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Partners in Practice

March 3, 2017

Don’t Let This Huge Marketing Mistake Drive Your Potential Patients Away

By: Lorne Brown, Dr TCM, CPA

Lorne Brown, Dr TCM, CPA, is clinical director of Acubalance Wellness Centre, an internationally renowned educator and advocate for integrated fertility care, and author of “Missing the Point: Why Acupuncturists Fail and What They Need to Know to Succeed.” He sat down with us to create this four-part blog series to help you improve your practice to better help patients.

In this first installment, Dr. Brown talks about building relationships with prospective patients by speaking to their concerns in plain English, with a focus on the results they will see after working with you. Using this comfortable, empathetic tone in your marketing will help convert your prospects into loyal, long-term patients.

Communicate the Plan

At the end of the day, patients want to know: Can you help them? That’s the value proposition. If patients are going to invest in seeing you spending their hard-earned dollars to get treated by you, they have to feel confident that what you offer is going to work. In a nutshell, they need to know the research says it works or you have success stories that say it works. They’re not coming for acupuncture; they’re coming for a solution to a problem. Once they know that you are the solution, then they relax and are interested and more willing to follow your plan.

In marketing, you need to communicate that you can help. You don’t need to communicate on that first impression how you’re going to help them. Most practitioners overwhelm patients with too much information, telling them all the services they can perform: I can do acupuncture, cupping, moxa, etc. Clients don’t care what services I have; they want to know if I can help them. That’s the first place to start. You not only need to have the confidence to treat patients; you need to be able to clearly and effectively communicate the plan.

Familiar Language Builds Rapport

In my practice, we see a lot of fertility cases and perform over 250 treatments a week. Our patients tend to arrive quite stressed about their infertility diagnosis. They come with difficult histories, and they’ve usually tried a lot of things before finding my practice. So I tell them about a few successful cases similar to their own or bring up relevant research to let them know I can help. I share the science and success stories demonstrating that acupuncture will work, without going into detail about Chinese medicine the way I learned and practice it. I don’t start with the how to, such as telling them that they’re going to be coming once or twice a week for acupuncture, moxa, and lifestyle and nutritional advice. I begin with the big picture of how I’m going to help the body self-regulate and regain its equilibrium and regenerative properties according to the Chinese concept of healing (if I confidently think I can). When they hear I have helped others like them, you can see them relax into their chairs and exhale in relief. Most of them, when we finish our consult, say, “OK, I’m ready. I want to do this. What do I need to do? How do I sign up? When can I start?” And this is before I have gone into any detail of how we treat using Chinese and functional medicine.

Using the Chinese concepts to explain acupuncture too soon, in my experience, fails to communicate the value of the medicine. Explaining how qi flows through the channel, which I will bring up when I’m treating them, doesn’t seem to grab patients as much as when I use the language of their mother tongue: science and modern understanding of physiology and anatomy. It’s only after patients know acupuncture works and have this “mother tongue” understanding that I’m able to start educating them on the Chinese medicine philosophies. Our patients want to know if we are the solution to their health problems. The “how to” is secondary. Keep in mind they are likely not coming to you for acupuncture but to solve their problems. Most consent to acupuncture only after you have communicated confidently it can solve their issues.

I think back to when I was a chartered professional accountant, before I became an acupuncturist. I was an expert in accounting and I knew all the terminology, but I did my best to simplify and give clients the big picture using familiar metaphors to explain what was happening. In marketing, we need to know how to communicate like this.

Don’t Make This Huge Mistake

So, what’s the biggest marketing mistake most acupuncturists are making? Not recognizing the difference between doctor-centered and patient-centered care. Let me give you an analogy. Patients go to the dentist for the perfect white smile. They’re not going because they want to be drilled and have their gums frozen; but they’re willing to go through it if it will give them the perfect smile. So what do dentists show on their websites? A picture of a big drill, the needle freezing the gums, the drill going into the tooth? No, they show pictures of beautiful smiles and white teeth.

Acupuncturists haven’t gotten that yet. They love acupuncture. They can’t imagine why somebody wouldn't want to see a needle. But a huge majority of the population has a fear of needles, and just the sight of needles can leave some people feeling nauseated and fearful. They don’t realize these needles don’t hurt! By putting this imagery on your brochures and website, you’re acting like a dentist who advertises the needle for freezing and the drill for the cavity. You’re turning away a huge population you can help.

Like the expression “Sell Paris, not the airline,” you’ve got to sell the end result. Patients are not coming to you for acupuncture. They’re coming to you for the solution. Tell them how they’ll go through it when they’re in your office, without putting up pictures. “We’re going to help you sleep better, improve your digestion, calm your nervous system, clear your skin, etc. We use acupuncture. It doesn’t hurt. They’re not like the needles you get when you go to a Western doc, etc.”

Learn Patient-Centered Care

Putting yourself in your patients’ shoes and explaining the medicine to them in a way they can understand, is the essence of patient-centered care. That’s been my approach. That’s how I’ve mentored other people, and it works.

If you like what you read here and you’re excited to learn more, watch the What Acupuncturists Need to Know to Succeed webinar. Stay tuned for our next installment, in which Dr. Brown talks about how narrowing your focus and creating a niche for yourself can actually grow your practice.

To get the whole story, order Dr. Brown’s book “Missing the Point: Why Acupuncturists Fail . . . and What They Need to Know to Succeed.”

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