Responding to Patient Resistance Before It Happens
Have you ever sent a patient on their way with a thorough recommendation plan that included a 3-month supply of supplements, only to get a call later that day asking if they can return the products? They aren’t certain they want to begin the protocol. They still have questions.
You are baffled. Where did things go wrong? Why aren’t they on board to achieve better health? What is the best way to help now?
This is what resistance looks like. Resistance is human, resistance is normal, and resistance actually serves a meaningful purpose. Resistance drives us to ask questions and to seek understanding. Resistance can occur toward anything and at any time, but it most often bubbles up in response to change.
Resistance poses a challenge for integrative clinicians, whose protocols rely on patients’ willingness to embrace health-promoting change. It is inevitable that sooner or later, those recommendations will be met with resistance. Resistance leads to questions, and satisfactory answers to those questions is one path to acceptance.
Most clinicians will ask patients if they have any questions. This is great, but the problem with this approach is that many patients will not think of their questions until they have left the office and their minds have had a chance to relax.
If you want to sidestep resistance—before it even happens—we suggest you anticipate the questions and answer them before they can ever be asked.
Be honest with your patients and tell them exactly what you are doing. Tell them that you know patients have a lot of questions when starting something new, and you aim to answer those questions up front.
The questions that are relevant in your practice and to your patients may not be the exact questions listed here, but this will give you a place to start.
Do I really need to change my diet and lifestyle?
Scientific research abounds to support the role that lifestyle plays in health and disease. Smoking cigarettes undeniably increases the risk of cancer and heart disease. Drinking soda, even diet soda, worsens diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Exercise reduces the risk of colon cancer. Adequate sleep improves mood. Lifestyle changes are often the foundation of integrative protocols. Patients can choose not to make those changes, but they will not see the full benefit.
Why do I need to take these dietary supplements?
When patients truly understand the reason behind your recommendations, they will be convinced, committed, and compliant. The more detail you can give your patients about why you recommend each and every supplement, the better they will understand. Show them the results of their laboratory assessments or tell them that your recommendations are supported by evidence-based research. Just like the lifestyle changes, they do not need to take the dietary supplements unless they want to achieve the greatest benefit from your services.
Is there research to support these recommendations?
Not all patients will ask this question, but the most inquisitive patients will. Be honest about where there is research and where there is not. Your recommendations will be based on research in some cases, on laboratory results in others, and on clinical experience in others.
4. Are there any side effects?
Patients who are familiar with conventional medicine are familiar with side effects. Natural therapies tend to have fewer side effects than pharmaceutical medications, but it is helpful to disclose any potential discomforts that your recommended protocols might create.
5. Are there any interactions with over-the-counter medications?
It is good practice to ask patients if they take any over-the-counter medications. Natural products are not inert, and many do pose drug-nutrient interactions. Inform patients of any known interactions up front, and ask them to tell you if they start new medications.
How long will I need to follow this protocol?
This may be one of the most important questions to answer up front. Most lifestyle protocols require a commitment of 6 months or longer. Make sure your patient has realistic expectations.
When should I follow up?
Be sure to schedule the patient for a follow-up appointment before they leave the office. This is not a question you want to leave unanswered.
Resistance is an emotional process that is completely natural. We propose that you respond to resistance before it ever arises. When the questions arise later, the patient will realize that they already have the answers. With understanding, resistance will melt away and transform into acceptance. The result will be improved patient compliance and fewer questions outside of office visits.