When I was 18, I worked as a receptionist in a newly established Chiropractic clinic. Each time a patient walked out of their adjustment, the Chiropractor would tell me to rebook their appointment anywhere from a few days time up to 8 weeks, depending on where the patient was in their Chiropractic journey. I had a script I needed to follow, and it went something like this:
“Dr B wants to see you in 2 weeks time. I have 11am or 2pm available on Monday, which do you prefer?”.
To say I felt uncomfortable was an understatement. I would cringe every-time I had to say those words, it made me feel like a pushy sales person. How did the Chiropractor even know that patient needed to be seen in 2 weeks? Wouldn’t the patient tell me when they wanted to come back IF they were really benefiting from Chiropractic care and if they were benefiting, why couldn’t they be fixed and therefore not need to come back at all? Was it all just about the money?
Patient after patient, the same thing happened. Not once did Dr B ever tell anyone they didn’t need to come back. It left me a little scarred and feeling like perhaps he was taking advantage of his patients.
After a short period of time, I resigned as I was about to start my Myotherapy course. Within the year, Dr B called me to ask if I could do some locum work. His Myotherapist was going on leave for 3 months and he needed a temporary replacement. I had only just completed my first year so I wasn’t able to work as a Myotherapist but I was qualified to work as a massage therapist so I accepted the role knowing it would a great learning experience. I already knew I would be nothing like Dr B as a practitioner. I’d never be that pushy sales person who made my patients feel they HAD to come back, I’d let my work speak for itself. If my treatment results were good enough, patients would come back in because they wanted to and without me needing to tell them – but I soon came to realise how very wrong I was.
My first valuable lesson came from a patient named Mark who had veered off the road while driving his truck and fallen into a deep embarkment. He had sustained fairly serious injuries and after 2 years, he was still in significant pain.
At the end of his first treatment, Mark noted that his lower back pain had reduced considerably and his range of motion in his shoulder had increased. He looked surprised and said “Ive never had that much relief from a single treatment before”.
I was a little chuffed with myself, I could tell he was impressed with my clinical skills but I was petrified to tell him to come back for a follow up treatment. He left without making another appointment.
A few days later, Mark came in to see Dr B for his routine weekly adjustment. I had hoped he would make another appointment with me but once again, he left without rebooking. My self-doubt crept in, and I could feel my confidence crumble.
At the end of the shift, Dr B approached me to discuss Mark’s care. We had the most mind-blowing conversation that I can whole-heartedly say changed my life and set me up to build a thriving practice.
Dr B: How did you go with Mark the other day?
Me: Yeh, really well. He felt a lot of relief.
Dr B: Did you rebook him?
Him: Why not?
Me: I didn’t want him to think I was only after his money. He felt much better after his treatment so I am confident he will rebook soon.
Dr B: Do you think he needs more treatment?
Me: For sure.
Dr B: Do you think he knows he needs more treatment?
Me: Well yes I would assume so.
Dr B: Are you the practitioner or is he?
Me: What do you mean?
Dr B: Let me tell you what Mark said about you. When I asked him how his session went he said “I got a lot of relief from the treatment, more than any other treatment I’ve ever had but she can’t help me”. I asked him why he thought that and he said “Well she didn’t tell me to come back so I thought she had done all she could for me”.
Me: That’s not fair! I can’t fix him in one session!
Dr B: Exactly. But Mark doesn’t know that because you didn’t tell him. You are the expert not him, you know what he needs and it’s your responsibility as a clinician to tell him what he needs. Instead you let your own insecurities get in the way of his care because you were too worried about what he would think of you! Your job is to tell your patients what they need, if they choose not to follow your advice, at least they won’t walk around telling others that you’re only good at providing temporality relief!
I stood there in silence. I knew he was right and I knew that I had to find a way to overcome my insecurities.
