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An Interview with Thomas Cobb of Left Coast Acupuncture

December 09, 2016 Clinic Spotlight Interviews

Our second Clinic Spotlight interview has been transcribed with Thomas Cobb who owns Left Coast Acupuncture.  A multi practitioner clinic located in Oakland, California.

Thomas Cobb’s objective is “to share your knowledge and experience with others that may be further behind you in years, knowledge, experience or success”

Left Coast Acupuncture streamlines their practice using Unified Practice’s acupuncture software.

What are some of the key things you’ve done or developed that resulted in improving the business side of your clinic?

Thomas Cobb: Some of the key things I have done in order to grow my practice have been to put 90% of my focus into marketing, create an organized system of managing the practice, and focusing on patient care and satisfaction. I have offered discounts, created flyers and handed them out, advertised on the web with things like Google Ad Words, Group on and Yelp. I worked extra hard and very long hours because I felt I needed to spark a fire with nothing more than a flint and a stone. Sounds dramatic but I believe it’s a pretty accurate description of any new business. Luckily, most people could benefit from Chinese medicine and a whole lot of people are interested.

In regards to creating an organized system of managing the practice, I chose to use Unified Practice, which is an acupuncture EHR. If you do not know what that is I am sure the people whom asked me to do this Clinic Spotlight Interview can explain it to you. If you choose to use an EHR so much of the headache of running a practice becomes 99% more simplified. Everything you need is there, scheduling, invoicing, herbal pharmacy management, paperless charting, billing insurance and more I’m sure that I am not aware of. This simply free’s up your time to focus on marketing while increasing #3 on my list by contributing to an overall increase in patient satisfaction. Of course, they are impressed when they see how organized and modern you are by being able to book online, take very detailed notes on your iPad, and streamline the patient on boarding experience. I really believe that a lot of what keeps patients coming to your practice has to do with aesthetics, do they like the way your clinic looks and smells? Are they greeted warmly and deeply listened to and cared for? Do they trust you? Is your bathroom clean? Does walking into your clinic immediately dispel any doubts they have in you as a practitioner? Ease their mind by constantly improving and optimizing their experiences.

Focusing on patient care and satisfaction is extremely important, hopefully, that is very obvious to everyone. I came from a background of working in restaurants and I apply a lot of what I learned doing that to my acupuncture practice. How can I be of service and create a memorable experience for my patients. All of my rooms have a warm table and soothing music. I warm their feet with a heat lamp and use high-quality incense or essential oils to enliven their sensory experience. I try my hardest to listen deeply and connect with them. I ask questions about their medical condition AND try and connect in some other ways as well, such as ask about their days, or just get into a good conversation with them. I believe that the more they trust and like you, the more responsive they will be to your treatment, and for sure that is probably the main reason why they come back to see you. I also always convey what I am doing in regards to the acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment in words they can easily understand, usually western biomedical concepts such as organ function, inflammation, endocrine function, increasing digestion and elimination etc.

One more thing, in the beginning, I gave a lot of discounts and free treatments. A lot of times I would see between 10-20 patients a day and the only way I made that happen was through opening the door WIDE by decreasing the cost. Although I wasn’t making much money, I was getting the word out to the community that I existed and at the same time doing what I thought of as my Clinical Residency 🙂

What are the key lessons that have transformed the way you acupuncture practice or work with your patients?

Thomas Cobb: The key lessons that have transformed the way I practice are pretty much focused on the answer to the previous question. Just finding ways to go deeper into that and find more nuances. When ever there have been mistakes made I always try and learn from them. For example, once I received a call from someone saying they called multiple times without getting a callback, so I created a system that prevented that by making sure I check my voicemail and missed call log before I leave the clinic. A huge lesson has been the understanding that where you practice is very important. This came up recently as it was time to renegotiate my lease. I realized that a lot of what I built could be lost if I had to move to a new location. I actually made a huge mistake by not thinking about that before hand and agreeing to a very short lease. Another mistake that I made was that I didn’t at first create treatment plans, or set expectations for a course of treatment. I also had to learn to get past being timid of sales and accepting money. It’s not like I have solved all these problems actually, it’s just that I recognize them and continue to work on them. I still can’t seem to stop giving discounts or even treating people for free if they need it. But honestly, some of that is ok, but that free time could be used to market more effectively, or even rest so that I can be fresher and more present when I am with my patients. There are so many things other than Chinese medicine knowledge that I see as having a huge influence on my practice and it’s a continually evolving, super creative, and learning experience.  

What advice would you give a practitioner that is just starting their clinic?

Thomas Cobb: Get out into the community and market yourself. There are many ways and even some that suit the shyest of people, which I feel like I am. When I first started, I had to give a talk in front of a crowd of people. My hands were sweat and my heart beat faster. So I chose to focus on other ways. Now I am to the point where I really want to focus giving talks in order to meet clients. Do step one, which is a market to meet patients then the rest will happen naturally I believe.

Don’t be overconfident, don’t oversell what you do and promise to make miracles happen. Miracles to happen, but often we are in a relationship with a client that is more like a journey. Even if you have someone coming in with some low back pain and you can take care of that maybe you can help them continue to work on their total health.

And finally, take care of yourself by loving what you do. When challenges come, which they will, at least you can rest assured that you have a lot of freedom and that that is actually a huge blessing.

We thank Thomas Cobb for taking the time to be our guest in the Clinic Spotlight interviews and we wish him continued success with his clinic.

Stay tuned for more Clinic Spotlight interviews where we’ll discuss what lessons, tactics, marketing tools other clinics are using to grow their TCM and acupuncture practice.