The Death Of A Chiropractic Salesman?

Is selling unethical?Occasionally I get the following type of question….

“Are chiropractors salesmen?” or “Should we even have to market our practice, after all other respectable doctors don’t have to?”

Before we get into the discussion, it’s important that we understand what selling means. From Websters dictionary…

to sell: to persuade or influence to a course of action or to the acceptance of something

That means if you’ve ever influenced a patient to accept your care plan, get adjusted, or even come in for an appointment, you’re guilty of selling. (And in some circles or seminars, you would be quickly ushered out the door for admitting you actually “sold” anything.) Everyone sells, including dentists, MD’s, attorneys, wives, children, teachers and preachers.

What chiropractors really mean is that they don’t want to have to “hard sell” the patient on care. And I’m in total agreement with that. The term “hard sell” brings up unpleasant thoughts of a sleazy car salesman, and rightly so. To be hard sold means someone is very forcefully persuaded, and this is not what you want in your practice. This involves convincing people against their will to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Many chiropractic coaches have convinced doctors to use hard sell tactics (of course they don’t use this exact term). They reason, according to these coaches, is that “it’s in the best interests of the patient to get the care, regardless if they realize it or not.”  However, this type of thinking is only trying to justify to yourself the unethical behavior.

There are ethical means to “persuade or influence” a patient to accept your care plan. Methods that do not use hype or exaggeration. Examples include making your office look more professional, dressing appropriately as the doctor, running editorial style chiropractic ads that do not use hype, sending “stick” letters to new patients, having a patient newsletter, etc. All of these are examples of marketing and selling your services.

Another unethical type of selling involves recommending care the patient does not need simply for the profit it will bring the doctor. In chiropractic, there is of course a gray area in that different techniques and philosophies recommend different amounts of care. This makes for a wide range of possibilities when recommending care to a patient.

It is of course the doctors clinical decision as to how much care a patient needs– not an arbitrary ruling by a state board or insurance company that want to cap visits to 12 or less. But realize there are doctors who “milk the system” for all it’s worth, and usually end up in prison as a result. More often than not, this type of wrongdoing is only known by the doctor who does it, and is not easily detected by the patient or others.

So when it comes down to it, there are really only two types of selling you want to avoid. The hard sell and what I call “greedy selling”. Both are unethical and both should never be used in a doctor’s office (or anywhere for that matter).

Ethical methods of persuading or influencing (selling) should be studied, modeled, and executed in your practice. You’re doing it currently any way, you might as well practice and get good at it.

Chiropractic Marketing

As to the question of whether we should “market” our services because other doctors don’t have to, let’s again look at the definition of marketing.

marketing: the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service

This is a bit different than advertising, which is “the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements.” (But advertising is a part of marketing, since it is promoting a product or service.) Notice also that marketing includes the above mentioned selling.

Do MD’s and dentists market their practice? Do they promote it by having yellow page ads, newspaper display ads or business cards?

In every town I’ve ever lived in they do. And this just a small part of their marketing in the medical profession. Much of it is done by drug companies with television commercials and magazine ads…or organizations like the AMA, American Heart Assoc, Am. Cancer Assoc, etc. (On another note, why should we even compare the marketing of chiropractic to the marketing of medicine? Are they not separate and distinct disciplines, which require different education and marketing strategies? Is not medicine having a more and more difficult time convincing patients of it’s credibility and authority?)

Gone are the days, if they ever existed, where you could hang a sign out and your practice would be flooded with new patients. This only occurred if you were the first or second chiropractor in town. Today, if all you do is a “hang a shingle” and expect that to work, you’ll have to close the doors in 2 months.

Starting today and beyond, you must market your services to the public. On the internet, in print media, radio and TV if affordable,  direct mail, in your office, with referrals…whatever ethically works and brings in new patients. Don’t let a “I’m too good for that” attitude keep you from building the practice of your dreams.

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3 Comments

  1. Dr Beck,

    Great article again and I agree that one should not use hard sell in office. When it comes to marketing there are so many options out there. I was recently looking into yellow pages, is it worth the money to have a “stand out ad” and pay extra for it or is it a waste of money? I appreciate your feedback. Keep up the good work.

  2. drbeck at

    Dr. Lindback,

    While yellow page advertising is declining in it’s use and effectiveness, it is still a good place to be. I would not recommend extra options, but would recommend spending your time and money on developing a well written and formatted ad.

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