Although this experience shifted my mentality significantly, my insecurities didn’t disappear overnight but it didn’t take long. I quickly came to realise that as a trained practitioner, I have the knowledge and expertise to guide my patients towards better health outcomes. I began explaining how my treatment worked, what they should expect from my care and clearly outlined what their treatment plan would look like over the next 1-3 months. As long as I was telling them what they honestly needed, the guilt went away. I stopped worrying about whether they could afford my treatment, or what they thought of me for asking them to rebook. I focused only on giving my patients the advice they needed and let them decide if they wanted to continue care.
This lead to such a dramatic shift. Before I even had a chance to tell my patients when to rebook, I noticed many started to ask me when they could come in next. As my patients were already clear on what they needed, the only barrier left was finding an appointment time that worked for us both. I also noticed patients felt an immediate trust and confidence in my care, because I had taken the time to understand and explain their condition – something most practitioners don’t do. I was only 19 at the time, with minimal experience so having my patients walk out thinking I was knowledgeable in their condition was huge! This lead to consistent referrals which resulted in me having a waiting list and never needing to market myself again.
The best way to work through your own insecurities as a practitioner is to start by spending 10 minutes outlining how every treatment should go, from the moment the patient walks in and out of your office. How will you greet them? What processes will you follow? Do they need an intake form? Will you tell them where the toilet is?
When you take them into the treatment room, what happens next? Will you tell them where to put their belongings, where to take a seat? While these things seem inconsequential, anything you can do to make your patient feel comfortable is really important. Remove any ambiguity by providing clear communication.
Once you patient is seated, what happens next, will you take their history, ask some questions and/or perform clinical assessment? Do you now commence treatment or tell them what your clinical assessment found? Will you explain how your treatment works and what they should expect from your care before or after their treatment or both?
At the end of your treatment, how will you conclude the session? Will you reiterate what you found, explain when they need to come in to see you again and why? Will you take their payment and rebook from the room, or lead them back to reception to do so? Will you give them a welcome pack before sending them on their way?
By setting expectations for your patients, and having a clear treatment flow, it will ensure you have done everything in your power to help your patients feel comfortable and confident in your care. You won’t ever feel like you’re being pushy by asking patients to rebook because your by now, they will have understood exactly what they need to get better, the very reason they came to see you in the first place.
What to say when rebooking
It’s important to be confident when you rebook your patients. If you sound shaky or uncertain, your patients will pick up on it. The best way to grow your confidence is to practice on family and friends until the wording becomes second nature. If you’re being honest about the care the patient needs, there should be no reason to feel guilt or insecure. Remind yourself that all you’re doing is telling your patients what they genuinely need, what is in their best interests to get the help they sought you out for and the rest is up to them.
When it comes to rebooking, don’t ask the patient when they are available, offer them two times around the time they came in for their appointment today and ask which they prefer. If neither is suitable, tell them what days you work and ask them which day is best for them, then ask if they prefer morning or afternoon. Offer two times and again ask which they prefer. As a self employed mother of 4, I’m super busy, I barely have time to scratch myself most days! If someone asks me when is a good time, the answer is simple, never! I’ll stumble for a few minutes, go over my entire week, try to think of a time that best suits ME and then question myself, is that really a good time? Now if the practitioner tells me they have x or y time available, all I need to do is check to see if I have any conflicting meetings and if not, I’ll select one of the two times offered.
There are two reasons why you should do this. Firstly, it makes the rebooking process so much smoother and quicker, especially if you have no receptionist and book clients back to back. Secondly, it makes you appear busy. This is really important because clients will respect your time more if they think you are busy. They are more likely to rebook on the spot and less likely to cancel because they know they may not be able to get another suitable time. It also asserts confidence. If they think you are busy, that gives them assurances that you must be a good clinician, otherwise why would so many people come to see you!
Anil Mustafa is a Myotherapist, speaker and co-founder of Find My Appointment and My Appointments. Listen to her podcast Natural Healthcare Practitioners Network for more insightful practice growth tips. Available via The Wellness Couch app and all major podcast stores.