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Dynamic Chiropractic – July 15, 1994, Vol. 12, Issue 15

The Team Needs a New Coach

By Chester Wilk, DC
It looks like we're having "open season" on chiropractic again.
  • The "20/20" show got its shots in using as its "spokesperson" a medical doctor who openly admitted before a government commission to relying on "lies and fraud" to promote his thrashing of chiropractic.


  • The "Crusaders" program announced that you may not walk out of a chiropractor's office alive if you ever choose to get a spinal adjustment.


  • Consumer Reports fell back into its old form of unobjective presentation of slanted propaganda: shades of the '60s and '70s. I can see a host of other sources getting into the act including a publication that blasted us years ago along with Consumer Reports.

Clinton's health care plan does not name chiropractic specifically but indicates "any treatment deemed medically necessary and appropriate." Our adversaries are committed to make chiropractic appear "dangerous and inappropriate." We are dealing with unscrupulous, ruthless, vicious, and totally dedicated people who will not rest until they destroy us or we discredit them. This is war and they are focused on our demise as we flutter about in different directions. The media attacks against us did not happen by chance; they were orchestrated by a few people who know how to use the media, something that chiropractors have yet to learn. "You ain't seen nothin' yet!", as Jimmy Durante used to say. It will only get worse if we don't take the initiative.

The sad part is that we should be on top of the world. We have a great profession, backed up by a growing number of very credible studies that show chiropractic is not only safe and effective but often therapeutically superior. Objective observers should be able to look at the facts and overwhelmingly support chiropractic.

We have some outstanding talent at the helm. I doubt that there is one chiropractor (unless he was residing in a cave) who would deny that we have the best legal counsel that any profession could have. Our legislative strategist Marc Goodin is to legislation what George McAndrews is to law. They just don't come any better. As for the vice president for professional affairs of the ACA, Jerome McAndrews brings an administrative genius to his organization unlike any doctor I know, and I've never seen a more passionately dedicated person. When he was with the smaller national chiropractic organization he accomplished so many firsts that it was almost embarrassing to the larger one. I know that there are many other fine leaders, and I only mention them because I've seen them work and they are the best at what they do.

But wait a minute. With all this going for us, we are allowing ourselves to get "beat up" by a small "two bit" radical organization ("orthopractors") that is so pathetically wrong and improper in their thinking that if properly handled should be a "no contest" situation. What are we doing wrong? Before we discuss that let's talk about what we could do right.

Our profession is about 50,000 strong in the U.S. There is no doubt that we treat some of the most famous, respected, trusted, influential, admired people in the world. Why not rally their support with a "Star Search" program to get some of these prominent people to volunteer to do free public service announcements for chiropractic? We would only have to pay for the TV studio time. Suppose we acquired several of these prominent people and had them make a variety of public service announcements and put all of them on video tapes and sent them to every television station in America. It should be the responsibility of our national association to coordinate such a program. Meanwhile the same tapes could be transferred on audio tapes and given to every radio station. I have no doubt that at least some of these tapes would get played on television and radio, especially if it was a very well known personality. But what do we do? We hire and subsequently pay an actor from "The Virginian," which goes back so many years that most chiropractors in practice today were still in diapers or too young to have ever seen his show. Not a very impressive spokesman for chiropractic today. More importantly, I believe we can get the biggest and best spokesperson to do it free of charge. Now, that's big time PR.

For many years I've spoken of the need for our national associations to coordinate a speaker's bureau and "round table" program. When I first became a chiropractor the prevailing attitude was that no chiropractor should try this except for the very few "selected" ones to avoid any possible embarrassment of improper communications. While that may have been the case many years ago it would be an insult to the many fine, high caliber doctors in our profession today. I am on the phone with doctors virtually every day. It never ceases to amaze me the many articulate people we have in our profession. It is not uncommon to find doctors with masters and PhD degrees along with their doctor of chiropractic degree. Why not seek out this magnificent talent and tap it for a national speaker's bureau? Of course, they should be exposed to some basic strategy and pitfalls of appearing on talk shows, but that's what the speaker's bureau does. They would train the spokesperson to be aware of the basic facts to know and how to contact the media and respond "on their feet." Many of the state associations have adopted this idea and have had me speak in their state; the feedback is all positive. The most attractive things about this program is that talk show interviews have greater credibility than paid commercials and they are free.

