Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chiropractic Business - What is the nature of the business

A few friends of mine sent me a great book to read by Jeff Jarvis, What would Google do. There is a chapter in the book that talks about what is the nature of your business and how most people don't know what business they are in.

Approximately 25 years ago a NYRR volunteer (non-medical) I was friendly with explained this concept to me. He worked in fleet rentals for Hertz and asked me what business is Hertz in? The obvious answer, which I said, was renting cars. He told me I was wrong. Renting cars wasn't a profitable business. The cost of advertising, reservation system, rental counters at airports, buses, lots, carrying charges on the cars and their maintenance was barely offset by the actual money received for the rentals. Thus, one can't really say that Hertz was in the car rental business.

He said that what Hertz did was the largest manufacturer and seller of used cars. That was because they sold the used car for more money than they bought the new car for but couldn't do this until it was used "enough." Those of us who rented from Hertz actually paid for the privilege of working to turn the new car into a used enough car so that Hertz could sell the used car we made back to us for a profit.

He used this as a metaphor for his belief that most companies have no idea what business they are in. This made me think about what business I, a practicing chiropractor was in.

As I said I was reminded of this by Jeff Jarvis' book WWGD. The question then is what business is a chiropractor in? Some in my profession would say that we are in the subluxation removal business. This is delusional. How many people who have never heard of chiropractic wake up and say, "gee I wish there was someone who could get rid of these darn subluxation." The obvious answer is no one. Now that could of course be because they didn't know the word. However, there isn't a vernacular term for the subluxation as is true with other medical conditions. People say that someone broke a bone, and might not know the term fracture. Or they'll know heart attack or stroke rather than myocardial infarction or cerebral infarction.

Some of my colleagues would say, but a person dying of heart disease, of cancer or diabetes or... does not know that they have these diseases until they become symptomatic. That is true. However, at this point in time my profession, chiropractic, has yet to find a valid or even reliable way to find a subluxation. Nor have we found that getting rid of them helps people or that a person with a subluxation is less healthy then a person without one.

On the other had there are valid and reliable tests for heart disease, cancers and diabetes. We also have good evidence that left untreated these diseases do kill and that with treatment patients can sometimes live much longer lives (depending on the specific disease, the stage at diagnosis).

Clearly there is good scientific evidence that spinal manipulation is a beneficial intervention. While the physical therapy profession and others have newly discovered the benefits of manipulation, after years of saying it was quackery, those benefits are found without the metaphysical aspects of the subluxation dogma some in chiropractic espouse.

Then what is a chiropractic business? Generally it is non-surgical spine care or another way to think of mainstream chiropractic is it is the non-surgical management of spinal pain disorders.

I say management because that might mean that chiropractor does all the diagnosis and treatment or it might involve an integrated approach where the doctor of chiropractic works to lead a team or be a member of a team whose goal is the improvement in a patient's spinal function.

Do chiropractors' management skills extend beyond the spine? Depending on the doctor the answer is yes. My own practice in NYC in the 1980s was mostly lower extremity conditions as most of my patients were runners. But I also treated a lot of cyclists, swimmers and triathletes so also saw a lot of upper extremity problems too. I was a sports chiropractor and thus had competency that extended beyond the spine.

Some of my peers think because I was a co-author on a paper titled: Chiropractic as spine care: a model for the profession that my co-authors and I believe that chiropractic has no place outside the spine. This is very far from the facts of our paper. We just believe that as a profession all of us need to, at minimum, be competent in non-surgical spine care and the profession needs to maintain the spine and its non-surgical care as the basic minimum competency. And come on when the public thinks of a chiropractor what do they think of? SPINE. I travel a lot and when people find out I'm a chiropractor they either grab their neck or the their back and say can you help me. No one has ever said - "oh I have a subluxation." That is despite the fact that so many chiropractors talk subluxation 24/7 even on the web.

An analogy. My family has had two occasions to consult oral surgeons. These doctors are trained as dentists. However, they do not have additional professional training at medical doctors. These dentists do not fill any cavities, or do other restorations that we ordinarily associate with dentists. Yet they are dentists. But the American Dental Association does not market dentistry as oral surgery. Still while these oral surgeons do not have training as medical doctors they do have additional training beyond what a general dentist has.

Likewise, for a chiropractor, such as myself, specializing in sports chiropractic there is the need for post-graduate training without that then the general chiropractic physician is a non-surgical spine specialist. Not a bad business to be in when over 90% of people will get back pain sometime in their life.


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