We asked Dr. Michael Cronin to give us his top ten tips for growing and maintaining a successful practice. Here is his list:
I have practiced with my wife, Kyle Cronin, ND in Phoenix, Arizona since 1982. Our practices compliment each other in that she does mostly women’s health and physical medicine with family practice. Our clinic is named Naturopathic Physicians Group. We have had many associates over the years although currently it is just us. I would like to see more doctors include the word “Naturopathic” in their clinic name. It is essential to growing our brand awareness. It is who we are.
1. First, provide care that effectively treats the patients’ complaints. My drive to work mantra is: "Lord send me the folks that I can help and send the rest down the street.”
2. Be congruent in word and deed. Know what you are good at. When you do outreach through talks or writing, focus on those conditions that you have confidence and that you enjoy treating. Talk about what you know, write about what you want to attract.
You may have a very broad list of conditions that you treat but when marketing you may want to develop a message emphasizing a specific condition that your target market will respond to.
3. My preference is to have one office to practice out of and fill it up instead of supporting more than one location. I believe in reasonable pricing, in my mind it is better to have a full practice with reasonable prices than a half empty schedule. We have an escalating menu of services and treatment options that we educate the patient about.
4. People hear better from nice staff. Have friendly staff that are pleasant and good at their job. Pay and treat them appropriately. The wrong staff will cost you patients and money. Train them to understand their responsibilities and roles. The skill of the person who answers your phone is so very important. Your practice volume may vary greatly depending on how well they perform on a daily basis, if they are erratic in their mood so to will be your patient load . It’s all about the quality of their conversation in getting the patient to both make the appointment and show up for that first visit. Checking the patient out and the successful acquisition of payment is essential to growing a practice. I want the patient to leave the office understanding the treatment plan, feeling good about their treatment and with their next appointment on the books.
5. It is all about creating a first visit process that enables the patient to trust you. Nothing in the office should push their buttons, distract them from establishing a trusting feeling about you. Make your practice inviting and enjoyable. You will be judged on your office, it may not be fair but it is true. Look around your office. We are careful on the “New Age” stuff. Nice office, nice website, nice staff.
Their naturopathic visit starts with you being attentive and fully present in your handshake, smile and introduction. I often spend a moment finding a family, social, sport, or geographic connection. Obviously listen carefully. The tone of your voice and the tone of your touch while doing knowledgeable palpation and physical exam is how the patient decides if you can give them some of what they need. I am honest in my assessment. I discuss what I think I can help, what should be straightforward and what will require their perseverance and consistency.
6. Patients who don't get results will not be referring family or friends. I write out a plan for the patient on the first visit with multi-system difficulties but less so for simple problems. The inital prescription must be doable & realistic, (would I do it?). I prefer a follow up in 1 week as an extension of the first visit and to see that they get going on the changes we discussed before I give them more detailed instructions. I figure if a patient doesn't start the program in the first 3 days after the office visit they probably won’t and because they will forget about it (I would). On the follow up I ask how closely they did the plan and what happened. I tell patients if they follow half of the program they predictably will achieve half of the improvement. I ask them to shoot for a B+ in plan activation (I can do that).
7. I am willing to have a short (3-10) minute phone call with interested new patients with specific questions. I perceive 2 basic types of shoppers, some are newbie ND inquires and others will be from very experienced users of natural medicine.
8. Do outreach. Vary it, ads, talks, booth at a fair. Measure to see what works.
9. Pearl: Some patients refer automatically, they are natural networkers. Others don’t think of it, it is not a priority in their personal software. I like to end the visit with a verbal rewind of the positive changes I see. This often has the patient respond how they are doing better. I utilize that as a teaching moment. I will ask them, "If you have family or friends who would benefit from my care I appreciate your sharing what we do here". This asks them search their database or family and friends. Who do I know that this doctor might help? Recognize that it takes a pretty high level of trust for someone to refer a friend or family member to you, it is a very personal thing. Encourage those patients who are likely to refer, consider how to treat them a little special. Also be aware of your patients who are frequent fliers and extend some gratitude and benefits to them. A little discount goes a long way.
10. Practicing Naturopathic medicine requires many skills and excellent attention to detail. It is a high calling, a wonderful, challenging career that demands your best. Be honest, consistent, congruent, and positive and your life will be blessed.