Wellness Professionals: Why you need to say NO to some patients: A story

“I’m feeling burnt out and overwhelmed as a wellness practitioner.” Sound familiar?

Here’s why wellness professionals need to stop trying to help EVERYONE, honor their niche, and create a sustainable practice.

This is a story about deciding what kind of unique “cookies” (the kind you eat) you want to offer as a business owner. I’ll explain in a moment.

Note: not everyone is going to like this blog, and that’s ok. (I’m going to practice what I preach)

If you believe in your bones that it is your job and your mission to help everyone who asks for it, regardless of whether or not it makes sense for your business, your financial health, or your own well-being, don’t continue reading. I’m not going to try to convince you of anything, and that’s fine.

If you already understand that perhaps there are better and more creative ways to serve so that anyone can have access to what you do, ranging from:

• Free information: blogs, free talks, virtual events
• Intentional volunteer work
• Scholarships
• Books
• Group offerings, courses, and memberships
• Paid 1:1 services
• Bundled, premium VIP packages

AND If you believe that your TIME isn’t something that should be discounted.. ever.. (No more volume-based packages or sliding scales) ..you are probably more likely to thrive in a new era, create a sustainable practice, and contribute to the sustainability of the entire wellness industry.  You have some solid boundaries in place.

Many wellness practitioners are somewhere in between. As a result, they feel resentment and burnout.

They may have a desire to create something on their own terms, but still feel pressure.. from patients, peers, teachers, mentors, and the general public, to help EVERYONE. For a discount.

If you are feeling a nagging and justifiable sense of resentment and burnout, this article is for YOU.

Because first and foremost, just like a retailer or restaurant or financial advisor, your practice is a business, not a hobby, and you don’t OWE any favors to anyone. Period. Let that sink in.

Your business, your offerings, and your prices are YOUR business. Not a duty. Not a “moral” obligation to serve in any way.. that anyone.. at any time.. demands.

Let me tell you a story.

Before I left for Europe in 2017, I had an acupuncture practice in the Denver area.

I remember once telling a colleague that I was implementing a pre-qualification system in order to attract only the kinds of patients I was equipped to and WANTED to serve. OK, I also bitched about a “less than ideal” patient and wanted to get some validation from peers I respected.

Nope.

*Her reply: “Well, I don’t agree. I’m a service provider. It’s my job to help people.”

It was implied that somehow, my services were not to be taken seriously since I was interested in positioning my clinic and services in a very specific way, and that her ethics were superior to mine.

Unless you are providing essential (emergency) services, imo.. this seems a tad.. egotistical.

My truth that I want to share: You don’t have to put up with shit, AND this will help you be of MORE service.

Here’s why:

I firmly believe that you will best help your patients, clients, yourself and your entire industry by clearly defining ALL the criteria you work with:

Not just the “What..”but the “Who, When, Where, Why, and How…”

But also the “NOT who, when, where why and how.” In other words, the stuff you don’t want to deal with so that you can focus on delivering the “thing” you are known for. Your unique “cookie.”

Neglecting to define your unique “who when where why and how”  makes you a commodity and will bite you and eventually the entire health and wellness industry in the arse by de-valuing our services.

This also keeps you invisible, which will in turn deprives your potential patients and clients of your uniquely qualified services.

My colleague, who I still very much respect, has a lot of foot traffic in a visible area, and this is definitely an asset. She can provide much-needed services, including walk-ins, to her community. She devoted her “infrasructure” to serving her local area.

I applaud her.. AND..

What if you are gifted with working with hormone balancing for perimenopausal women, or are the go-to expert for thyroid conditions, but work in a building where there is NO foot traffic, in a city FULL of acupuncturists?

What if you would rather not have to depend on a full staff and insurance billing? You can certainly transform people’s lives and make a good living without all the overhead. In order to do this, you must be selective about your who, when, where, why, and how.

What if your services are offered only online? (I would never have proposed this question even a few years ago.. you can probably imagine why.)

Today, it is essential to define your Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How online. (YOUR cookie!)

Think about it this way:  Who do you want to find you on a Google search? If it’s just anyone that searches for “acupuncturist near me” you are going to get some prospects that you may want to screen out.

Let’s say it’s a 70 year old man who walks in, historically has not taken responsibility for his own health, is skeptical, takes up 2 hours of your time, and wants you to fix his back in one treatment for a discount. If you don’t “cure” him, it will confirm in his mind that “acupuncture doesn’t work.”

You know.. the ones that need an engine overhaul, but think they only need an oil change, and will demand the oil change and get mad at you and put your reputation at risk when their car still doesn’t run.

If this sounds far-fetched, this is the exact scenario I ran into. Patients who just walk in with their own expectations without any kind of introduction to my services, pre-qualification, or education.

Because we, as “alternative” health care providers often fail to provide those things and end up with writing a few blogs here and there about qi or liver stagnation, it’s ultimately our fault, even when we do everything else “perfectly” in our clinics.

This above scenario ended up wasting my time, money, and energy, as well as his, despite the fact that I was doing “all the right things” during our appointment:

  • I gave him my best effort, including giving him a lot of insight and information he could use whether he worked with me or not.
  • I was also clear that in his current condition he would need to see someone at least a few times per week for a while.
  • I took (compassionate) steps to refer him to a low-cost or student clinic for follow-up care, which he refused, being that they were more than 5 miles from his home.
  • He was happy when he left, but unsurprisingly, the pain came back a few hours later and he cancelled the next appointment, saying that “it didn’t work.”

Seriously, I was exhausted after this guy left. I promised myself “never again.”

