How to Positively Lose Patients

By: Susan Hoy, CA

Let’s face it… we all lose patients! After all, we can’t be all things to all people. I know this to be true because I tried for many years and it just didn’t work. In this profession, we tend to give until it hurts. I have learned, over the past few years, to do my best; but I know that there will always be someone who is not happy with what I do. As long as I know that I tried and I know that my intentions were sincere, I can deal with rejection. It is the same way in our office: No matter how hard we try, some patients will be unhappy with us. That’s because each patient has a certain expectation or vision, and sometimes, we just don’t fit into that vision.

Recently, I heard an analogy that made sense. In a presidential election, the winner is elated when he gets 52% of the vote. It is considered a great victory, even though 48% of the people voted for someone else. We must accept that we cannot please or help 100% of our patients. The trick is to lose them in a positive manner. Our fear, when we lose a patient, is that negative things will be passed on to others. I have heard that negative comments get passed along much more often than positive comments—and even get exaggerated to make a better story! Could it be that satisfied patients say nothing, but dissatisfied patients tell all?

Recognizing the fact that we can’t please 100% of our patients, our goal is to lose our dissatisfied patients in a positive manner so that they will not speak about us in a negative way. The following example of this happened in our office yesterday:

Our office is in downtown Philadelphia. Many theater productions come to our town and are often here for many weeks. We have marketed to all the theaters, and are on their list of doctors that is given to each production group. Yesterday, I received a call from one of the actors who had just arrived in town. He is a regular Chiropractic patient and asked if he could come for an adjustment. We did our homework immediately. I got the name of his Chiropractor and we contacted him for advice. After the actor arrived and had completed his paperwork, we gave him a brief consultation and put him into our exam room. This particular patient, for some reason, was not happy with our Chiropractor. That’s not unusual when a patient changes from one Chiropractor to another. Sometimes, we just don’t fulfill their expectations.

I just happened to be in the reception area when the patient came to check out. I heard him complain to our front desk CA—his annoyance was quite detectable! I’m sure it comes as no surprise that when a patient is physically uncomfortable, irritation is readily present. The last thing I wanted was for him to go back to his production company and complain about us! We work very hard to stay in good standing with the theaters. My mind immediately went to work to find a way to make him feel better about our office.

I approached him and offered my sincere apology. I then offered for him to see our associate doctor. His body language told me that he wouldn’t be back. My next step was to be very concerned about him. “Robert, I want to help you find a Chiropractor who you are comfortable with, so please let me make a suggestion. I know there are a couple of other Chiropractors on your list.” His demeanor changed immediately. He said he would really appreciate my help. I named another Chiropractor who is well respected and was close to the theater. I also gave him the name of another Chiropractor who is not on the theater list but who we refer to on occasion. Then, I offered to contact the Chiropractor and make the appointment for him. Robert was extremely appreciative, his demeanor changed immediately and it was obvious that his anger was gone. Before leaving our office, he thanked us profusely for our concern, helpfulness and friendly staff. By the way, I did not offer him a free visit or even a discount! I only offered him care, concern, and compassion.

I have learned that active Chiropractic patients are hard to please, because they come to our office with a particular vision and expectation, especially coming from a Chiropractor whom they love and respect. When we don’t fit their vision, we either turn them around or lose them gracefully. The last thing you want is for a patient to leave your office angry!

If you notice that you have an unusually high patient dropout rate, you may want to send a patient survey questionnaire, along with a stamped, return envelope. It will allow them to tell you why they left your practice. Of course, the response can be anonymous so the patient’s identity is withheld. This is an absolutely wonderful tool for your office!

There will always be times when our patients get angry. Sometimes it won’t even be our fault. Very often patients come to us irritated or angry. After all, they are in pain!

Realistically, there is no way we will keep all of our patients, but if we lose them in a positive, caring way, they may actually become goodwill ambassadors and refer others! AND… they may just come back! It happens to us all the time.