Support for Private Practice Growth – My Article for the Utah AOM association newsletter

Please Note! Due to the high volume of irritating spam and slow-down of participation here, we are no longer accepting new comments, questions, or subjects on this Forum. We are keeping all the subjects and comments for review as there is a lot of good stuff here relating to practice-building subjects. So, dig deep! Thanks to everyone who participated here but it is time to move on to bigger projects educating the public about acupuncture! Matt Bauer

18-Sep-2013 09:13 AM

Matthew Bauer

Posts: 211

Support for Private Practice Growth

By Matthew Bauer, L.Ac.

Published in the Utah Associations for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine’s Fall 2013 Newsletter:

For many years, I did not realize how fortunate I had been to have opened my practice as soon as I was licensed and end-up supporting my family as our sole source of income. Early in my career, I became involved with acupuncture associations and met many practitioners from this as well as the continuing education events I frequented. I assumed most were like me; working full-time in their practices and making a decent living doing it. My practice was some distance from any acupuncture schools so other than teaching a few classes in my first few years of practice, I did not work for any of the schools and did not have much contact with students.

 Eventually, I began hearing rumors about students graduating and having trouble establishing their practices and even going out of business but I assumed these were just a small percentage that did not have what it took to build their own businesses. I continued to stay involved with happenings in the AOM field and also began working to help bring acupuncture into managed care insurance plans while my practice remained stable seeing around 60 patients a week.

About 5 years ago I came to realize that my stable practice (now up to about 90 patients a week) was the exception while those struggling and even dropping out of practice were more the norm. This realization struck me hard. How could it be that those trained in the greatest body of natural healing knowledge the world has ever known should find it so difficult to build successful and sustainable practices especially considering how frustrated people are with a medical system that pushes drugs for every ill? This started me on a quest to understand what was behind the low success rates of so many AOM practitioners. I tried to dissect what was working for me all these years and not working for others. I wrote a book on practice building detailing my thoughts on the subject. I started giving talks and communicating with students, practitioners and others teaching practice building. I wrote a series of articles for Acupuncture Today and established a Forum section of my website inviting people to ask me questions or give feedback about being an Acupuncturist in practice today. 

All of these experiences have helped me better understand where the problems lie and here is a very brief synopsis of what I now believe:

Most students entering our AOM schools are not being told that private practice is the most likely way that they can have a career and so they come out of our schools in denial and unprepared.

Many then try to avoid the cost and risk of opening their own practice and instead rent rooms from existing practitioners not realizing this arrangement makes it more difficult to build one’s own patient base.

After some years of working out of another’s office some then try to open their own but are now in deeper financial trouble and have still not learned the fundamentals of building their own practices and they struggle.

So, what are the fundamentals of building an AOM practice in the U.S.?

Like any start-up business, building a practice takes 2-3 years of full-time or at least near full-time work. Practices grow exponentially over time if – and this is a big if – you achieve a high rate of patient satisfaction.

The public does not understand the potential acupuncture offers so educating the public is a bigger burden for us in AOM than virtually any other health care profession. The key to public education is to emphasize that acupuncture helps the body to heal itself.

Make yourself accessible in all aspects – everything from having modest fees to accepting insurance to having regular hours and a convenient location to offering free initial consultations so you can educate potential patients about what you can do for them without making them pay for that understanding.

Learn how to squeeze the most benefit out of the least number of treatments. There is a momentum that takes place with acupuncture and so there is an art to SPACING TREATMENTS to spark and ride this momentum. Space the treatments out too far apart and you lose momentum, too close together and you use more treatments for less benefit and this increases the cost to the patient. Timing of treatments is everything when trying to get the most from the least.

In private practice, you are essentially operating a service business. However, you cannot guarantee the outcome of your service and this makes patients hesitant to commit to a full course of treatments.  You need to learn how to manage this uncertainty. 

Most acupuncturists need on-going support to give them a better chance to learn these fundamentals while building a firm foundation to grow their practice over those initial years. If you learn these basics and make it through the first few years, exponential growth starts to build and things get much easier. Community Acupuncture is the fastest growing and most widely used practice model because its founders set-up a comprehensive support system for those employing that model. I am trying to do something similar for the Middle Way model I promote. My book provides the core of this model’s details and I offer to help people apply this model through my website for no cost. I want to prove that most acupuncturists can build successful and sustainable practices if they just learn and employ the fundamentals described above.

I appreciate this opportunity to contribute to your UAAOM newsletter. I encourage you to learn more of what I am trying to promote by reading my last series of articles in Acupuncture Today and visiting my website where you will find chapters of my book and a Forum section where you can ask questions and read past posts.

Matthew Bauer