Building a Thriving Naturopathic Practice

An Interview with Dr. Heidi Robel, ND
By Anna Evershed, ND

Dr. Heidi Robel, NDDr. Heidi Robel provides Naturopathic Primary Health Care to the community of Yakima, Washington. She has a special interest in women’s health and fertility, dermatology and in treating adolescents. Dr. Robel earned a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and a Masters in Acupuncture from Bastyr University. Dr. Heidi Robel grew up in Yakima, Washington. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading a good book, and spending time with her family. Visit her online at

What do you wish someone had told you when you started your practice?
I wish someone had told me what would be a reasonable expectation for patients in the first year of opening…I would tell new practitioners not to take it personal when you are slow. It takes time so you must be patient—expect to see 5 to 10 patients a month those first few months. Remain optimistic and keep marketing! Also, I wish someone had told me about small business start up info. We have a great resource here in Yakima through our Chamber of Commerce that offers free services to new businesses including marketing tools, setting up and using QuickBooks, even starting a business plan.

What was the hardest part about setting up your own practice? The easiest part?
The hardest part about setting up my practice was definitely initiating the marketing. I am not naturally a go-getter type of person or a comfortable public speaker…but it does get easier each time you do it. The easiest part was seeing patients. I felt confident and was offering a unique perspective on health care that some many people haven’t had the opportunity to participate in.

What advice to have for new practitioners in regards to accounting and billing?

  • Accounting: I do recommend spending the money and paying for a quality accountant. I use QuickBooks Pro software, which is great, for my billing and bookkeeping.
  • Billing: As of March of [2009], I started taking Premera and Lifewise. I am not paying a billing service, instead I do it all on my own using a website called Office Ally. It is very user friendly, efficient and best of all, free. I get reimbursed within two weeks and if a claim is denied, I can resubmit it within a few days.
In general, what did you do that worked “fabulously well?"
I can’t express how important it is to have good bedside manner, spend time with patients and follow up. I have had so many patients come from word of mouth because of good doctor-patient relations. Also, [your office] should be clean, comfortable and up to date.

What great advice did you get and act on?
Much of my inspiration and business role model comes from a great doctor I precepted with in my last year at Bastyr, Dr. Laurie Steelsmith, ND. She has a successful, thriving practice in Honolulu. She told me to spend your first few years marketing. Get your name out, talk to people, do talks, offer seminars, have a website, write articles. I took that advice to heart and have found it to be invaluable. We have something wonderful and unique to offer people. I am amazed by how many people still are not aware of naturopathic medicine, especially in a licensed state. Get the word out, both for yourself and for the profession as a whole.

How did you build your practice? How did you get your first 20-30 patients?
One month before I opened, I participated in a health expo which was the start to getting my name out in the community and…was a great forum to meet other practitioners in the area which have since served as great sources of referrals to me. I also dropped off brochures and business cards in person…Before opening, I did a web site which helped get my name out. [I also] contacted our local business journals and had them do a write up and a picture about our new business in town (free advertising!). Finally, we had an open house right before opening that was hugely successful.

What mistakes were valuable learning opportunities early on?
Mistakes: Be at the office during your set office hours even it you have no patients. I would leave early several times starting out and had a few instances where someone had stopped by and no one was there. One, it looks unprofessional and two, you may be losing a potential patient.