“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.
(This applies to your treatments as well.)
After I graduated from PCOM’s master of traditional Oriental medicine program in 1999, I saved up for 2 years to treat myself to a spa day. My office was next to a fancy Aveda day spa where I often saw women lounging around in robes, fluffy slippers, and eye masks, getting fully pampered. With school debt and a high cost of living in San Diego, it took me nearly 2 years to save up the $299 for a spa package. I was so excited to finally treat myself and recharge my batteries, which were completely drained from treating 25-30 patients per week and another part-time job, along with the everyday stresses of life.
I checked in with the receptionist and waited in the tranquil aromatherapy-filled waiting area. “Ahhh! Finally,” I thought to myself. Then my name was called out by one of the therapists “East?”. My heart fluttered with excitement as I was finally giving back to myself what I had been giving to patients for nearly 2 years. I really needed this.
As we walked down the hallway to our treatment room, the therapist and I began some small talk. “How long have you been a therapist?” I asked. “6 months,” she replied. “That’s great. How do you like it?” I inquired. She responded, “Actually, I hate it.” My dancing heart fell flat on the floor. To this day, nearly 20 years later, that was one of the worst massage and treatment experiences of my life. Her massage reflected her attitude towards her chosen profession and my $299 would have been better spent elsewhere. In fact, I felt ten times worse after I left, almost as though I took on some of her negative energy.
This is obviously an example of a horrible treatment experience. I share it with you in hopes that none of you provide patient care like this, and to have you ask yourselves: what kind of treatment experiences do you give? Are you grumpy and complaining? Are you pleasant and present? Do you give robot-like, protocol-centered treatments, or do you give your patient an experience that leaves them feeling genuinely cared for and better than when they walked in? Is it even your intention to provide exceptional experiences? Perhaps it should be.
Providing exceptional treatment experiences will:
- Increase patient satisfaction;
- Result in patient retention and referrals;
- Increase treatment outcomes; and
- Allow you to charge more for your treatments.
Studies have shown that patients with greater satisfaction after a session obtain better treatment outcomes. Happier and more satisfied patients undoubtedly return and refer their friends and family to you. With greater treatment outcomes and enhanced treatment experiences, patients (and insurance companies, in some cases) will be willing to pay more for your sessions. More patients plus the ability to charge more for your services equals more money for you. Win-Win!
I would absolutely LOVE for each and every one of us to provide exceptional treatment experiences because I believe the benefits are far-reaching and include:
Patients willing to pay more for your services.
Patients get better, faster, with improved treatment outcomes.
Data, and word of mouth, reveal a higher efficacy of our medicine, thereby attracting more patients and integration with other healthcare practitioners.
An increase in job satisfaction.
If you want any of these things, join me on a little road trip. Our journey will have four stops along the way. Each stop will contain takeaways that you can incorporate into your practice to transform your treatments into exceptional experiences for your patients.
Our First Stop: The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle represents your entire treatment process—from a warm invitation, through the scheduling process, to follow-up and a continuous connection with the patient. No more “treat them and street them” mentality. We create relationships that last.
When you tell people that you are an acupuncturist, or a physician of East Asian medicine, are the sentences that follow anything like these?
- “Have you experienced East Asian medicine or tried acupuncture before?”
- “Would you like to come in?”
- “I’d love to treat you.”
Wouldn’t you, yourself, want to be treated by someone who shows that kind of passion and enthusiasm for what they do? Quite opposite of the therapist I encountered at the Aveda spa.
I know many practitioners in our field are often afraid of coming across as “salesy”. I promise you that a warm and genuine invitation to be treated is not salesy at all. In fact, it is refreshing, inviting, and creates connection. The next time someone asks you what you do do for a living, let them know that you are a physician of East Asian medicine. You can hand them a card, look them into the eyes, and say, “I’d love to treat you. Come see me.” You can even schedule their appointment right then and there if the conversation goes in that direction.
Speaking of scheduling appointments: how easy is it for a patient to make an appointment with you? Do you offer online scheduling or do you play phone tag for days with patients? We often say that healing begins when a patient makes an appointment because they have initiated the intention to get well. If a patient has finally reached a state where they are committed to getting better, but they cannot schedule with you at that moment, they may not ever schedule at all. They may wake up the next morning and not feel as motivated as they did before. If online scheduling isn’t possible or realistic for you, then at the very least have someone available to take scheduling calls for you.
Going full circle (pun intended), do you follow up with all your patients to see how they are doing? Do you keep your patients in the “Golden Circle” by following up with each and every one of them, even those that you may have referred out to someone else? You can easily stay in touch via newsletters or emails from time to time.
