One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.
—BRYANT H. MCGILL
If you were to ask a thousand acupuncturists whether their practice is patient centered, the vast majority would no doubt give you a resounding yes. Ask them what makes them patient centered, they may have a harder time answering—but even if they were able to answer that question, it would probably be a vague and unspecific response such as “We put the patient first,” for example.
Patient-centered care means constantly putting yourself in the patient’s shoes. Consider for a moment the images on your website and marketing materials. Do you have images of people receiving acupuncture with close-ups of needles and burning moxa?
This is the perfect example of the difference between a doctor-centered and a patient-centered approach to your promotional images. As acupuncturists, pictures of needles inserted in a person’s back, smoking moxa, and red marks left behind from cupping are appealing to us. We are passionate about acupuncture and are not turned off by the thought of being “needled” at all. But the vast majority of people have a fear of needles. To them, those images aren’t relaxing at all. They can be anxiety producing and repulsive. Dentistry is a great example. Have you ever seen a dentist’s advertisement contain pictures of a large needle puncturing the gum for freezing or a drill digging into a tooth to remove a cavity? Obviously not. Instead, dentists use pleasant photos of adults and children looking happy, displaying perfectly straight white teeth and a beautiful smile. To borrow from the travel industry: sell Paris, not the airplane.
Remember, patients aren’t coming to you for acupuncture; they’re coming to you for a solution to their problems. If your website is full of acupuncture pictures, then you are not fully putting yourself in your prospective patients’ shoes, and this may be costing you new patients.
Patient-centered care also means actively listening attentively and patiently while carefully communicating in a manner so that your patient feels heard and imbued with hope. People commit to practitioners whom they trust and believe care about their well-being. Allowing your patients to feel heard and listened to is essential in building that trust; it communicates in a nonverbal way that you care about them.
Many practitioners make the mistake of overwhelming their patients with too much information or presenting them with too many services that do not directly apply. As healers, we are passionate about our work and we’ve worked hard to become knowledgeable experts in our field, so it’s natural for us to get excited about techniques, methods, and services we offer. But our patients come for particular solutions and they may not share our enthusiasm for our medicine.
If patients come into your clinic struggling with chronic headaches, all they want or need to know from you is that you can confidently and effectively relieve their headaches. Your job is to learn what their expectations are for coming to see you. Are they looking for 100 percent relief of symptoms or simply a reduction in intensity and frequency? What would success look like for them?
It might seem obvious that you should ask a patient why they are coming to see you, but I’ve seen many practitioners skip that step and simply make an assumption. More often than not, this is to the practitioner’s detriment. A colleague made this unfortunate mistake when a very overweight woman came into his practice for knee pain. Because of the woman’s physical appearance, he assumed that she wanted help with weight loss, too. While acupuncture is frequently used for that purpose, his failure to respectfully confirm his assumption with the patient resulted in him offending her deeply. As it turned out, she was hoping to get relief for her knee pain only and did not see her weight as an issue. Since her weight was never discussed, she was insulted when he included weight loss in her treatment plan. If he’d taken the time to discuss this with his patient (introducing the idea of weight loss to take pressure off her knee), the conversation around the topic of her weight could have occurred naturally, allowing her to feel heard and express her personal view. Instead, he insulted her and lost a patient he could have helped—and anyone she would have referred.
Listening is yin. Talking is yang. If you spend your appointment time talking about all the services you offer, then you are not listening enough and can miss having your patients tell you precisely what they need from you to become a committed patient. If you take the time to really listen to your patients, you will be able to pick out the services you provide that can offer solutions to their problems. Listening includes not imposing your worldview or trying to “fix” the patient but being truly of service only to the patient, having our own ego step out of the way. The moral of the story: talk less, listen more, and listen first before speaking.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
Great salespeople do not begin a sales call by telling you about every product and service they offer. Instead, they ask you questions, listen for you to tell them the solution you are looking for, and then present the service or product that fits the solution you described. This lets them (1) save time talking to people who don’t actually want what they have to offer, and (2) avoid pitching a buffet of options so that they can figure out what’s most important to the client and then address those concerns specifically.
In other words, great salespeople spend most of their time listening. And like it or not, you are in sales—selling health and acupuncture services. So pay attention to how much you are speaking during each session and focus on keeping your talking to less than 50 percent compared to your patients’ talking time.
I always start every initial consult by taking a few minutes to understand my patient’s short- and long-term expectations of me. Asking about their expectations allows me to get into the listening mode and practice patient- centered care, and your patients begin their session feeling heard right from the start. Some of the questions I ask include:
However, I want to know my patients’ expectations not just at the first visit but at every visit. That way I can focus on patient-centered care 100 percent of the time. So at every visit I invite you to ask them their expectations, and be comfortable with any silence as your patients take a moment to reflect before answering.
And then (and here is the key) listen closely to the answers they give you.
-excerpt, from Chapter 6, Missing the Point