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How Chiropractors Oversell Themselves:
A Close Look at Practice-Building Techniques

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The American Chiropractic Association's 1997 survey -- in which respondents were asked to report 1996 figures -- found an average (mean) gross income of $228,236, with a net of $86,519 [1]. However, this figure does not indicate how the numbers were distributed. Chiropractors who practice part time would be likely to drag the average down, whereas some who really sell themselves would tend to raise it.

Intensive selling of the spine begins in chiropractic school as instructors convey the scope and philosophy of chiropractic to their students. After graduation, chiropractors can get help from many practice-building consultants who offer seminars and ongoing management advice. I have collected information about their offerings for more than 25 years.

Claims Made By Practice Consultants

During the 1970s, flamboyant ads from practice-builders were much more common than they are today. The Drennan Seminar, for example, offered to "double your income and patient volume in 90 days" and said that one out of every ten registrants would receive a free Cadillac. The Stoner Chiropractic Research Foundation offered to "show you how to make $350,000 as easily as $50,000"; promised "no more end-of-the-month jitters"; and depicted a chiropractor headed for the First National Bank, pushing a wheelbarrow overflowing with stacks of money. Dr. Robert A. Jarmain invited chiropractors to a three-day seminar to "build the $1,000,000 practice." The Yennie Chiropractic Success Seminar offered to "put you on the road to total success" and to "upgrade your practice into the $100,000-$200,000-$300,000 service levels." In 1978, Clinic Masters advertised that three thousand chiropractors had enrolled in its program and increased their incomes, on average, more than $50,000 a year. Its fee for a program of seminars and ongoing consultation was $20,000-$100 initially and the rest payable as income rose. Its seminars included "How To Increase Insurance Business $100,000 Or More A Year" and "How To Achieve The 'Optimum Gettable' With Every Patient." Santavicca and Associates charged $30,000 for its advice-$100 for an initial three-day seminar and the rest payable as income rose.

During the 1980s, Practice Management Associates (PMA), a Florida-based firm run by Peter Fernandez, D.C., advertised that chiropractors who followed its guidelines would gross an average of $240,000 in their first year of practice and that the average for all of their clients was about $350,000 [2]. Fernandez also produced a five-volume series called "Secrets of a Practice-Building Consultant." The first edition of Volume I, 1001 Ways to Attract Patients; was published in 1981. The final volume, How to Become a Million Dollar a Year Practitioner, was published in 1990.

The largest practice-building firm is the Parker Chiropractic Research Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas, founded by James W. Parker, D.C. A 1987 brochure for its Parker School of Professional Success Seminar claimed that "over 125,000 Doctors of Chiropractic, spouses and staff assistants worldwide-over two thirds of all practicing chiropractors-have attended nearly 300 Seminars more than 400,000 times. . . . Resulting in millions and millions of additional patients being served. . . . And surely resulting in at least a billion dollars of EXTRA CHIROPRACTIC EARNINGS!"

What Are They Teaching?

All of the major health professions have access to practice-management consultants who teach how to run an office efficiently and courteously. Chiropractic "practice-builders" go a giant step further: They teach how to sell "chiropractic," which, in many cases, translates into persuading patients that chiropractic services should become part of their way of life. Some teach how to persuade patients to regard chiropractic as their first line of defense against health problems. (In other words, "if you get sick, see me first. If your problem is not amenable to chiropractic treatment, I will refer you to another provider.") Many practice-builders advise selling the idea that spinal checkups will promote general health and reduce future trouble. During the next year, I will post detailed information to Quackwatch on how this is done. Meanwhile, keep the following in mind:


  1. Goertz C. Summary of the 1997 ACA annual statistical survey on chiropractic practice. Journal of the American Chiropractic Association 35(11):30-34, 1998.
  2. Ads in Practice Management Association's Chiropractic Achievers magazine, Sept/Oct 1989.

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