SECTION 3 - PART 2 - Rebooking
This part of the treatment process can be daunting for some practitioners but it is a crucial aspect that has an effect on a number of outcomes, both for yourself and your patient.
The main reason is that you may lose the opportunity to treat your patient again, and therefore lose any valuable momentum you may have gained with that initial treatment. If your patient walks out of your door without rebooking when you know they would benefit from another treatment, you have missed an opportunity to help them fully recover.
It is important that you do your best to book the next appointment before they walk out of your door! The worst thing that can possibly happen is that they will say no. While people may have the best intentions of rebooking of their own volition, living busy lives means that sometimes other things get prioritised over health. Always try to confirm your patient’s next appointment while you have them standing there. People are less likely to call to rebook on their own than they are to cancel a booking they have already committed to. If they seem hesitant, you can suggest that they book it in first and then cancel or move the appointment if they feel they have improved before then.
Most people will be happy to rebook if you explain to them the reason why. If they are seeing results, you will have no problem getting them to come back. I do not believe in selling patients on a number of treatments they don't need, but I am also adamant about getting the results they are after.
Fears about Follow-ups
Somewhere along the way, a misconception was developed that you only need one acupuncture treatment (particularly with musculoskeletal conditions) in order to set things right. Acupuncture may be effective, but rarely is it that any condition is going to resolve with just one session. Potential exceptions of course are things like wry neck, certain headaches or aches and pains, or when people are coming for a "tune up" treatment to help them get back into alignment.
As explained in 'The Treatment Plan', the actual truth is that many conditions can require two or more, or even a course of treatments, sometimes with ongoing maintenance treatments and even multimodality approaches depending on the severity, to ensure full recovery. As acupuncturists, some of us have a fear about asking people back for follow-ups, or suggesting that a course of 5, 10, or 20 treatments will be required.
Acupuncture is accepted as a respected allied health modality now more than ever. We are just as important to a patient's health and wellbeing as other modalities. People have no reservations about going to see a physiotherapist for multiple treatments yet we charge less and give more time!
The way I used to book people in for follow-ups was done as though I was asking them if it was OK to come back, or asking them if they felt like they needed another appointment. Yes some people are very aware of what they feel their body needs, but we are the practitioners and many people will be looking to us for our expertise on what they will require. These days, I advise the patient that they would benefit from X amount of treatments. I always give them my recommendation and ask how they feel about it so they are an active participant in their health journey. Obviously this can take time to build enough experience to deliver this confidently, but the more you do it, and the earlier you begin, the easier it becomes until it is second nature and just another component of a treatment.
The key thing to remember - explain to your patient the reason why, in your opinion, they require X number of treatments. Tell them this from your experience, if not then from research findings, to back up your proposal. If you are genuine and confident with your delivery, and if your patient is serious about improving their state of health, you will find that they will be willing to come and see you.
When a patient is nearing the end of their treatment course, or if there is a break coming up such as holidays, I ask them if they would like to book in for a check-up treatment in several weeks/ a month's time just to see how everything is going. This is an effective way of having them return to the clinic to make sure their condition is not regressing. The idea of a check-up allows the patient to feel that they are in good hands, and it allows you the opportunity to explore any other conditions that may arise.