Keys to Effective Patient Education

Keys to Chiropractic Patient Education

In ancient pagan cultures, it was common to arrive at the village’s place of worship and see thousands of carved idols. Each year new idols were created and added as the perceived needs of the people changed. Surprisingly, older idols were never discarded; they continued to be part of the worship culture.

There’s a parallel between this and the challenge of educating your patients about the principles of chiropractic. You can’t just add new information on top of what they’ve already been taught about their health. Patient education should really be called “patient re-education.” You have to tear down virtually everything they believe about health and once that’s accomplished, then you can begin rebuilding with the chiropractic story.

It isn’t a good idea to compare chiropractic to medicine or adjustments versus pills. When you make these comparisons, you automatically place chiropractic in the allopathic model and your patients will never see chiropractic as anything more than a natural way of obtaining symptom relief. The dialogue should be about function vs. feeling. Once a patient understands the fundamental principles of health and healing and the necessary role of symptoms, then and only then can you introduce subluxations and chiropractic. Chiropractic adjustments restore proper function, they restore what’s normal. For a patient to understand the devastating effects of subluxations and fully appreciate the adjustment, they have to value what’s being restored.

I had a friend who bought a classic car with the intention of restoring it as a hobby project. After years of tinkering with it, he finally took it to one of the best auto body shops in the state for an estimate. He had purchased the car for $5,000 and was willing to spend another $5,000 if necessary to get it restored. Imagine his surprise when the man quoted him a total restoration fee of $42,000!

The shock of hearing the quote upset my friend, but after the owner of the shop explained that the car was a very rare classic that, once restored, would be worth well over $140,000, he couldn’t write him a check fast enough. The owner could’ve talked until he was blue in face about the car’s condition, the restoration process, his qualifications, etc. but none of that would have made a difference. All he needed to do was describe the value of the car in its restored condition.

What happened in the case of my friend’s classic car illustrates the thought process that should be used in effective patient education. Help your patients to understand the value of their restored condition and of the importance of using a function-based health care model. All of this requires a major change in their paradigm.

When changing a paradigm, it’s easy to slip into a confrontational situation – nobody likes to be told they’re wrong and essentially this is what you’re doing. Even a friendly conversation can still have confrontational undertones, which can inhibit the learning process. This is easy to overcome in a couple of different ways.

First of all, rather than give people pieces of information simply ask a leading question and allow them to respond with the correct information. For example, rather than saying “The cns controls and coordinates every function” in the body, ask them “What system controls all of the functions in the body?” When they respond correctly, acknowledge and reinforce their answer and then continue to ask probing questions. When patients supply the right answer, it’s far more credible coming from them than having you feed it to them. This is also true in group settings and lectures. Your job as the doctor/teacher is to link all of those answers into the chiropractic story

When engaging in patient education in your office, this method is an effective way to tell the story. Yet, people don’t like to be put on the spot by being asked something they can’t answer. The way to overcome this is by pre-framing the purpose of your question. An example of this might be, “Mrs. Smith, we’re very committed to health education in our office, because we know that those who are best informed about their health get the best results – does that sound reasonable to you?” They will always say yes. To which you may respond, “Great, Mrs. Smith, I want to ask you a couple of questions and I want to test whether I and my staff are doing our job in educating you. So if you don’t know the answer, it’s not your fault, it’s our responsibility – fair enough?” You’ve just taken this patient completely off the hook, you’ve reaffirmed your role in the community as an educator, and you can now have an in-depth conversation about health and chiropractic with her, because she’s totally at ease with the dialogue.

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