Monday Morning Motivation | We Don't Treat Headaches

Posted by Bill Esteb on Dec 28th 2019

"Based on what you've just described, you're an excellent candidate for chiropractic care. However, we don't treat headaches.

"Just to be clear, we've helped a lot of people who have headaches. Maybe hundreds. In fact, it's practically routine.

"But we don't treat headaches. That would be the practice of medicine. You mentioned that you've already tried a medical approach. That's why you're here. You want something different. Thankfully, we take a different approach.

"Instead, we'll address the underlying cause of your headaches.

"As we reduce the structural and neurological stress held in your spine, your symptoms are likely to lessen. Your body will no longer need to produce headaches to let you know that a limit has been reached and that a change needs to be made.

"Since you'll be doing the healing, not me, I can't predict how quickly you'll recover. However, I'm optimistic and you should be too."

Which is the truth. Right?

Agreeing, either implicitly or explicitly to treat a patient's admitting complaint is where many chiropractors go off the rails. It's responsible for at least two commonly mentioned challenges.

1. Being on the hook to deliver on your promise.

While it may appear that you're using adjustments to treat the patient's symptoms, you're actually reducing interference to their nervous system so the patient's ability to function is returned. As function improves, the body no longer needs to get the attention of its owner by expressing any number of possible symptoms.

So while at first glance it appears you're treating the symptom, you're actually doing something very different. What confounds this further is that the patient thinks you're treating their symptom. After all, that's what prompted them to seek your care.

If you agree to treat their symptom you face a formidable number of variables for which you have little or no control:

Will the patient make necessary lifestyle changes to enhance the healing process? Better sleep. Better hydration. Better nutrition. Better exercise. Etc.

Is the emotional stressor still present? In other words, is the cause of the cause still present? If so, your efforts are likely to be palliative at best.

Will the patient be patient? Will they endure the unpredictable timeframe for their body to make the necessary changes? Will they partner with you or will they expect you to singlehandedly do all the work?

In other words, you're accepting the burden to deliver on their expectations but lack access to some important dials and levers. So you must continually probe the patient's commitment. Are they still on board? Are they likely to return?

2. Fewer patients embracing wellness care.

Many chiropractors who agree to treat the patient's admitting complaint are the same chiropractors who wish they had a larger number of patients showing up for ongoing maintenance or wellness care.

Once you agree to treat their symptoms, your overtures to continue their care beyond symptomatic relief later on seem financially driven. The upsell largely falls on deaf ears because framing the value of periodic checkups is occurring too late. Many practices review the How Our Practice Works handout at the initial consultation to set appropriate expectations.

Granted, few patients are even interested in wellness care. Just ask dentists how difficult it is to get their patients to regularly floss! But your chance of creating a long-term relationship is severely reduced if you present yourself as a low-tech solution for headaches and backaches up front.

The insurance industry has been complicit in all this. They want you to treat the patient's symptom. They're not interested in the patient's health. Or prevention. They're ONLY interested in the arbitrage between what they collect in premiums and what they have to pay you. So just treat the patient's symptom. And make it snappy!

Implement this nuance in your practice as the New Year begins and you will have a different practice in a year's time. You'll have less pressure and enjoy greater freedom. All from simply telling the truth and consistently communicating it.


Bill Esteb has been a chiropractic patient and advocate since 1981. He is the creative director of Patient Media and the co-founder of Perfect Patients. He’s been a regular speaker at Parker Seminars and other chiropractic gatherings since 1985. He is the author of 12 books that explore the doctor/patient relationship from a patient’s point of view. His chiropractic blog, in-office consultations, patient focus groups and consulting calls have helped hundreds of chiropractors around the world. His Monday Morning Motivation is emailed to over 10,000 chiropractors each week.