Whenever I meet with a new patient, I ask them about any previous chiropractic experience they’ve had… It’s important to know if they’ve been to a chiropractor in the past, or if this is their very first experience having their spine adjusted.
They usually have very positive things to say about their past experiences. The reason they’re looking for a different doctor is simply because they moved to a new city, the previous doctor retired, or they’ve developed a new problem that would benefit from a different approach.
Occasionally, however, a particular experience motivates them to seek help elsewhere. When this occurs, I like to learn more about what happened, and why they were dissatisfied.
I’m going to outline some of the more common responses that patients have shared with me over the past 15 years. Before I do, however, I want you to know that this not a reflection of the profession as a whole. The majority of patients love visiting their chiropractor and have favorable overall experiences.
If any of these shenanigans sound familiar, don’t get upset. I’m not suggesting that you need to switch chiropractors. But if you’re ever dissatisfied or uncomfortable with your experience in a chiropractic office, changing doctors is much easier than you might expect.
So, let’s begin…
1) “Required” Care Plans
A very common reason patients have told me they switched chiropractic offices is because of care plans that insist upon a specific number of office visits.
It sounds something like this… “He showed me my x-rays, made a few markings on them, and gave me this packet of information. Then he told me it would take a year to fix my problem and I needed 50+ visits. The only choice I was given was how I wanted to pay for it.”
Can you imagine restaurants refusing to serve you until you agree to eat there every week for a year? What if airlines wouldn’t let you board a plane until you signed a contract that binds you to a specific number of roundtrip flights?
Sounds pretty silly, right? These militant offices expect you to be fully committed to the process. If you aren’t, they won’t “accept you” as a patient. What is this, North Korea?
2) Appointments Were Too Frequent
Another common reason patients switch chiropractors is because they have to go too often. This typically unfolds in one of two ways.
First, the patient is told they “need” biweekly visits. For some people, this can be an impossible expectation. Having incompatible work hours, or living impractical distances from the office makes receiving the recommended care stressful or inconvenient. So it’s easy to understand why people search for more suitable options if going to/from the office becomes a hassle.
Second, the benefits of the adjustment are short-lived. The adjustments feel great, but each one seems to only last a few weeks. So they begin searching for different ways to manage their problem, and discover that other chiropractic methods could potentially have a longer lasting effect.
(A footnote I’d like to add is that there are many different ways to adjust the spine, and each has its own recommended treatment interval for optimum results. While each has merit, some of these methods require more frequent adjustments than others. It’s up to you to decide what you’re most comfortable receiving.)
3) Didn’t Like the Chiropractor’s Method of Adjusting
Some people find the physical experience of having their spine “popped” quite comfortable, if not pleasurable. Others get weirded out by it, or find it too forceful. One of the most repeated reasons for switching chiropractors that I’ve heard is, “I don’t like having my neck twisted.”
Instrument-based methods are a popular twist-free alternative to conventional chiropractic adjusting. It’s perfectly acceptable to develop a technique preference… it’s also normal to experiment with different methods until you find what works best for you.
4) Not Enough Time With the Doctor
This is a common complaint with doctors in general. No one wants to feel like they’ve been shuffled in and out without having their concerns adequately addressed.
The process of getting adjusted doesn’t take long. You’re not paying for time spent in the office; you’re buying the benefits of an adjustment. But there’s no excuse for taking the “care” out of healthcare. Being treated like cattle doesn’t make a patient feel good.
Allow me to paraphrase a concern I’ve heard a number of times over the years:
“A massage therapist would rub my back for a minute or two, then I’d wait there with my face down on the table. Eventually the doctor would come in, and after barely acknowledging me, adjust me a few different ways, pat me on the back and say I did great, then leave. He didn’t ask if I had any questions, or if anything new was bothering me.”
Similarly, patients want to know the doctor is present and attentive while recognizing their concerns. Here’s one I’ve heard variations of multiple times… “She walked in, called me by the wrong name, and asked me how my ankle was doing… but I was there for help with carpal tunnel syndrome.”
