The Importance of First Two Patient Visits

red_acupuncture_imageBuilding trust with patients is at least as important as the effectiveness of the treatment you are offering. Both are equally important to a successful practice.

Many patients are skeptical about acupuncture and TCM. They may receive conflicting or erroneous information about our medicine through the media or ill-informed and skeptical individuals. Patients may not know what to believe about acupuncture. They may have questions in their minds such as:

• Does it work?

• Is it a placebo?

• Do the needles hurt?

• Are the needles hitting nerves? etc…

No wonder why it can be difficult at times to attract new patients into our clinics! I myself found difficulty in my first year of acupuncture school trying to comprehend the theories and principles of TCM. The first year of classes were all about Yin, Yang, excess, false heat…you know what I mean. You just had to trust in what was being taught.

So, imagine what it’s like for a patient to comprehend what we can do for them, or even the concepts that we work with. Qi, Yin, Yang, Jing etc. The language of Chinese medicine is probably pretty foreign to them, and it is our job to ensure that they understand how this ancient medicine can help to transform their health.

Building trust is paramount to building life-long patient relationships. Consider these things when starting those new patient relationships:

Telephone contact: When you, or your office staff, answer the phone you should have a consistent script and a list of anticipated questions. When people call to schedule a first-time visit or consultation, what you say should always be consistent. Having a canned mini-speech as to what you do, why you do it and how you can help them is essential.

First impressions matter: When your new patient first arrives at your clinic what do they see, smell and hear? Is their paperwork ready for them and organized into a nice folder or clipboard? What’s on your walls? Are they bombarded with positive, healthy messages and images? Or is your paint peeling? Your carpet stained? Does it smell like moxa? And if so, do you have a sign letting them know what that scent is?

First Visit – This is an important time for you to communicate to your new patients what it is you do, how acupuncture can help them, and what they can expect in terms of health and healing with acupuncture care.

Treatment: One of the finals steps in the process of building trust explaining what it is you are doing and why you are doing in simple terms during treatment.

I DO treat during the first visit, some practitioners choose not to. What I tell my patients is this:

“This first visit serves two purposes. One, it introduces you to the type of care that I do, and two, it allows me to see how your body does or does not respond to acupuncture. What I will do is give you a treatment and have you come back in a few days and we can talk about it and go over your report of findings.

The reason I go about it this way is because I want to take the time to create a thorough care plan and diagnosis. I’m basically buying myself some extra time.  I let them know that this treatment is not a magic bullet and that they may or may not see any significant changes from that one session.

Second Visit – The Report of Findings (ROF). I can’t stress it enough – I feel that this is one of the most important procedures you can do as a practitioner. And unfortunately it is more than likely overlooked by almost every school out there. Let me ask you this, have you heard the term report of findings before? Or even know how to give one? If you do, CONGRATULATIONS! You are one of the very few grads who knows about it and hopefully understand what they are and how they can make or break a practice.

Here is what you need to explain in detail during the ROF: what was found to be wrong, what you can do, how long it may take, will insurance cover it and what it will cost. Even if your patients don’t ask those 5 questions, you need to answer them. Patients take notice when you place all the pieces of their health puzzle together in this simple, organized way. When you do this, you will illustrate a pattern of disharmony that is clearly explained to your patients and they will know exactly what to expect while they are under your care.

Re-evaluation – During their ROF, I tell them when we will be doing a re-evaluation in the future after a series of visits. This sets the stage for them to realize that after a specific number of treatments we will re-evaluate and see what has and has not changed. This gives the patient a timeline and sets goals for their health. Setting a specific date for re-evaluation also helps you, as the practitioner, gauge patient progress, and it lets the patient know that you won’t ask to see them every day for the rest of their lives. Kidding here, but seriously, patients do come in with tainted thoughts that you want to see them 3-4 times per week for months. Unfortunately, they have this fear due to unethical treatment practices they were exposed to or have heard about. Granted, you may need to see them that often if the condition warrants it, but you need to clearly explain to them why, and not just say, “Sure, come in next week and we’ll see what we need to do then.

In summary, building trust with patients and educating them about the far-reaching benefits of acupuncture sets the stage for long-term patients.

2 Comments

  • Dianne

    February 11, 2014

    Great and practical post, thank you Jeffrey. Quick question. On your ROF appointment, are you scheduling a treatment with them, or simply a conversation with those questions and suggested treatment plan? And, if this is the case, I am guessing it’s only a 20 minute appt., therefore can this be a documented phone appt.?

  • Jeffrey Grossman, EAMP, L.Ac.

    February 18, 2014

    Yes Dianne, on my “second” appointment (which I really call appointment 1.5) I do conduct a simple ROF conversation with them and then schedule them for their proposed treatments. And YES on it being 20 minutes.