I like to start my follow-up communication with words like “I’ve been thinking about you” or “I came across this research and wanted to pass it along to you as you came to mind while I was reading it”. Just like the warm invitation, a personal communication that seems to come from your heart will go a long way with our patients in making them feel truly cared for and special.
There is no ending to a circle and the Golden Circle being offered to you here is one in which patients feel valued and completely cared for. They know they can contact you for help with their health even if you may need to refer them to someone else.
As we leave the Golden Circle, remember:
- Give warm and genuine invitations to treatments.
- Offer easy and immediate scheduling.
- Follow up and stay connected.
Next Stop: The Healing Temple
Location, location, location. Is your office easy to find, with plenty of parking, or are your patients stressed out just getting to your office? I promise you that if this is the case, they will not come back no matter how great the treatment. How many of you have driven right past the In-N-Out Burger, Starbucks or any other establishment because the line was too long? Chose a location that is easy to find, in a safe part of town, with adequate parking. Be mindful of adjacent tenants. I once had my treatment space within a fitness facility where I taught exercise classes and offered personal training. I thought this would be ideal since all my clients were there. I thought wrong. The room was close to the racquetball courts and even though my treatment room was padded and tranquil, the minute they left my treatments, they were bombarded with the sound of racquets and balls. There went all my good work.
Is your treatment space clean and clear of clutter? A messy treatment space can cause your patients to feel anxious and/or stressed, not to mention leaving you feeling that way as well. Make sure to get rid of everything that does not have a purpose or bring you or your patients joy. Lay on your treatment tables from time to time to make sure they are still comfortable. Test your heat lamps. Try on your eye pillows. Stare up at your treatment room walls, and down at the floor. Are they clean and comforting?
Practice feng shui and the art of Zen in your treatment areas. Every time I move my practice or home, I hire a feng shui consultant, and it is worth every penny. People often comment on how warm and comfortable my environments feel to them. I feel better working and living within these environments. I highly recommend it.
These may seem like subtle elements of the treatment experience, but when they are problematic, they can prevent you from providing the relaxing, rejuvenating and healing space you desire.
In addition to the physical location and building of your treatment space, there are two more powerful ways to enhance the treatment experience that are easy to incorporate.
First: Music. Did you know that in several pockets of the United States, ambulances are playing music in the back with the patients? It was found that certain music improved the patient outcomes of those being transported. Likewise, hospitals are offering music in patient rooms and operating rooms for the same reason. Music has the ability to heal and science is now proving it.
Do you provide music? If so, do you change it frequently? I once stopped going to a therapist that I had been seeing weekly for several months because they played the exact same music every week. At a certain point the music was no longer soothing, and started to negate any benefits I was receiving in the session. Change your music.
Second: Aromatherapy. It has been clinically proven that when aromatherapy is added to a massage, acupuncture treatment, or acupressure treatment, outcomes are greater than providing any of those modalities alone.
There are several ways you can provide aromatherapy to your patients. You can use essential oils in diffusers or drop essential oils onto cotton balls and have the patient smell the cotton ball while getting treated. I’ve even used White Flower liniment as aromatherapy on a cotton ball. Patients love it and the spearmint oil in White Flower reduces pain.
You can add drops of essential oils to water and spray the contents in your office. I have even used simple rose water as aromatherapy. You can find rose water in any natural food store. Spray rose water in your office, on your patients, on your treatment table, or on your eye pillows. Spray the diluted essential oil sprays on your hands as well. That way, your hands get cleaned from the anti-microbial nature of essential oils and you provide aromatherapy to your patients via your hands.
During treatments I typically place the aromatherapy-saturated cotton ball on the patient’s chest around Ren 17 or within their “sniff zone” if they are face down. After the treatment, I give the patient the cotton ball to take home with them. I instruct them to continue to inhale the aromatherapy periodically, which will keep the treatment coursing through their body. It’s a very inexpensive “gift” that your patients will treasure. I once walked a patient to her car and saw a line of cotton balls on her dashboard. She told me that she keeps all the cotton balls I give her after treatment and that she just “loves them”.
While I could go on and on about the benefits of aromatherapy, we have more stops on this road trip. Therefore, here are your take-aways from The Healing Temple:
- Clear your space of clutter.
- Practice the art of feng shui.
- Incorporate music into your treatments.
- Include aromatherapy with your treatments.
Third Stop: The Great Sage
Imagine that you are very thirsty, and I offer you some water in a dirty styrofoam cup. If thirsty enough, you may drink it. However, wouldn’t you rather have that water in a beautifully crafted, sparkling, clean crystal glass? The answer is obvious, and in this metaphor, you are the cup.
