Kids Need Our Care: Building a Child (and Parent) Friendly Practice
There is so much beauty and meaning behind every child we touch as a doctor of chiropractic – it is an honor not to be taken lightly. There are so many sick children out there in need of your help, yet so many parents misguided and misinformed. So, how can you help them? How can you reach them? What should be considered when designing a child-friendly office? These are just a few of the questions I want to discuss with you now as a pediatric chiropractor focusing exclusively on the needs of children. Let's talk about the best strategies you can employ to build a family wellness / pediatric practice.
Taking care of children is something I am passionate about. If you have been in practice long enough, you already know there is no magic recipe or one-size-fits-all approach, but I have found effective ways to communicate, market to, educate and help families transition from their sickness model to a wellness model. Together, let's change the world and heal more children.
Selecting the Right Space / Building
What should you consider when choosing the appropriate office space (or new building) in which to promote your child-friendly practice? This may be the most important decision you make, so do not take it lightly.
Easily accessible from the highway or a major road
Ideally on the first floor
Easy to find if inside a building complex
Plenty of available / close parking
Of these, accessibility may be the most important – after all, you want the most people to be able to reach you from your surrounding metro-area, and you want to make it easy for them to come to your office for an appointment. I have more of a destination location; this means people do not drive by and decide to come in – they seek me out for a specific reason.
Nonetheless, my office is located between three major highways. Having good street exposure and clear signage is important regardless of your means of driving traffic to your door.
First-floor space is the second most important factor to consider – this may sound like a "duh" moment, but keep in mind that many parents have strollers, baby bags, assorted toys, car seats – and sometimes wheelchairs – so if they have to struggle just to get to your front door, it could be a deal breaker.
Please don't make parents find your office in one of those maze-type buildings; it's frustrating enough to load kids in the car and get them to their appointment on time. The harder and more painful you make accessibility, the harder it will be to get them to commit to care (at least with you).
And let's not forget about parking – I have practiced in areas where street parking was the only option, but whenever possible, ensure parents can always find a parking space close by. They will appreciate it whenever it snows or rains, and of course, being close to the office when they're loaded down with kids / bags / toys / etc. (see above) is always a good thing. Happy parents and kids are the goal.
Office Design: Make It Kid (and Parent) Friendly
Is your office designed to accommodate children? Parents always appreciate an office that is well-designed in this regard. Your office needs to truly accommodate infants through teens, as well as children of all ages with special needs. It would be a shame to lose a parent / child over poor office design. (Yes, this happens.)
If parents do not feel comfortable – or their children voice their own discomfort to their parents – they will go elsewhere. So, what to do? It is actually quite simple. My office is an extension of my home and I pride myself on sharing that experience with kids. After four locations, I have learned what can really make a difference. Here's a list of things to keep on the lookout for as you update your existing space or shop for new space to accommodate your family- and child-friendly practice:
As a business owner, you must think about how you want people to "feel" when they walk into your office. This will dictate your office color palette (walls, furniture, etc.), as well as what items you want patients to view / hear / etc. as they enter your office. For those of you less inclined to make design and color decisions, recruit a friend or family member to help you. In my office, I feature a soft teal palette that is calming to me and many of my patients.
You must think about layout for children when designing a kid-friendly practice. This is personal, of course, but you also must be practical. Think like a child - get on your hands and knees, and move around the office space. Can you grab anything dangerous? Do you have plug guards on all outlets? What would happen if a child jumped off the back of a reception-area chair? Are there any sharp corners they can hit? General rule: Do no harm; safety first.
I'm jealous of offices with cool water features, but they just do not work for kids. In my office, I would have kids licking the water and playing in it all the time.
Also pay attention to how low you hang pictures, etc., on your walls; the types of accessories you choose (lamps, etc.); and what you put on your counter surfaces – can a child (think infant through teens on everything) reach it? General rule: Don't leave anything within reach unless you are OK with a child playing with it or breaking it.
I have cabinets in my treatment rooms with exam equipment in drawers with safety locks. I also keep things like pens and my adjusting instrument outside the treatment rooms in an area easily accessed by me, but not children.
One of the most dreaded challenges parents face is the time spent waiting with their children before seeing the doctor. How do you handle this? At my office, they don't wait, which solves the problem, and if they do arrive early, we bring them back to one of our spacious treatment rooms, where the kids have toys to play with and space to be just that: kids.
If you tend to have patients waiting in your reception area, please coordinate a good space for the kids. Of course, you also want educational material or your favorite books / magazines available for parents to read while they're waiting.
Selecting toys for the office can be tricky. I bring this up because many offices I visit do a bad job in this regard. First, toys have to be washable, as germs are easily spread from one child to another when sharing toys. Second, I use noisy toys (which distracts them), and many parents don't have this type of toy at home because they are mind-numbingly annoying - which means they work perfectly in your dedicated kid space because they are new to the child. Third, think about stocking your space with wood toys, which tend to have fewer toxins and also are easy to clean. I ask parents to donate old toys to our office; whatever we can't use, we donate on their behalf.
