By East Haradin, DAOM, LAc
Over the course of more than 15 years of private practice, I have realized that there truly is an art to being a continuously successful and completely fulfilled practitioner. Sometimes we get burned out. Sometimes our patients get bored with the same treatment every time they come in. Sometimes we get a patient that our traditional treatments don’t seem to help effectively. So, what do we do? In this article I hope to offer you some ideas.
While I have a steady stream of new patients, I also have a solid base of returning patients – my “regulars”. They have been coming to see me every week, or every two weeks, for years. I have found that for these regular patients, it is important to keep the treatments fresh, new and exciting. Luckily for us, practitioners of TCM and alternative medicine, we can be creative and add different things to our treatments to enhance the experience, maintain the transformation in our patients, and keep them coming back to us.
Whether you are a brand new practitioner or a “seasoned” one like me (so much better than saying “old”), it is absolutely vital to keep your practice fresh and keep your bag of tricks filled so you can approach all types of situations. By doing so, you will not only increase patient satisfaction but also greatly increase your own job satisfaction. In this article, I share 6 simple and effective things you can add to your treatments and/or practice to prevent burn out and/or stagnation, enhance the overall treatment experience, and increase patient satisfaction:
1. Aromatherapy. I have always used aromatherapy in my practice and patients love it. The easiest way to incorporate this ancient healing technique is to simply add essential oils or aromatherapy sprays onto a cotton ball and place the cotton ball within your patient’s sniff zone while they are receiving a treatment (i.e., place the cotton ball on their chest or under the head rest if they are face down). Then, when the patient leaves after their treatment, have them take the cotton ball with them, instructing them to smell the aromatherapy frequently to keep the treatment going through their body. Even though it is a cheap little cotton ball with aromatherapy on it patients will covet it like prized gold and look forward to their cotton balls with each treatment. I once walked a patient to her car and saw a line of cotton balls on her dashboard from prior treatments. For basic aromatherapy, you can add lavender to cotton balls to help them relax, or try a citrus oil like grapefruit or orange to move qi and increase energy. It’s simple – we all have cotton balls. It’s effective – efficacy of aromatherapy has been proven over and over again in clinical trials. It is inexpensive – it costs you pennies and pays you back in spades when your patients want to come see you regularly. It has even been proven that adding aromatherapy to an acupuncture treatment increases its efficacy.
2. Cards. No, I don’t mean business cards. I’m talking more about oracle cards or positive affirmation cards. While thought leaders like Doreen Virtue and Denise Linn were some of the first people to come up with these cards, everyone seems to have their own deck and there are decks for all areas of life. Louise Hay has positive affirmation cards, Deepak Chopra has several decks for spirituality, Doreen Virtue has dozens of decks and now Gabby Bernstein, one of our newest thought leaders in personal development, has her own positive card deck “Miracles Now”. There are even little tiny angel notes that have positive affirmations on them that you can have placed in a bowl in your waiting room. Patients can pull one while they are waiting and take it with them as a little positive pick me up.
There are several ways you can use them with your treatments. You can have your patient pull a card before treatment as a way to get them to share what is going on inside them. Perhaps the chosen card reminds them of something they forgot to mention to you, or the card really speaks to how they are feeling. So much is revealed in these discussions. You can also use them to provide encouragement.
I’d like to share one particular experience I had with using these types of cards. I had a fertility patient who was finishing her third month of treatments. She was becoming impatient, as she wanted to get pregnant now and didn’t understand why it was taking so long. I asked her if she wanted to pull an angel card from Doreen Virtue’s Daily Guidance From Your Angels card deck. She agreed and after shuffling the cards a bit she pulled one from the middle and it was the “Child” card which reads: “ Your life purpose involves helping children – A child in Heaven is saying ‘I love you’ – Pregnancy or adoption might be part of your life”. She couldn’t believe it and started to cry (I couldn’t believe it either!). Then she said to me: “Hey, are they all Child cards?” inferring that I may have stacked the deck. I reached over to flip all of the cards and show her that there were 44 different types of cards in the deck, and a card fell on the floor between us. I picked it up and we both looked at it. It was the “Have Confidence “card. We both laughed. She felt encouraged and left my office. She conceived 2 weeks later. True story!
3. Auricular To Go. If you are not already using ear seeds, I recommend adding them to your practice—even if you just put a seed on Shen Men. I do not provide ear seeds on every treatment or even on the first treatment; I save it to add to future treatments. It can also be something that you can suggest at the end of a treatment. For example: “While you were resting, I was thinking that next time you come in, I want to give you ear seeds”. Now your patient has more reason to come back. Furthermore, I encourage you to educate your patients that the efficacy of auricular acupuncture has been proven many times. I recently searched PubMed for research articles and found up to a hundred studies. One study that I found really interesting used an fMRI to prove the efficacy of acupuncture. You can find it here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24867864.
You can also get rather creative with your ear seeds. There are several options, including traditional vaccaria ear seeds, essential oil-infused ear seeds, silver seeds, gold seeds, and the now increasingly popular Swarovski Crystal Ear Pellets.
4. “Happy Tea” Packets. One of the simplest and most profound formulas in TCM is Gan Mai Da Zao Tang. I remember when I was in school, a local acupuncture center would serve this formula as a tea in their waiting room and call it “Happy Tea”. And, it really does make us happy by calming our shen and soothing our Liver qi. I have little packets of “Happy Tea” in a large mason jar in my office; I give single-use packets to patients as little giveaways/gifts. Using Microsoft Word, I created a simple little label with instructions on how to make the tea at home.
