Knowing how to choose a great chiropractor is no easy feat. In fact, the process of seeking out chiropractic care and the right provider can overwhelm the first-time patient. Medical care is divided into specialties (e.g., cardiology, pulmonology). The chiropractic field, on the other hand, has numerous variations that are less self-explanatory. The advice below is intended to teach you how to choose a great chiropractor.
1. The Doctor’s Personality
Bedside manner does not come naturally to all doctors. Chiropractic school doesn’t offer “bedside manner” classes either. You don’t have to like your chiropractor to have a positive outcome, but it’s important for the doctor and support staff to communicate clearly with you about your current condition and treatment plan. After all, if you don’t understand your condition and anticipated outcome, you may not feel confident with your care. You should interview your prospective chiropractor to make sure communication will not be an issue. A doctor who talks too much is probably not listening. A great chiropractor is compassionate, asks questions, and listens to what you’re saying.
2. A Great Mechanic
Who would go to a mechanic who placed a hand on top of the hood of your car and told you what the car needed? You might think, “Wow, this is a highly intuitive person.” You might also think, “This person is a nut.” There is little data to support accurate spinal diagnostics without the use of full spine X-rays. This is equivalent to looking under the hood, or even into the engine.
No chiropractor can accurately detect the majority of spinal conditions without an X-ray. Unfortunately, misinformation circulates regarding the safety of X-rays. The truth is, the radiation doses in medical diagnostics are more than 100 times lower than the measured threshold dose for radiation-induced cancer. In other words, the fear of X-rays causing cancer is grossly overstated. It is based on information derived from studies in the early 1900s. Today we know X-rays can be a valuable and safe diagnostic tool. The bottom line is, if your chiropractor doesn’t use X-rays, consider finding someone who does. This is important for diagnostics, as well as measurable improvement to your spinal structure.
3. Goal Setting
Both subjective and objective goals should be set prior to embarking on any treatment plan. Is the goal to eliminate or reduce pain? Is the goal to get back on the golf course in two months? You should set and track both short-term goals (within three months) and long-term goals (20 years or more). Setting defined goals increases the likelihood of success. When no goal is set, it leads to misunderstanding and a weaker outcome. When goals are met, new goals should be set to promote continued progress and optimal quality of life.
A great chiropractor will usually be able to tackle most spine issues without medical intervention. But for cases that don’t respond to treatment, it’s nice to know your chiropractor has relationships with physicians and MRI facilities that can help. Ideally, a great chiropractor will have a network of a few MDs to whom they can refer for more invasive testing when necessary.
5. Shop Before You Buy
Most chiropractors offer ways to try their treatment approach before you invest money, and many offer a free consultation. This way, prospective patients can learn about the practice philosophy, techniques, and procedures for diagnosis and treatment. Some offer new/prospective patient workshops. These are great opportunities for members of the community to meet the staff, learn about the practice’s clinical specialties, understand the practice’s target market (e.g., children, auto accidents, families), and ask questions. Take advantage of opportunities to sit in the reception area and observe interactions in the office. In addition, you should be permitted to speak to other patients about the care they receive. Always ask first: “Is there a patient or two I can speak to here about their experiences at your office?”
6. Great Office Goes Beyond the Doctor
What does the office look like? Is it clean? Is it up to date? The way an office looks says a lot about the practice. If a chiropractor has support staff (most do), are they friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful? All of these traits are important. You may spend more time working with them than the doctor. When you visit the office, how are you treated? Is the staff genuinely happy? If not, that is concerning. In a great chiropractic office, the aim is to be a beacon of health, happiness, life, and energy to all those who need us.
7. An Open Kitchen
I love going to restaurants where you can see inside the kitchen. I like to observe how clean the kitchen is and how the chefs are preparing the meals. Patients who similarly enjoy seeing “behind the scenes” may want to consider a chiropractor who is transparent.
In our Tucker office, we have an open floor layout. This allows patients to see what is going on behind the scenes. This format once seemed strange in restaurants and in physical therapy settings, but it has become increasingly accepted and desired in recent years. It’s not for everyone, but my patients and I love the friendly interaction and energetic vibe in our office. This takes us out of the dark days of chiropractic history when we had “curing closets.” It takes us into a fun, energized healing environment where patients can support one another. Of course, consultations, exams, and X-rays are done in private.