By saying “yes” to some patients, I was stealing resources from myself and the patients I loved working with, and potentially putting my reputation at risk.

Looking back, I could have insisted that he look at my website (a new patient area/is our clinic right for you page, etc..) watch a video, or answer some pre-qualifying questions beforehand.

It’s ok to say: “I don’t want you to waste your time or mine by having you come in without taking 10 min, from home, to do X, Y, or Z. Since many already download their intake forms from home, it makes sense to put some pre-qual info on the same page.

My best patients were not only willing to do this, they appreciated it because it helped them figure out if I was the right choice before they spent any time visiting my clinic. I was helping them by respecting THEIR time.

After the COVID-19 crisis, this will make even MORE sense.

Pre-qualifying doesn’t mean you are “rejecting” care. It means you make it clear about whether or not you are a good match from the START, so that everyone can save time and make better decisions about a match and that unrealistic expectations are mitigated. (kind of like dating.)

You are also protecting your business, especially if you don’t have the staff and resources to work with anyone and everyone with a pulse. This doesn’t make you any less than a big “service provider.” In fact, because you don’t have a big clinic with a lot of overhead and because you are focused, you may very well be in a better position to serve YOUR patients and clients. (Target vs. a boutique)

It’s our JOB to pre-qualify and refer out when needed.. to define our work, expectations, and to educate.

This also helped me ATTRACT my ideal patients.

My favorite patients (which was almost ALL of them) actually read my website.

Again, I want to emphasize.. always request that new patients visit your website.. whether it’s for a video or intake forms or a blog or FAQ page. You’ll be able to tell how committed they are if they take these steps, and you will have an easy way to complete your screening process by asking the right questions.

The primary content (blogs, videos, podcasts) you write or produce is for THEIR benefit, not to tell them how great acupuncture is or to showcase all your qualifications.

My ideal patients sought me out because I took the time to create a LOT of content that they could use to research NOT only about my clinic and services, but general, qualified, and researched information about back and hip pain, shoulder pain and other conditions.

I put myself in their shoes. If I were doing research to find out what to do about chronic shoulder pain, or back and hip pain, what would I want to know? Especially if I was an athlete, or considering surgery? (and you bet I spoke to my ideal patient avatar directly)

I generously gave all the useful info I could (within my scope of practice, of course..) to help people more easily make a choice, whether or not they chose to work with me.

The content itself and the way it is written is also a good way of both attracting those I wanted to work with and filtering out those that I didn’t want to work with.

Actually, I’m doing this now.. by making a bold statement that defines what I’m about. The ones who are more in alignment with my colleague will probably self-select out of my “tribe”.. which is totally fine.

The ones who are in alignment with me will be glad that I didn’t water down my message. In the end, everyone will appreciate that I was clear, which allows them to make their own choice. 

This is what modern marketing is about. It’s about introducing people to your world, giving great information, and YES.. choosing and defining your ideal patient or client and focusing on THEM.

This applies to any wellness business, regardless of  your business model. Even if you have figured out how to deliver your services at a high volume without sacrificing quality, income, ur sustainability, these principles of marketing in a new era will still apply.

So what does this all have to do with cookies?

I also had a friend, who happened to be a successful business owner. He was also a patient from time to time.

One day, we were talking about business in general over coffee. I told him about the mindset of some of my colleagues and the pressure I was feeling at the time to say YES to everyone.

He told me: *”Wow, would I walk into a vegan pizza restaurant and ask for a burger? Would I walk into a bar and demand that they play the music I want to hear and stock the wine I want to drink? Would I ask for ice cream if you sold cookies?  Why would I walk into your clinic and tell you what or how or where or when you should do your job? That’s just weird.

He told me that “my clinic was “MY cookie,” and that I could do whatever I wanted with it. I was a business owner, not a state-employed medical service provider for the masses.

And that’s why he chose me.

I’ll never forget his words. Acupuncture is a service, but first and foremost, it’s a business.

I’m also not getting any younger, so I’m more selective and discerning about how I spend my precious time and energy.

For example, let’s say I choose to work with veterans for free a few times per month. If I were burnt out from spending time with “less than ideal” patients, I wouldn’t have had the time or energy or resources to even consider offering my services for free.

Now my free stuff is in the  form of blogs, podcasts, or video trainings. Should I one day I have the resources and inclination,  I can CHOOSE to mentor or offer a scholarship to someone who meets certain criteria. Again, I can’t do this if I continually discount my time to everyone and trap myself in a place where I can’t effectively help anyone.

Some of my colleagues and people I knew from school might disagree, and this is because they perceive themselves as healers with both the power and responsibility to take care of everyone, all the time.

Their “What” is THE MEDICINE, (or their credentials) Their “Who” is EVERYONE. (or sick people) Their “When” is ALL THE TIME. Their “HOW” is some kind of puritanical or esoteric technique to Rule Them All.

Their “Why,” it seems to me, is about serving their ego as a healer, not about providing something unique, relevant, sustainable, and very much needed to a specific type of patient who is hoping to find the perfect match for THEM.

YOUR services are not a commodity. Just like those that took a basic concept like pizza and made it their own, in my opinion, that’s our job too, as health care providers. We can provide more choices and higher quality. We can create something that our ideal patient or client has been SEARCHING for, instead of having to settle for a generalist with discounted prices. 

The income we earn from that can be used to help even MORE people on a DEEPER, more transformational level. The choice is yours.

You CAN say NO, so that you can say YES to the things that matter most, for you and your patients and clients. 

It’s YOUR Cookie.

Are you a “rebel” wellness practitioner?

If you’ve read this far.. I’m guessing that you would LOVE the Rebel Wellness Entrepreneurs membership.

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