out a diet sheet for someone who is toxic and ask your patient to give it to them with a leaflet on your clinic.

You might send either an exercise sheet or poultice sheet to someone with a physical problem, informing them what treatment you can offer for such a problem.

Partners in Health

Your relationship with your patients will gradually develop into a partnership to create health. You will do your bit in the clinic and, with advice; they will do theirs at home, following the diet you recommend, doing exercises and changing their life styles to some extent. Hopefully they will discuss all of their health problems with you, even some that you can’t help with.

Many patients will enjoy a chance to spend an evening with you. After having a number of treatments they will begin to look upon you as a friend and adviser, and will usually support you if you decide to hold an Open Meeting.

This could be held in your clinic, if you have a big enough room or in a local hall or hotel if you haven’t. You should lay on a guest speaker, perhaps a nutritionist, who might compare healthy and unhealthy foods. You could give a talk yourself about trends in natural health and perhaps your plans for the clinic.

Refreshments should be supplied, which gives people a chance to chat over a cup of tea. Clients will be encouraged to bring along friends and relatives, who will be given appropriate literature and perhaps an invitation to a free consultation.

In the summer it is fun for all to have this meeting outside, or in a marquee, where you might serve fruit and natural foods I have occasionally had patients and friends at a health session on my boat, which is always popular.

Send Out Reminders

Many of your patients will get completely better but the majority will need ongoing treatment. It’s a mistake to dismiss them once their initial problem or pain has cleared up. You must remember that many people have developed their problem over many years of using their bodies. And after treatment the weakness will often remain. They are always going to need check-ups, or the problem may come back.

One way to hold on to patients once their initial problem is resolved is to have a good reminder system. Nowadays, with many practitioners making diary appointments on their computer that can be programmed in but for those still using paper, I will just explain the system, which is vital to a successful practice.

Once patients are initially better, perhaps having been attending on a monthly basis for some time, they will be told they will need to have a check-up in, say, three months, and that they will be notified when they need to make an appointment.

Some practitioners give the patient an appointment for three months’ time and hope they will turn up. That is all very well for the State Health Service, when you get paid whether the patient comes or not. But in private practice you don’t want to have too many unfilled appointments. And after three months many people will forget.

So you need to either send them a reminder card or telephone them. Cards are more efficient, the patient gets a written note and can telephone are requested, when it is convenient for them.

The card will read something like this:

I hope you are well. It is now three months since your last appointment and I would like to check on your condition. Please telephone me (or my receptionist) on receiving this and make an appointment.

If you use a card system, you write a card with the patient’s name and address and phone number on it and file it under the month for three months’ time. At the beginning of each month you take out the cards and send the reminders out. You can set up a similar system on your computer.

Keep a note of the response. If, by chance, not all of those reminded made an appointment, you should put their card forward for the next month. It’s important not to lose touch.

Send a Letter

Patients are like a group of friends or a big family. Unless something goes wrong they will be loyal, proud that you are their doctor, will recommend you to friends and will be quietly happy that they’ve got someone to take care of their particular physical worry.

But, like friends, you must keep in touch and cultivate that relationship or it will die. People drift apart. In the hurly-burly of everyday life they will tend to forget about you. And, horror of horrors, the next time they have a problem they may go to someone else. Perhaps someone they’ve heard of, forgetting how happy they were in your care.

You can’t meet up for a drink or a meal, as you would with friends but you can send them letters – News Letters.

You should send one out every six months at least, preferably more often. It needn’t be elaborate, perhaps four sides of A5, and should give them news of the clinic and staff, national news of the acupuncture industry, new equipment and special offers.

Make a banner headline for it on your computer. Most computers these days offer a template for a News Letter. Lay it out in sections, with your latest news on the front page – perhaps with suggestions for the onset of winter. Then go on to talk about different treatments available at the clinic, new staff members, remedies or products that are available at a discount price and, of course, special offers, such as those you get for introducing a friend.

Try it – you’ll be amazed at the response!

Acquiring New Patients

Every practice needs a steady stream of new patients and, instead of just waiting for them to come along, perhaps from recommendation or referral, there are some positive things you can do to push this along.

You must make yourself well know, a local celebrity, like the GP, dentist or clergyman. People should automatically think of you when they want a treatment. Your prospective patients will be workers, mothers, professionals, children, old folk. They must hear of you first and then be confident enough of you to trust you with their precious bodies.

Why should they do that? For all they know you may be some undesirable that they would prefer to avoid. They may be perfectly happy with their present health arrangements. You have to convince them. Build your reputation so that they have no qualms.

The plan of action:

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Get out in the community, making yourself known
  3. Consolidating your gains, building up the patient list

First – let’s assume that you’ve set up your hygienic clinic, with easy car parking adjacent. You have to set out your stall, just like setting up any business or shop. Make it good. Be proud of it. It’s yours. It is what’s going to make your reputation.

Now we publicise it, remembering that pictures speak louder than words. You will probably have:

  • A local weekly newspaper
  • A more remote evening paper, attached to your nearest city
  • One or two local radio stations
  • Various news sheets, church and club magazines
  • Bulletin boards in libraries, health food shops, shop ads
  • A leaflet service

Use them all. The more publicity you create about your clinic the better you will get at it. Just imagine you are the Promotions Manager of a big company. And you have to get results or you’ll get fired!

All of the above media want local news. And they might just as well write or talk about you. As a practitioner who gives specialised treatments you are unusual and interesting. You are undoubtedly worth a story.

