By Eddie Childs
How practice management can help prepare DCs to better teach patients
Google the phrase “practice management” and any number of companies and software suites will appear in the search results. Most of them provide services that tend to a DC’s day-to-day office needs, such as keeping patient notes, billing, scheduling and maintaining electronic records, among other things. From a purely business standpoint, of course, all of those things can be invaluable. Search a little deeper, however, and you’re likely to find that a much less literal sense of that phrase also exists. When specifically applied to the chiropractic world, “practice management” refers to a certain subset of professional consultant who can be one part career coach, one part guidance counselor, one part personal motivator, and perhaps even one part confidant.
“There’s a lot of great coaches out there, but we really like to look at it more as mentoring,” says Kevin Pallis, D.C., who is owner and head coach of The New Renaissance, along with his partner, Ed Plentz, D.C. “We’ve all had mentors in our lives. If someone has your back and there’s a path in front of you, then all that doubt and uncertainty disappears. All of a sudden, you get inspired and you can handle anything you want. That’s what happens when you’ve got someone to guide you.”
Typically, the tools employed by practice management consultants like Pallis run the gamut from seminars to instructional weekends to educational events. However, Pallis insists that the real connection between coach and DC is established through private teaching sessions. “We call them ‘head-to-heads,’” he explains. During these weekly sessions, Pallis explores everything including problems with a practice member, CA or patient, and then gives feedback on how to handle the situation. “That one-on-one, almost boutique kind of relationship is really important, and little by little, you start gaining trust,” he says. “And when they catch fire and start understanding what Chiropractic is all about—that it’s not just having a diploma, but being a successful chiropractor—it’s then when things get exciting and fun.”
According to Pallis, practice management firms like The New Renaissance tend to be geared toward younger chiropractors, but many established practitioners seek out practice management services as well. “We see a lot of chiropractors whose practices don’t reflect their talents and abilities, and it’s different for everybody,” he explains. “There are lots of established chiropractors in our program too, but it’s heavily weighted toward new practitioners, because they’re still very hungry and they still believe in the dream. Some practitioners, if they’ve been out there for a number of years, they get a little worn down. The younger kids, though, they love Chiropractic. They say, ‘You know, I can do this thing. I just need some help. Just show me what I need to do, and I’ll do it.’”
Pallis says that part of the reason younger DCs are so well represented on his client roster is because by their nature these practitioners tend to be more willing to accept constructive criticism and guidance. He likens it to a coach working with an established and successful athlete. “Some of them are great, and they’re open to constructive criticism, and some of them almost have the feeling that perhaps they’ve arrived and they don’t have to listen anymore,” he says. “I have two daughters and a son-in-law who just started at LIFE, and you can see the eagerness and enthusiasm for really being able to practice Chiropractic and getting it out to people so they understand it. That enthusiasm, there’s just no substitute for it.”
An alternate, but perhaps equally valid, approach to creating the kinds of mentoring relationships espoused by practice management consultants can be found in the Café of Life model. On the surface, at least, the Café employs a sort of “franchise” type of approach to connect DCs with a successful path.
As a model, though, the Café effectively coaches members using its own linguistics related to Chiropractic, wellness and vitalism. “We decide to use different language with people because we want the tone of Chiropractic to be shifted back to where it originally started,” says Erica Peabody, D.C., a former LIFE student who owns and operates Café of Life Fenton. “It goes back to vitalism and that the body is a self-healing organism, and away from the musculo-skeletal problems that we also help people with.” The Café of Life and its practitioners, Peabody explains, avoid using terms like “patient,” “appointment” and “examination” in the course of practice, instead opting for “people,” “reservations” and “assessment.” Though the two approaches are clearly very different in many aspects, the subtext of these distinctions seemingly derives from a particular philosophy that’s not unlike the youthful enthusiasm that Pallis seems to value in his own clients.
According to Peabody, the Café uses seminars, camps and classes in a manner similar to more traditional practice management models. “When I was going to school, it was so much about how the healers work. We would go to these seminars and we would go to these camps, but it would basically get us down to healing ourselves from our cores,” she says. “This is because ultimately who we are as people precedes who we are as chiropractors. So anything we are as a person is going to come into the office and usually get magnified [through the lens of] serving others.”
The result, Peabody says, is that members gain a certain level of introspection that they can then take back to their practice. “From that place, you can work with people on a real authentic level and be a real person,” she says. “I don’t have to be Dr. Erica Peabody in a lab coat or something like that. I can just be me, I can just be Erica and serve these people.”
Another similarity between the Café of Life and the more conventional practice management model is that neither prescribes a take-it-or-leave-it sort of attitude. Peabody says the Café focuses on garnering the aforementioned sense of introspection in its members instead of handing them “scripts” for interacting with patients. Pallis says he sees clients’ progress as being positioned somewhere along a learning curve, where protégés can learn at their own pace. “What we have is a fast track and a slower one,” he says. “You see all these people at all these events, and these are the ones who are urgent. Then there are other people who want to take their time for growth. They want to grow, but they have a family or what have you, so they take it at a certain rate. It’s not really for us to say what level of urgency they should have, because they’ll tell you. You can tell the kids that really are excited, because they say, ‘You know what? I’m in a hurry. I love Chiropractic and I’m just frustrated with where I am’—because they know they have that ambition, that drive.”
Instead of prescribing a strict set of behaviors, Pallis believes he is empowering his protégés by giving them a better set of tools via a mentoring relationship. “Nobody likes to be told what to do. Nobody likes that real in-your-face part of that,” he says. “It’s more of a relationship of building, and they also want to grow. Whatever level they are, the idea is to get them to where they want to go.”
Pallis and Peabody agree that the primary goal of both models is overcoming the most common frustration that DCs face, which is often attributable to a lack of understanding with patients. “They just don’t understand Chiropractic and they don’t get the practitioner,” says Pallis. “Once they see that relationship unfold, they’ll just take the results and leave. They won’t continue to come in for care, because they’re not in a relationship with their DC and they haven’t been educated.” Pallis believes that mentoring relationships help young practitioners create a template for molding their own, more effective interactions with patients. “When those people understand what Chiropractic is and really know who their doctor is and what they stand for—that’s the perfect fit,” he says. “We see the exact same fit when we coach people, because they’re looking for our philosophy to be individualized, where they’re really mentoring people to greatness. They know they can do it. They just need a little bit of help.”
For both Pallis and Peabody, the ultimate goal of both the practice management and Café of Life models seems to be serving the greater good of Chiropractic. “What it boils down to is that you just have to tell the story,” says Peabody, “and what I realized early on was that most of the people walking through my door had never heard the chiropractic story. Keep on telling it at a real, pure level and it just builds itself one person at a time. It’s just all about education and then serving Chiropractic from an authentic place.”