8. Minimal Wait Time
I am sure you have experienced going to the doctor’s office only to languish in the waiting room. Even though this has become commonplace, it is an unacceptable practice. When figuring out how to choose a great chiropractor, determine what the typical wait time is and measure that against what you honestly think is acceptable.
At our Tucker office, the patient wait time is usually less than 5 minutes. You want to see the best doctor, but you also want to see one who respects your time. Practitioners who don’t manage their appointment books usually have other mismanagement issues within their practice. Also, some chiropractors take more than 20 minutes to treat a patient while others take less than a minute. You might feel treatment time duration is what matters, but realize the duration of face-to-face time with the doctor is not directly proportional to results.
9. Home Care
It is inescapably true that in-office treatments are not enough for most patients to achieve lasting results. A great chiropractor teaches you how to keep your spine healthy between in-office treatments. Make sure you choose a great chiropractor who gives regular instructions regarding home exercises.
10. Utilize Online Research to Find a Chiropractor
Online research can help with how to choose a great chiropractor. For starters, to choose a great chiropractor, you want to rule out those who don’t have a great history. Each state has an online database that allows visitors to check if a chiropractor’s license is active and if they have any formal complaints against them. It’s like the CarFax of chiropractic! Search Georgia’s licensing board.
11. What Other Patients Say
Chiropractic practices should have raving fans who are happy to share their experiences. Don’t expect all reviews to be glowing. Chiropractors deal with health in a different paradigm and sometimes people are too ingrained in the medical model. These folks may express their dissatisfaction online. Read these reviews to understand their major complaints. Did they dislike the frequency of visits, or was the doctor addressing their overall health when they went for back pain? If so, these should not be of concern. If complaints point out the doctor did not listen, the office was not clean, or the receptionist was rude, you should beware.
As in any industry, online reviews can be real or false. Be sure to read carefully, including the chiropractor’s responses, and don’t rely on the star rating alone. Not all online reviews need to be five stars, as you can’t please everyone, but your future chiropractor should please most people.
12. Treatment Cost & Insurance
The consultation and exam should be thorough. Some chiropractors “give away” $49 initial appointments. For this price, don’t expect a thorough evaluation. It will typically pale in comparison with a detailed initial evaluation that costs five times this amount. A great chiropractor not only realizes the importance of a detailed evaluation but also values his/her time. You should know what the charge will be prior to receiving a service. You should also know whether your insurance will cover such charges. If you have questions regarding your insurance, you can verify your benefits by contacting your carrier to avoid surprises.
A note regarding insurance coverage: Some of the best chiropractors are not participating “in-network,” yet this may not impact you at all. For example, some plans have a $3,000 deductible and a limit of 20 covered chiropractic visits. Even if your first appointment costs $400 and each subsequent visit is $100, you will never hit your chiropractic deductible before your benefits max out. Just because an insurance company says you have a benefit doesn’t mean they let you use it.
You Are Making an Excellent Decision
Despite spending a higher portion of our GDP on healthcare than any other country, the U.S. ranks 37th out of 191 countries in efficiency, equity, and outcomes, according to the World Health Organization. (Of note, the U.S. does rank #1 in emergency care.) Additionally, we spend more per capita, yet we rank 39th for infant mortality and 36th for life expectancy.
Chiropractic has so much to offer children, adults, and seniors in terms of true healthcare. It helps us stay out of hospitals and avoid dangerous drugs, injections, and surgeries. I commend you for seeking out this phenomenal and highly successful method of regaining your health and vitality!
About the Author
Dr. David Shapiro, DC, CEO of Complete Spine Solutions
A graduate of Life University, School of Chiropractic 1993 (4600 postgraduate hours). Board certified licensed Doctor of Chiropractic. Passed 3 national board tests and the state of Georgia board examination. Also certified in therapeutic modalities.
Advanced Certified in Chiropractic BioPhysics, the most evidence-based technique in chiropractic. He’s been in private practice for over 25 years.