Additional Ideas for Kid-Friendly Office Design
Wide hallways, calming colors and clean floors without clutter (or with items placed out of a child's reach for safety)
Large treatment rooms to fit strollers, large families, wheelchairs, etc.
Natural lighting is best because it is less irritating to children (and adults)
Fun colors in the treatment room and a pediatric table if you have room (mine is a pig) are a plus
A "kid corner" for children to occupy themselves is great; toys, stuffed animals and activities that are easy to clean up will keep kids busy. Keep your examining and adjusting tools in close proximity to where you sit so children have no chance to grab them
Two exits are nice so parents can remove kids who are having a difficult time without disturbing the reception room
Also ensure parents can privately speak with your front desk, not only for HIPAA compliance, but also for general parental comfort
Communication Is Key
There is no better way to attain healing, compliance, referrals and retention than to communicate your message loud and clear. In a pediatric-focused practice, as in any practice, the first step to success is education. An educated patient is a compliant patient; dictating care to them never yields long-term results or retention.
Educating your families starts before they come into your office for their first appointment. In today's world of high-speed data at our fingertips, you must engage them and provide the proper education from the start. This can include videos, social media and website information.
In my experience, complimentary phone consultations have been invaluable. Think like a parent for a moment: They go to doctor after doctor, anxious, nervous and scared about the health of their child. Do you want them to be experiencing these emotions when they see you? No; that is not a healing mindset. Instead, spend a few minutes on the phone answering their questions and concerns, switching that anxiety into reassurance and excitement.
Once a new family has engaged you as their provider and you have accepted them into your practice, it is imperative that you educate them at every turn. It is best to do this yourself. You also may choose to utilize a well-trained staff member and/or provide resources in your office. For example, many parents come to me after a bad experience with another provider. Why? In all cases, care was dictated to them without proper education on how to heal their child. Again, a poorly educated parent is a train wreck waiting to happen.
As the doctor, you must remember that compliance breeds success, which only comes from educating them on how care works, what you can do for their child and how long it will take for results to be seen.
There are a few things I do with every patient treatment plan to help ensure compliance and success:
I type and then print out my treatment plan so I can review it with the parents personally in the office. This is effective because often, parents only remember a portion of what was originally discussed. It also gives them a way to communicate with their primary-care provider, caretakers, therapists and teachers as needed on the care being provided and actions they are implementing to help the child.
I always give the parents resources (books, websites and printed materials) to take home and review. I don't make any recommendations on diet, supplementation, etc., that aren't covered in a handout or typed myself.
Finally, just because you type it does not mean parents read it, which is why you should take the time to go through all the information with them and answer any questions or concerns they may have.
Remember, the time you spend doing this will pave the road for compliance and trust, now and in the future. In addition, they will brag to their friends, family members and colleagues about how thorough you are, leading to referrals that will bring even more families to your door.
Other Ways to Educate
Speaking personally, webinars, monthly newsletters, social media and YouTube videos have proven to be amazing not just for educational purposes, but also to stay in touch with and in front of our parents / patients. Our monthly webinars are my favorite. While time consuming to make, they are a labor of love. They are free to anyone, not just patients. Why? Because many parents struggle with their extended families, babysitters, teachers, etc., not understanding their child or the care they are receiving. Education is the key to unifying families in crisis. By the way, these are also great marketing tools when posted on our website and social media pages.
Our newsletters are short and sweet, filled with applicable information about family wellness / health, the occasional recipe, and health warnings or current trends. We want parents to get the real story.
YouTube videos are trending and I absolutely love to make and share them. Patients seem to love the videos and access to information. They are a fantastic way to provide education outside the office and market your practice at the same time.
For example, I no longer have to explain to every parent how to mix supplements; I simply direct them to my 6-minute video and move forward with the appointment. These videos can be watched as many times as the parents need or want.
By the way, if you like these ideas, but don't have the time or ability to implement them right now, I welcome you to direct your parents to our YouTube videos and Facebook page, and forward our newsletter to help serve your families. No reason to reinvent the wheel.
You also should make sure you have a great website (or one to refer them to) that features scientific information / references to back up what you do for them. This helps ease their mind. In addition, offer classes in your office or online geared at the things parents struggle with most.
Marketing Tips: How to Bring in More Families / Children to Your Practice
Most of the tips for educating parents also have marketing value, but here are some starting strategies to appeal to this audience. It is important to keep serving children, which also will help grow our businesses. Beyond what we have covered, I suggest you adopt strategies you are good at doing or enjoy doing, such as speaking or screenings. Get out into your community and on social media to share your message and let parents know you are there for them. Answer common questions parents have.
You also may want to consider getting involved in your local school PTA, your church or synagogue, private school open houses, health fairs, regional / local conferences for mothers and children, and your local chamber of commerce to let parents know you are a family- and kid-friendly chiropractor ready to serve their needs.
I know running a private practice is hard. It can be the most difficult - but also the most rewarding - thing you ever do in your lifetime. You have been given a gift to heal, spent years of your time in school to be best; so let these tips add to your greatness and help move you to that next level. I implore you to help as many children as you can. Help them make wonderful changes to their lives and health.
By Amber Brooks, DC, CACCP, RN