5) Passed Down to an Associate
It’s not uncommon for a chiropractor to get so busy that he needs to hire an associate doctor to assist with patient care. This is normal. Unfortunately, not all associates are as clinically experienced as the doctor you were originally seeing… So after enough sub-par adjustments, patients begin to look elsewhere because they’re tired of not getting the quality treatment they’ve come to expect.
I’ve also heard scenarios where a charming and outgoing doctor handles all the new patients, then passes them along to a different (less personable) doctor to do all the adjusting. This can make people feel like all the focus was placed on getting them in the door, then casting them aside once they were there.
6) Unreasonable Wait Times
A chiropractic office isn’t an ER. There’s really only a handful of treatments we offer, none of which take very long to perform. So when a doctor makes patients wait lengthy periods of time, it’s frustrating. I’ve heard very specific things like “she routinely made me wait while she handled personal issues during my appointment” and “Multiple times I had to wait outside the office for 20-30 minutes because he wasn’t there yet, and didn’t bother to apologize after he arrived, or explain why he was so late.”
I’ve also heard complaints about poor office efficiency. For example, taking several days to return phone calls, neglecting to bill insurance companies in a timely manner, and even being “forgotten” in a therapy room.
Bottom line, when patients feel their time isn’t being respected, they look elsewhere, especially if the quality of care isn’t worth the wait.
7) Heavy Sales Tactics and Scare-Plans
Would you be surprised if I told you that there are coaching programs that chiropractors pay tens of thousands of dollars for that will teach them persuasive sales techniques?
It looks something like this…
Patients sit down with the doctor (as well as the decision-making spouse “for support” when applicable) and hear an artfully crafted presentation on why 12-months of care is imperative. It can be an emotionally manipulative experience, cautioning you about how dreadful life will be with a deteriorating spine. Much like buying a used car, the huckster says whatever it takes to get you sign on the dotted line.
Fortunately, people are getting wise to this approach. More and more patients have learned to recognize disingenuous tactics. I wish I could tell you this doesn’t happen at all anymore, but sadly, it still does.
8) “Cult-Like” Atmosphere
It pains me to say it, but more than a few patients have used the phrase “cult-like” to describe their experience in a previous chiropractic office.
Visiting such an establishment (which is often a franchise) can feel like you’re participating in a “movement” or involved in a religious sect. They implement monthly community lectures or wellness presentations that are peppered with biblical references and inspirational testimonials designed to invoke likemindedness.
A passionate and personable doctor with a well-trained staff can attract hordes of impressionable people who gravitate to the “herd” mentality. Stimulating one’s psychological need to belong can have a powerful impact on their decision making.
I’m sure most these doctors mean well — deception isn’t their intent. They very much believe what they’re saying… But they expect you to “have faith” in it too, and they make no apologies for pressuring you into making an “investment” and modeling your lifestyle after their own.
You can expect them to offer deep discounts for your family members if they accompany you to the office, because if you’re trying to prevent cancer and live forever (or whatever BS they’re selling), shouldn’t they get on board too?
There’s never an end to chiropractic care in offices like this… it’s unapologetically intended to become part of your weekly routine, as well as your identity.
They cluster 10 or more appointments together to give the (manufactured) impression of “social proof” – others are doing it, so should you! They want everyone to believe they’re really busy “saving lives” in the community. Groupthink is a powerful thing, and they milk it for all it’s worth.
Hundreds of obedient patients willfully adopt the charismatic doctor’s vision. They’ll wear the office logo on t-shirts, attend marketing events to help the doctor spread his/her message, and maybe start working part-time in the office as an assistant.
Barf. Honestly, I felt dirty just writing this description. It’s nauseating to hear about practices like this… If you encounter such an office, use your best judgement before drinking the Kool-aid.
I’d like to reiterate that these are simply a collection of shared responses from patients I’ve met throughout my career. It’s not a reflection of the entire chiropractic profession.
You don’t need anyone’s blessing or permission to change doctors. So if you’ve been thinking about looking around, go ahead and explore your local options. You might find a great new chiropractor without all the tomfoolery!