It’s how we communicate to our patients we know how to take care of them. We’ll handle their information appropriately. We’ll assist them on their healing journey. Most importantly professionalism is how we communicate that we know what the hell we’re doing.
How do we know what’s professional? In massage school I was taught to wear scrubs. Multiple piercings, visible tattoos and unnaturally colored hair were an absolute ’no’. In acupuncture school (the SAME UNIVERSITY, I would like to point out) I was taught to dress business casual. A certain amount of unnatural hair color was ok, as were facial piercings and multiple ear piercings and some visible body art was acceptable. The chiropractors had it the worst though - polos, button ups, natural colored hair, no body art - boring, corporate and very “professional”.
In my own practice, nobody has a problem with me wearing jeans, my purple hair or my nose ring. Why? We’re taught professionalism is how we look. It always seems to be the focus of every professionalism lecture in school. But professionalism has very little to do with how we look and everything to do with how we act.
Over the past few years I’ve come to realize there are four main categories patients judge our professionalism on - pricing, punctuality, propriety, and personal boundaries. Like with professional dress each of these will differ from practitioner to practitioner. However, the practitioners who are successful in their field have properly established boundaries within each of these four categories.
This is the first of four articles about professionalism in patient management and I’m going to start with pricing.
Money is a delicate matter
Pricing is the least obvious of all of the professionalism categories.
Professional pricing and systems around payments are two of the best ways to establish patient trust. They demonstrate how much you value what you do and how much of a business person you are. I’ve seen many practitioners who don’t professionally handle their pricing lose patients or worse, get taken advantage of by patients because they don’t maintain pricing professionalism.
Have your pricing readily visible or accessible - put it in an obvious part of your website. If you have your pricing listed across multiple platforms or pages, make sure they are the same in each location. A patient should know how much your services cost before they walk in the door. If they don’t, you don’t need to have them posted, but have them listed attractively on a laminated sheet you can hand them.
Discounts demonstrate how much you value your patients but also how much you value your services - I worked for a business that handed out 50% new patient coupons and while the point was to bring in new business, it only ever brought in people who were looking for a deal and gave shitty tips. They didn’t value the services I gave - they just wanted their annual massage and they wanted it cheap. It made me feel like my work wasn’t really worth anything and none of them came back because they’d move onto the next practitioner they could use their coupon with. I don’t take those coupons anymore and business improved.
I do offer four discounts though; a practitioner discount, a veteran’s discount, an educational (teachers and students) discount and a new patient discount. It has been 20% but I’ve been considering 15%. All the same amount. No coupons. Not stackable. And they are applied whether the patient remembers to ask for them or not. Some places make you ask for the new patient discount but I feel like it tricks the patient out of their money. It’s slippery to not tell the patient about a discount that’s available and at the same time expect them to ask for it to get it.
I’m considering dropping those discounts all together and plan to offer 1-2 major deals per year only to my newsletter list. That’s right - my established clients. I want to thank the people who give me my business.
The point is, if you lower prices to get people into the door, those patients are less likely to be your ideal patients. Your ideal patients are the ones that stick with you. Those are the people we need to show our gratitude to.
Have consistent pricing - first of all, this is a matter of legality. You get into some pretty serious grey areas if you change around your pricing all the time. And it’s a major no-no to offer one patient one price and another a different one. I’ve known practitioners who “grandfather in” old patients when they raise their prices so new people get the advertised price and the old patients don’t. I find this unethical, but I understand it - the fear of losing your client base when you raise your prices is daunting.
Here’s the thing though - if your work is good, your patients won’t leave you over $5-$10 a session. If you lose some, you’ll make it up in the next few months. Ask for what you’re worth.
There’s a pricing sweet spot - Knowing the pricing of services around you isn’t just important for your business plan. These practitioners help you find the sweet spot for pricing. One of the things I learned in my marketing class was that customers look for a sweet spot. Obviously, if a price is too far above that sweet spot people will think you’re over-charging. But if you charge too little you won’t bring people in the doors either - they’ll think you’re cheap, poor quality or desperate.
Ask for what you’re worth - I’m sure you’ve noticed this as a theme, but it really needed it’s own section. You have a responsibility to your patients to stick around. It takes quite a bit of vulnerability and courage to come into someone’s office and ask for help. That relationship is built on trust. You need to make sure you ask enough from all of your patients so you can keep the lights on, go home and have a roof over your head.
Have a structure around accepting payments - Maybe you’re cash-only. Maybe you’ll accept checks. Maybe you’ll barter. Whatever it is you do, do it consistently. I always take payment at the end of my sessions. I know practitioners who only do it before. I always follow up payment with an offer to reschedule. There is a pattern and flow my patients expect. Since the expectation is there, it’s difficult for either of us to miss a step. Patients pay, patients reschedule.
These just scratch the surface of pricing professionalism and they’re really just my take. Professionalism is a personal philosophy - everybody is going to do it a little differently. The key isn’t whether or not you plan to take discounts, or what payment methods you will and will not accept. It’s consistency.
Professionalism is consistency.