The Community Acupuncture Approach – is it a Bad Business Model?


This is a nicer room than the one I was in!

Have you ever had community acupuncture before?  I’ve been going to a community acupuncture place for the last two weeks to experience it for myself.  It’s located in a plaza that houses a few shady looking places.

You walk in, and the waiting area reminds me more of a school than that of a professional office.  It feels non-air conditioned in the hot Phoenix day (and I don’t like cold a/c personally, but it was rather warm in there).  The seats you sit in in the waiting area are hard—ones you’d sit on so you wouldn’t fall asleep.

You can get in by walk-in pretty easily within a 20 min wait.  When it’s time for you to go in, you go to a room that has 10-12 recliners that are covered with white sheets.  The recliners are of different brands/sizes—looks like they could have been purchased from different garage sales, or donated by generous people.  You are in a room full of up to 12 people total reclined with acupuncture needles in them.

The acupuncturist is very skilled.  She walks in and asks you what you came in for within hearing distance of other people in the room.  (With the droning fans and attempt at low volume voice, I think patient privacy is supposedly kept, or maybe it’s understood that you waive your privacy when you decide to go to this sort of thing).   Then she places the acupuncture needles in you and reclines you for the rest of your treatment.  She charges $15-35 per visit on a sliding scale.

It feels very “Asian-ish”, meaning that it’s more about results than it is about the experience.  (you know—it’s like how authentic Asian restaurants are.  You may feel like they don’t care about servicing you—but the food is so good that you overlook the service). It’s also why many Asian restaurants don’t make much money–it’s all about high volume and it takes a lot to attract high volume.

That’s also why there are, for example, reflexology practitioners in spas charging $120/hr and some foot reflexology places are charging $15-25/hr for the “same thing”.  Same thing only in terms of the medical benefits of it, but not the same as it comes to the experience.

Here’s what you can learn about what I just shared, to apply it directly to your acupuncture, naturopathic, holistic MD, chiropractic, massage therapy, or health coaching practice:
It’s about being very clear about who you are in the marketplace.

Are you a Wal-Mart, or a Nordstrom? 

Do you want to have low margins and work with a lot of people?  Or do you want to work with fewer people more comprehensively and with more attentive care?  And what business model should you choose or switch to?  There are many ways to reach the same goal.

You can:

  1. Work with a lot of people.  You’ll need a business model that brings in a consistent high volume of patients/clients.  And one that you can handle without getting burned out. It doesn’t have to be one of just seeing patients. You can work with a lot of people in different ways, such as through programs you design (yes, even if you’re an acupuncturist, naturopath, or holistic MD)
  2. Help fewer people (which is often preferred if you’re an introvert) – so you can be more comprehensive with each person you help.  You can even choose to help the most committed people.  There’s a way for screening for that (vs ones who don’t show up for appointments, etc).  There’s something I’ll talk about in a different article about the sliding scale phenomena & whether to use a sliding scale.

You can charge more and then use the money you make to help a lot more people through other ways, because you have the feeling of security from money coming in the door.

Although there is no black and white of what is a bad business model, certain business models require you to work harder for a lot less money. There are many ways to help people and make a decent living while doing it. It just depends on what you want for your personal lifestyle, how much you want to work, and selecting the right business model for your practice.  Ready to have it be less difficult to grow a full practice?  Or maybe you’re ready to start putting things in place so you don’t have to work as hard.  RSVP for the next “Double My Practice” teleseminar.

Comment below on whether you’ve noticed a difference in the patients/clients you’ve had who had paid you less (ie, because you were trying out whether to charge lower prices)

4 Comments

  1. Brenda on July 6, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I don’t think the Community model is a bad thing, Let’s face it, not everyone can afford to pay for private treatments. I think it is limited in how deeply the effects can go, and many people may be ok with that. Just like the people who shop at K-Mart. Yeah, a lot of them are just cheap, but others cannot afford to buy the goods they and their family need at any higher price point; so they settle for what they can afford. Community practitioners are pretty passionate about offering whatever help they can to folks without a lot of resources and seem happy to take on the hard work it takes. But there are also people who VALUE the private setting. I personally find the one-on-one model easier for my personality type and so I offer that service model. My fees are not exorbitant but are enough to say “hey, I’m a highly educated professional with a valuable service to offer!”.

    • Chen Yen on July 21, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      Brenda, that is so true. Community acupuncture can be good–it’s a different level of service and experience at a different price point. It’s just a matter of who you as an acupuncturist feel most aligned to help and in what way, plus whether it will be the best decision based on the stage of practice you’re in and what your vision for your practice is.

  2. Steven on June 10, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Community acupuncture is probably one of the worst things that has happened to our industry. It lowers it to the level of K-Mart. We deserve to be paid like the doctors/licensed professionals that we are. Why would you spend all that money on years of education and work harder for less money?

    • AC on April 6, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      Amen ! Totally agreed !

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