Some of these outlets are under your direct control, some are not. Use the ones that you control first. With the others – radio, TV, newspapers and magazines – look on them as a medium term project.

Of those you can control – the door to door leaflet, the newsagent’s and health food shop windows, the bulletin board – you can get into right away.

Write a two-page or four-page leaflet, run off 1,000 copies and have it delivered door to door in your neighbourhood. There will probably be a local delivery service. Or you can do it with the help of kids, family and friends. But do it!

The leaflet should be:

  • A4 size, folded, i.e. four pages of A5
  • On coloured paper
  • Have big print, easy to read
  • Have a catchy headline on the front page
  • Offer a special service to them

List the main things you treat. This is a chance to indulge yourself.

  • Offer a free examination,
  • An introductory offer to new patients.
  • Write about the service you give
  • Include pictures of yourself and your clinic
  • Include the phone number

Include a cut-out form that gives them and their friends the introductory offer. Don’t worry about losing money with special offers. It will come back to you ten-fold!

This is your opportunity to meet many of your future patients. Once they are through your office door you can get to know them, give them a consultation and a great examination. Now you can tell them what treatments they need in order to make life good again. Chances are they’ll sign up!

Out of 1,000 leaflets sent out you should get at least 100 people replying in the short term. Most of the rest will keep the leaflet by their telephone until they need it. So don’t send them all out at once or you’ll be overwhelmed! Do about 250 a week.

Early Publicity

Write an article based on your leaflet, also offer an introductory service and send it with your photograph to local journals – the church magazine, specialised news letters for gardeners, walkers, women’s clubs, MS sufferers,, arthritis societies and others.

Talk about yourself, your background, college, training, experience, any speciality, what you hope to achieve. Tell them what your introductory offer includes and describe your clinic, your staff, where patients should park, and give your telephone number.

Dealing with the press is harder. Your local weekly newspaper will carry a report about you and your clinic, with photo – so mention any speciality you have to make you different from the others.

The evening or daily paper is a harder nut to crack. They don’t like to give out free coverage but they will take a report with a newsworthy angle, like “Local practitioners says DIY is Dangerous”, “New Way to Lose Weight”, of “Prepare your muscles to go on holiday”.

These people are professionals – often entertainers – and they won’t just write about you like the weekly will. But if you give them a hook to hang it on then they will often publish your address and phone number. And this is like a recommendation!

Decide on your angle and type it up with your name, address and clinic details, send it in and ask to be interviewed. They much prefer to assign a young reporter to these jobs so that they can write it up themselves and perhaps sample your treatment, writing it up for their readers. You get much better coverage like this.

Give Some Talks

By far the best way to get new patients flowing into your clinic is by giving talks. Many organisations need speakers and you should contact them and make yourself available. Sometimes you have to give an audition, to make sure your talk will not be scandalous or shocking, and you will then get put on a speaker’s list of organisations like the Women’s Institute.

When I was building up I used to give two talks a week. Each talk should bring you 10 new patients. These can be given appointments at the end of the talk if you take your diary. Or you can give them your card and ask them to phone in.

You may not be good at public speaking but try to be casual about it. Dress smartly and have a few props from the clinic – perhaps a skeleton or a chart or two. It helps to show needles and burn moxa. Imagine the interest that will have! You’re burning something in their hall!

Generally entertain the group. Talk about the wonder of acupuncture. Tell them of some of your successes, things that respond well. Get them involved. Ask how many have had acupuncture. What did they have? Did it work?

The audience finds it fascinating if you talk about one of their members. Get the person to describe their treatment. You should check someone’s tongue and pulses and perhaps get the audience to join in, checking the tongues of their neighbours!

The main thing, when you’re nearing the end of your talk, is to get the audience to commit. Other practitioners have said to me that they gave a talk and received no response. You have to steer them towards coming to see you. You do it like this:

Say, “What problems would you like me to talk about?” Hands are raised. You may get replies like: slimming, migraine, diabetes, painful back, indigestion.

Great! These are the problems they need help with. These are the things they will come to see you about. Talk about your experience with these problems, your successes or those of colleagues. Then make your big offer.

Say, “I’ll be glad to tell you if I can help you with your problem if you will see me afterwards.” Ask them to come to the desk, the back of the hall, whatever.

You must make the suggestion, Plant the idea in their minds that they must come to see you about a problem of theirs, their partner’s or one of their family.,

Within minutes, as soon as you’ve been thanked for giving a great talk, there will be a line-up of maybe 10 or 20, depending on the numbers attending. Often, after a talk, clubs have a tea or coffee break, so it gives you a great opportunity to talk to your prospective patients. Offer words of encouragement to all of them so give out your cards and/or leaflets and arrange to book them or their friend in.

A successful practice is built steadily and consistently. It will enable you to give the best service you can to your community. It will also build you considerable wealth.

In my manual “Build A Successful Practice And Retire In Comfort” I show you how you can maximise on your increased earnings to make yourself financially secure and build a substantial pot for your eventually retirement.


Alan Rouse obtained his Lic Ac and B.Ac from the former British College of Acupuncture and ran a successful practice in Hampshire, England for 30 years until his retirement six years ago. He combined his acupuncture skills with other qualifications in osteopathy, naturopathy and homoeopathy to provide a multi-disciplined practice. His article in this edition is taken from his eBook “Build A Successful Practice And Retire In Comfort”. Alan holds workshops in practice building and gives advice on health matters via the internet.

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