Transforming a Practice Philosophically
By Freelance Writer Beverly Knight
When Michael Stratton, D.C., graduated from Sherman in June of 2005, he began working for a chiropractor in his home state of Florida as soon as he was licensed. After several years, he made a decision that he wanted to be his own boss, to establish a practice based on his personal beliefs about chiropractic care.
That decision has resulted in more than one relocation for Stratton and his family. He and his wife, Camille, have two children, a son, Takeo, who is three and a half, and a daughter, Mika, who is not yet a year old. Within three months of moving to a new office, they also packed up and moved to a new house. “My wife is pulling her hair out,” Stratton says of the stress of making those two moves with two small children.
But after he purchased the satellite clinic, Lakelands Family Chiropractic, and proceeded to set up his own practice there, he knew that the move was the right one for him. Going out on his own gave him the opportunity to structure the practice in a way that fit his own philosophy.
“The office philosophy for the practice I bought was primarily pain-based,” Stratton says. “I knew that a wellness practice was a better fit for my philosophical beliefs. I have a firm belief that chiropractic should be based on removing interference from the nervous system rather than treating pain symptoms, and I wanted to incorporate that into my practice.”
Making a transition in philosophy in an existing practice required a great deal of preparation and education. Before he bought the practice, he spent time there, seeing patients and getting familiar with how the office worked. Then in June of 2011, he completed the transition, hiring his own office manager and two massage therapists.
The doctor who had established the practice had been there for more than 25 years. Most of the patients were unfamiliar with the wellness philosophy and were accustomed to seeking care only when they were in pain. But Stratton is pleased that 60 to 70 percent of the patients were receptive to the changes he implemented, though some continued to see him only when they were in pain and others who could not accept the change in philosophy moved to other clinics.
“The first step my staff had to take was to help me educate the patients,” Stratton says of the patients who remained with the practice. He also had more than 40 patients who followed him from his previous office, so that the practice now totals 400 office visits a month.
A key to making the transition a successful one, Stratton says, is that he sought advice from others. “Absolutely the biggest thing I’ve done is get help. Everyone needs a coach who can guide him through the process. Someone looking from the outside in has a different perspective than you have yourself.” A few months into the new practice, the primary emphasis shifted to patient education. “We want to teach them not to focus on pain,” he says. “We ask them, ‘Why hasn’t your body been able to heal this?’ If we can get them to the point that they understand that the nervous system controls and heals the body, they’ll understand that eliminating the interference is the key.”
Health care classes are now conducted every other week for new patients. And since the office focus is on family practice, there are midwives who rent space there as well. Stratton is pleased with the transition and has as his immediate goal to grow the practice by 20 percent, with a long range goal of reaching 200 office visits a week.
“It’s important to do what you’re comfortable with,” Stratton says of his decision to take an existing patient group and educate them until they “get” your practice philosophy. “Patients will sense if you aren’t comfortable with your own practice. You must stay congruent with your message, and that is perhaps the hardest part of the transition,” he says.