What Are You Really Saying?
SOURCE: Today’s Chiropractic
By Rachel Sullivan
Actions may speak louder than words, but for the busy chiropractic office and the average patient, words may not be doing much at all. In an ideal world, a patient would seek out care, ask pertinent questions, provide all relevant information and leave feeling secure they had been heard, understood and, most importantly, treated well.
Unfortunately for far too many patients—and their chiropractic caregivers—the world is far from ideal. To this end, numerous experts agree miscommunication generally arises either during the course of chiropractors’ lay lectures or discussion of case histories.
“The single biggest problem, in my opinion, is that too many chiropractors talk too much,” says Bill Esteb, owner of Patient Media. “Most people think effective communication is about eloquent, suave answers, but behind that is the ability to listen. I’ve met a lot of chiropractors who aren’t good listeners, because they confuse listening with hearing. One is a physiological act; the other is a social skill.”
Mike Headlee, D.C., agrees. “In a nutshell, to do my job and spread the message of chiropractic care, the first thing I tell patients is it’s about them. I let them talk and when it’s my turn to explain what I can do, I will clarify what they said. This is about building a rapport and really making a connection. The object is to put them at ease and get the message across, but the main objective is to help each patient on the particular day I am seeing them.”
In this capacity, Headlee says he begins each session with his patients using an open-ended question like, “What can I do for you today?” Then, and most importantly in his opinion, he shuts up to listen. “I think it’s absolutely critical to know what experience my patients have had with chiropractic before me,” Headlee explains. “I’m not asking for the names of their former doctors, but I do want to know what worked and what didn’t. It’s important to hear what the patient has to say about their situation. It’s amazing to realize how many patients know something is wrong with them, but don’t know what.”
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“To get our message across,” says Marc Schneider, D.C. and current Executive Director of Student Services at Life University, “we have to know who we’re talking to. It isn’t a question of intelligence as much as it’s a question of experience. I’d explain something to a car mechanic very differently than I would to a person with a Ph.D. in biology. It’s about using the right analogies and metaphors that the patient deals with on a daily basis. If you know your patients, you know how to communicate with them.”
While reading patients is a skill honed with experience, Schneider says to some degree it’s taught. “We teach our students to begin with open-ended questions,” Schneider adds. “Then we encourage them to narrow down to specifics. With enough experience, a good chiropractor will learn certain injuries most often come from certain actions. That way, when I ask a patient if they’ve experienced trauma—and they say no—I can clarify I don’t mean a [life-threatening] situation, but a fall down the stairs or a football injury.”