5 Ways to Break the Ice With Patients

by Jonathan Goodman | Follow on Twitter

Improve your sales consultations, get better results with your patients, and create stronger bonds with current patients to get more referrals.

Note from the editor: Specific clinical examples have been supplemented by Dr. Alison Chen, ND.


Spending an hour or two 1-on-1 with a person is intense.

Doing this multiple times a week or month and you must like the person.

Talking about your insecurities, health issues, and the stuff you’re bad at is a lot of peoples personal hell–but it’s what our patients do.

We’re physicians and this is what we deal with. You must break the ice with patients as quickly as possible in order to start on the road to a strong relationship.

Incorporating these 5 habits and making them unconscious behaviors in your ND business will help you with your sales consultations, get better results with your patients, and create stronger bonds with current clients to get more referrals.

1 – Listen, Pause, and Respond.

It’s hard to slow down sometimes as hectic as a practitioner’s day can be. You sometimes need to go from being an intense motivator to compassionate listener to salesperson all in one visit. Seconds before greeting any new patient repeat to yourself these words, “listen, pause, respond” until it becomes second nature.

Count to 2 steamboats anytime a patient has presumably finished their sentence. Follow these 3 simple steps:

  1. Take stock of their thoughts
  2. Paraphrase them back
  3. Decide on your response

You should not be planning out your response while they’re talking. Try concentrating on your breathing right now and I bet it makes it hard to concentrate on anything else. No matter how hard we try, human beings are terrible multi-taskers.

2 – Oh, You Went to Mexico too. How Was it?

Whenever a patient comes into the clinic new or old you should say two things before starting the visit, following up on their homework, or describing your plans for the day:

  1. Give them a sincere compliment. Take a second to look at them, smile, and identify something that you feel they may care about. If they dress nicely and seem to be peacocking with a particular piece of clothing or handbag, compliment them on it. Maybe she just got her nails done or he’s got a sweet pair of sunglasses. Try to find something; it could be material or physical.
  2. Connect with the patient on a level outside of the health realm. If he’s got on a Hard Rock Cancun shirt, start the meeting talking about his recent trip to Mexico. If there’s nothing discernible on the client to comment on you can choose to omit this part.

Bonus tip: Keep a small sticky note in the front of your patient’s file for miscellaneous details. This is something you can easily glance at as you open their file. Asking about their son’s birthday party or recent vacation that she mentioned during her last appointment will remind her how much you really care. These small details are what build rapport.

I often include names and ages of their immediate family, pet’s names, where they and their spouse work, and favorite foods/ hobbies/ activities. At the end of the patient’s visit add a couple details to the sticky note as a reminder for their next appointment.

3 – The Day I Fell on My Butt

I had been working out at the gym lifting some decent weights. I was on my last set of my last exercise, curtsy lunges with a 30lb barbell. I was tired after doing heavy squats, walking lunges, leg press and plyometric box jumps. On the last rep I tweaked my QL (quadratus lumborum). It was a bit sore but nothing a little acupuncture, rest and magnesium couldn’t fix.

The next day, I went into clinic. I had a bunch of research to do and so I got in early. As I went to sit down on my fancy office chair my back seized, the chair went rolling off behind me and I landed right on my butt.

For the rest of the day I couldn’t bend over to do any physical exams or acupuncture.

Ironically, I recognized how important it was to share this story with clients as I was hobbling around the office. While exercise and healthy habits comes naturally to most Naturopaths, it’s foreign to new clients. Telling them a story about a time when you screwed up trying something new or basic allows you to both have a laugh and connect on a different level.

4 – Practice Isopraxism

Mimic your patient’s behavior. On an unconscious level, it creates a strong bond. Consider a walk with a close friend or a loved one. Without thinking, you both tend to walk in stride with one another and the pace and volume of your speech will be the same.

Isopraxism helps establish rapport and empathy. Follow your clients lead: If he or she speaks softly, so do you. If he laughs, you laugh. Lastly, if they stand to show you an injury or demonstrate a movement, you stand and if they sit, you sit. Be on their level and never talk down to a patient.

I’ll also add to this section that it’s important to speak to them on their level technically. A personal trainer may appreciate the use of medical jargon but a 35 year old mother of 3 may be turned off when you talk about how elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood can be due to an impaired re-methylation pathway, which requires methionine synthase with the help of vitamin B12 and folate to catalyze the reaction.

5 – How Approachable Are You Really?

I know that you’re super nice, passionate, and deeply want to help. But if you’re in great shape and/or good looking, you may come off as intimidating to an un-seasoned patient. Lack of information isn’t what’s keeping unhealthy people out of our clinics, it’s partly because the environment is so intimidating and getting onto a healthy regiment is daunting for a lot of people.

Put yourself in your patient’s shoes and imagine that you’ve never stepped foot into a Naturopathic’s office before or have been failed by the healthcare system multiple times:

You can’t seem to get into a healthy routine and it’s left you with a lack of confidence and self-esteem. After another year trying to motivate yourself to try to get in shape and start eating better, you finally take the plunge. You fork over the cash and book an appointment hoping that this time you can finally start to feel better.

You see the pretty girl at the desk that looks like she could eat chips every day and immediately decide that this might not be the best idea. But you forge on and walk forward.

To your surprise, she greets you with a big smile, says hello, asks how you are, compliments you on your bag asking you where you got it, and invites you to have a seat telling you that Samantha will be right with you to show you around.

Sam shows up and looks to be in great shape but isn’t wearing 6-inch heels, a mini-skirt or tight fitting shirt. As you stand to greet her, she smiles, compliments you on your shoes, and asks you if you just went away on vacation because you have a sea shell necklace on.

Another clinician walks by, Sam introduces him as David and he gives you a big smile saying hello and asks you how you are before walking out of the door. Sam then walks you to her office, takes your coat and offers you a seat before she takes hers. Smiling, she asks you about your day and seems actively interested.

Smiling, taking an avid interest in others, and being approachable is important all the time; in a clinic it’s imperative. The second somebody new walks into your office, everything from the person at the front desk to the clinic tour and all other employees need to understand that their appearance alone can be intimidating enough to ensure a new patient never comes back.

We’re in this together. Obesity, chronic disease and mental illness are real and is not caused by lack of information. Adherence to exercise, nutrition and healthy lifestyle protocols are embarrassingly low. Let’s work to make people comfortable and look forward to their clinical experience first before even thinking about what protocol may be right for them.

About the Author
Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is the co-creator of theNDDC and creator of thePTDC, the largest collaborative site for people looking to how to become a personal trainer. He is the author of Ignite the Fire. Jon maintains a personal blog where he speaks about business, the Internet, life, and everything in between at Viralnomics.