The Great Sage represents you. Moreover, it is the best version of yourself. What are you doing to be the best practitioner and best version of yourself? Do you “walk your talk”? Are you a great example for your patients? Are you aligned with your passions or do you honestly dislike what you are doing, like the Aveda day spa massage person I told you about above? If you don’t like treating people, please find another way to contribute to our medicine. I assure you there are many. Would you want to be treated by someone who didn’t want to treat patients?
You are a conduit for healing, a vessel of sorts. Are you offering your treatments from a dirty styrofoam cup or sparkly clean crystal glass? We all know what we need to do to be the best versions of our selves: meditate, get adequate sleep, continue our studies, exercise, eat clean foods, exercise moderation and mindfulness, practice good self-care, and so on. Are you doing those things, or are you robotically treating patients when you really don’t want to be treating them, or cannot be present for them?
I get it—life can be tough at times, and we are human beings after all. We get stressed, experience loss, we go through heartbreaks and health issues, and these tough times which can easily bring us down. I propose to you that this is when we need whatever it takes to raise our energy levels. We owe it to our patients. We owe it to ourselves. One way to quickly and easily raise your vibe at any time is to the “Raise Your Vibration” Exercise:
Rate how you feel right now on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being super enthusiastic, energetic, and joyful, 5 being “meh” or “blah”, and 1 being not well at all. Then, sit in a relaxed position and take three deep, cleansing breaths. Close your eyes and think of someone or something for which you have unconditional love. Perhaps it is a parent, a child, a loved one, or a fur baby. Close your eyes and imagine this person or pet and feel all the love you have for them. Think of all the times you have spent together. Imagine their face and observe how good you feel with that image in your mind. You can even look at a picture of them. Sit for enough time it takes to really feel the love you have for this person or pet. Connect with the feeling of gratitude for having this person or pet in your life. Once you have connected with these feelings complete your last deep breath by exhaling and opening your eyes.
Now how do you feel? Has your number improved on that 1 to 10 scale? In most cases it will improve. This is a simple tool for any time you feel that life is beating you down and your “cup” isn’t as clean as it can be.
Meditation is also helpful, even if it is only a few minutes between patients. I have made it a habit to come to work early and meditate before my day begins, and I often meditate between patients. If I’m crunched for time, I will select a three-minute long song and play it, meditating for only as long as that song. Even that small amount of time makes a huge difference.
I have only mentioned a few things you can do to improve your mood. Only you know what really does it for you. Therefore, it’s up to you to participate in those activities when you find yourself not feeling as good as you could.
Take-Aways from The Great Sage:
- Be in alignment with yourself.
- Be a clean vessel.
- Keep your energy, mood and vibration high.
- Practice self-care.
Last Stop: The Giving Forest
Most people love gifts. Little gifts during treatment sessions can go a very long way in terms of patient retention, patient referrals, and increasing the value of your services. I have come up with several little gifts you can give patients which are inexpensive for you yet highly valuable to your patients, including:
- Cotton ball with aromatherapy on it. You can give additional cotton balls with aromatherapy to patients in tiny zip lock bags.
- Licorice sticks in hot water for sore throat or general balance.
- Crystal ear seeds.
- Goji berries in hot water and some in a bag to take with them.
- Chia seeds in small zip lock bags.
- Gemstones like rose quartz, amethyst, citrine, or blue calcite.
- Little Angel cards that have positive affirmations on them.
- Gan Mai Da Zao Tang in the waiting room.
- Gan Mai Da Zao Tang raw herbs for single use with instructions on how to make it themselves.
- Samples of herbs that you sell or other items you sell in your office like tea, supplements, aromatherapy, etc.
- In addition to the items listed above I bring in food samples of the types of foods I encourage my patients to eat. Quinoa, brown rice meals, seaweed, gojii berry oatmeal, etc. They are more likely to make these foods for themselves if they have tasted them.
As you can see, small shifts and additions to your treatments can transform an ordinary treatment into an exceptional experience that has the potential to increase patient satisfaction and thereby improve treatment outcomes and bring more value to your sessions. These are all easy and inexpensive to implement and provide great benefits and rewards. I sincerely hope you have found this information helpful and that it may have stoked the passionate fire within you to lead others to health, happiness, and well-being.
With a commitment to helping others actualize their full potential and wellbeing, Dr. East has been a licensed acupuncturist since 1999 and professor of Chinese Medicine since 2014. She currently resides in Del Mar, California and continues to help patients, students, other practitioners and the general public with her lectures, workshops, private consulting and products from Gem Elixirz, the company she founded in 2010.