The single use giveaway packets cost you about $0.75 after you buy the three herbs for the formula in bulk. Like the aromatherapy, this patient giveaway/gift pays off in spades. Patients love to try Chinese Herbal formulas, especially if they taste as good as this one. If patients really love your “Happy Tea”, sell the packets in your office. You can also use this formula as a kind of “gateway” formula to warm them up for more advanced formulas in the future.
5. Gemstones. I honestly grew up thinking I was one of only a few people with a strong liking for gemstones. Well, I was wrong. So many people love, and are attracted to, gemstones. Gemstones are energetic just like many facets of our medicine so they are a perfect complement to a TCM practice. Now, I don’t always use gemstones in my treatments. Rather, I pull them out in order to add something new to my treatments for my regulars, or for a patient who really needs an outside-of-the-box treatment. Sometimes, after a treatment, I will tell a patient, “I sometimes incorporate gemstones into my treatments. On your next visit I’d like to add some gemstones if you are up for it”. If you do this your patient is excited and already looking forward to their next treatment with you, as they know that they get to try something new. With gemstones you can be basic or elaborate, as there are as many stones as there are single herbs in our Materia Medica.
For a really basic gemstone addition, you can have your patient hold rose quartz in their left hand while being treated (the left hand is considered the receiving hand). Rose quartz is considered the Universal Stone of Love, nourishing the heart, spirit, and shen, and recharging and opening the heart to universal love. You can also place chunks of rose quartz on acupuncture points or chakras.
Amethyst is another great healing stone and has been used by many cultures in healing practices to balance the body, calm the mind, heal grief, promote emotional balance, ease stress, encourage tissue regeneration and much, much more. Like the rose quartz, you can have the patient hold a piece of amethyst in their left hand or place it on points or chakras.
Gemstones also make for an inexpensive and fun giveaway/patient gift. For example, you can use rose quartz or amethyst in a treatment, then give your patient a small stone to take home. Small pieces of these stones cost as little as $0.10 to $0.25—very little investment for a great reward. Like the cotton ball with aromatherapy, you would be surprised how much your patient will value this tiny little stone.
6. Healthy Food Giveaways. We can educate our patients on proper nutrition, recommend they drink a lot of water after a treatment, or suggest that they go out and buy specific foods and/or supplements, but the likelihood that they will actually follow our advice and go drink a bunch of water or buy quinoa or chia seeds can be slim to none with many patients. What I like to do is have what I call “healthy food giveaways” in my office. I believe that if our patients have a taste of what we are recommending, they are more likely to go out and buy it for themselves. A few simple and fairly inexpensive healthy food giveaways are:
- Chia Seeds. I have a large bag of organic chia seeds in my office along with small baggies. I can send a patient home with a “sample” of chia seeds to try. I can also place some chia seeds in a water bottle while they are getting their treatment and send them home with chia seeds in water. For flavor I sometimes add an Emergen-C pack to the water-chia combo. Once they try chia seeds and like them, they are more likely to go buy them for themselves and receive the super benefit of having more Omega 3’s and fiber in their diet.
- Emergen-C and Mineral Supplement Packets. I always have a few of these in the office. They are great to send patients home with or even have them drink while they are in the office. These cost about $0.30 when you buy a box.
- Bottled Water. In addition to a larger water dispenser I like to have single bottled water for patients to take home after treatment, especially after receiving cupping. That way I know they are getting hydrated and flushing out toxins.
- Goji Berries. Like the chia seeds, I give little plastic baggies of goji berries to patients and tell them to try them by adding to hot water, tea or oatmeal. Sometimes I even steep some berries in hot water while they are getting treated and send them home with puffed up goji berries in warm water. This is a great Blood tonic and a way to get your patients to try them.
- Raw Gan Cao. These are great for the onset of external attacks, slight sore throat, or just feeling a bit “out of it”. Gan cao is so harmonizing and mild that I have little sealed baggies of gan cao that I will give to patients with instructions to steep the sticks in hot water and sip it throughout the day, making sure to re-fill the mug of hot water and reuse the same sticks for a few steeps. You can also steep some gan cao in hot water while they are getting treated and have them go home sipping it.
- Healthy Fast Food. I have single serving bags of anti-oxidant trail mix (Trader Joe’s brand). The mix includes only almonds (Vitamin E), walnuts (great brain food and Omega-3s), and cranberries (antioxidant). These are perfect for patients who consume a lot of junk food. You can introduce them to a more healthy type of fast food for busy, eating-on-the-go lifestyles.
- These are just six ideas, but the possibilities to enhance your treatments and keep them fresh and exciting are nearly endless. I didn’t even begin to explore ideas like adding sacred geometry or simple qi gong postures to your treatments.
If you are still finding yourself burned out from private practice, do yourself, and your patients, a favor by working hard to relieve that burnout. It really affects you and your patients in a negative way. Find ways to recharge your own batteries and stay passionate about your chosen field; maybe start your own health-related or TCM product line. I used to make myself aromatherapy sprays to use in practice. Patients loved them and kept asking me to make them a spray, and as a result I ended up making an entire product line. It is also very easy to create an herbal liniment or therapeutic product line and put your name or practice name on the label. Just going through the creative process of developing products or unique services can prevent burnout and stoke the fire of your passion for this medicine and helping others. If you are not interested in creating a product line, how about receiving training in a synergistic modality such as feng shui, Chinese face reading, fertility, facial rejuvenation, the Tapping Method, reiki, or even shamanistic healing? When you feel ready, you can begin to add these modalities to your treatments. It has been said that variety is the spice of life, and we know from TCM that spice can be very helpful in treating stagnation. Prevent stagnation and burnout for yourself and your patients: keep your treatments fresh and exciting. I hope you have found this helpful. Be well. Be happy. Be successful!