But what do we do when we get bashed? We seem to be directed more at purchasing newspaper or air time. While paid advertising is good, it still lacks the wide exposure and credibility that comes with having a network of speaker bureaus with hundreds of articulate doctors bringing the facts into proper perspective. The speaker's bureau program should be heavily promoted by our national associations and should offer assistance to their state affiliates.

So what is our problem? It is clearly a case of bad public relations that is in terrible need of fixing. I have addressed this matter on numerous occasions but little or nothing has been done by our national associations to correct it. The problem comes from listening to bad PR advice. We are too conservative. For example, when we had a legislative conference in Washington, D.C., I urged our national association to go the media and talk about chiropractic's many accomplishments. We could also talk about our successful lawsuit against the AMA. You can bet that had we lost the suit the AMA would have made a major PR thing out of it. We win and we are letting it slide by unnoticed. I received a letter which suggested my proposals were "misleading," "knee jerk fluff," and "making news where there is no news." There lies our problem, doctors! It is difficult to get an organization to take assertive measures when its own PR coaches are telling us to sit on our hands. We need to educate on the truth and keep the facts in perspective but the public will never hear the truth with our existing, overly conservative mentality.

Chiropractic has done a magnificent job of "in-house" PR, telling us what a great job we're doing. But ask yourself when was the last time you ever saw any public service exposure on chiropractic anywhere? The "Star Search" program is a great costeffective and powerful idea that is being ignored that could provide us with such exposure. The speaker bureau program would provide us with massive free media exposure.

We are already getting serious fallout from this publicity. There has been legislation proposed that we should be required to caution our patients of the potential of a stroke if we adjust their necks. There are any number of medical treatments like Chymopapain therapy where the likelihood of stroke is thousands of times greater, but the MD isn't required anything of the kind.

Let me give you an example of another very insidious factor that we need to consider. A patient I had scheduled did not keep her appointment. My receptionist called her, heard someone pick up the phone and breathing, but nothing else. Later that day the patient's family found her at home unconscious and took her to the hospital. She had had a stroke. When the family noticed an appointment marked on her calendar to see me, the family called. The family, the medical doctors, and hospital all were swarming over me like a bunch of vultures for the kill, until they realized she had the stroke an hour or two before her appointment and had not been to our office in a week. Had the stroke come on after seeing me, we would have been sued. Considering that 250,000 people a year get strokes, how many of these may just coincidentally get them within a day or two after an adjustment? We had better take some appropriate educational actions quickly or we will face some staggering malpractice litigation fees that will drive our malpractice premiums rates right through the roof. It will cost all of us dearly.

If a football team has a star quarterback, a magnificent offensive and defensive line, and great running backs, and yet keeps getting battered by inferior opponents, the first thing that management does is consider firing the coaches. Ours is not a game by any standard. We are dealing with ruthless people who are playing "hardball" and we are talking about survival. We need to realize and come to terms with the painful fact that we need new progressive PR. Current events are making this message increasingly evident. If we can't see the writing on the wall, or have the wisdom and courage to correct this serious problem, we are heading for much harder times. It is difficult enough to get chiropractors to move out of their comfort zone and do something constructive, especially when the people we pay to coach us are discouraging any progressive ideas. We need encouragement to move forward on educating the media -- not discouragement.

I've offered my criticism and suggestions and hope they are accepted in the spirit that they are given. I have on several occasions offered my services to our national associations on assisting them on a speaker's bureau program. This offer still stands for our national and state associations if they feel it is time we took the offensive in a positive and progressive way. We need to stem this tide. Our profession is at stake. Failure to act appropriately will result in us simply digging a deeper hole for ourselves as the extremists, who pretend to be the "scientific" ones, will happily throw the dirt on top of us. If you agree, then insist upon some new coaching.

Chester Wilk, DC
Chicago, Illinois

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