With the mis- or under representation of Chinese medicine modalities in the Australian Health Care system, practitioners often struggle to charge properly for their services and products. One conversation I often have with colleagues is how and what to charge for herbal products. ‘Let me talk to the patient to find out if they are prepared to pay for the herbs?’ is a statement I often hear from practitioners. It astounds me because, why would we ask our patients if they want herbs? Isn’t it the practitioners responsibility to suggest when and what herbs should be brought into the equation of the treatment strategy?
To achieve a better understanding, it’s worthwhile to look at some psychological aspects of our profession. In Australia, with around 4,500 registered practitioners, we represent less than 1% of the workforce. The system and language that we use is very different to the Western medicine faculty. Even the complimentary or allied health services like Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, and Osteopaths work based on the evidence based Western medicine model. And even though there is more research emerging particularly for acupuncture, there is still a vast difference to how we consider the body, mind and spirit. The basis of the philosophy is derived from and ancient system originating in the East.
With this model, comes a different language and a completely different paradigm. We are ridiculed for not only the language that we use but also the entire model that we promote. Statements from Edzard Ernst, a powerful opponent of any complementary medicine modality like ‘In view of all this, the WHO’s endorsement of TCM and its obsolete concepts is not just not understandable, it is a dangerous step backwards and, in my view, even intolerable’ undoubtedly influence us. Could it potentially lower our confidence across the profession?
As much as we are committed to assisting our patient with their health and wellbeing, it’s a profession and we are required to make an income from treating patients. Could we, due to be undervalued ourselves, undervalue what we offer and what we charge? Could we fear rejection from our patients when ‘selling’ our services? Is there a possibility that we take things to heart? Or do we lack assertiveness and self-confidence? Could this affect us negatively, so we lose confidence all together in prescribing proper tailored herbs rather than giving our patients pre-manufactured patents that are readily available everywhere?
These are genuine questions and I would love to get more insight. I am not a psychologist, neither do I want to become one, I am simply interested in what stops us from thriving. At the same time, I would love to start the discussion on how we could transform scarcity to abundance.
In February 2017, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that ‘Roughly a third of what individuals spend on health – to the tune of $9.3 billion – goes on vitamins, supplements, over-the-counter painkillers and other unsubsidised drugs. It is more than the combined sum we spend on dental care and hospitals.’ This is a large sum spent by individuals on products that might or might not improve our patient’s health and wellbeing. Which brings me to the point, if Australians spend roughly over $3 billion dollars on unprescribed medicines, we need to strengthen our case and make sure that the prescription of tailored medicines for our patient might make a big difference to their health and wellbeing. Surely, there will be money put a side for that!
So, for those practitioners that state that using a dispensary service is expensive, I would like to ask the question: Compared to what exactly? Compared to the use of patents? Compared to doing your own dispensing in your solo clinic? Compared to supplements? Here we are, rendering an excellent health service to our patients which gives them a new perspective and assists in ‘easing their pain’ and we don’t dare charging for it properly? Or worse, assuming that your patient can’t afford it. Do you see where I am going with this?
In our clinic database there are roughly 1,200 patients. Currently, we have five patients on ‘communal’ rates which means they have a heavily reduced price so they can come in weekly for an extended period of time as they need ongoing care after a severely traumatic incidence in their lives. We also have a 10% discount on treatments for Health Care card and Pension card holders. However, we never ever discount herbs, because herbs cost what they cost. And our clinic is situated in regional Victoria where the socio-economic profile is lower.
Another example, I wanted to share with you in relation to pricing is that we have recently put up prices for senior practitioners to discourage new patients to book with them as they are busy already and surprisingly, it has caused the opposite effect. Similarly, a rise in prices for liquid extracts at the beginning of this financial year has not stopped single person to have them prescribed.
Asking our patients for payment for our services and products is not unreasonable. Working as a Chinese medicine practitioners is a professional activity and having spent the money on our education and registration, we have to charge for our services accordingly.
I would love to hear your opinion, you can either email me or join our discussions on the Facebook group that supports the health and wellbeing of Chinese medicine practitioners: