Gary Merel discusses his functional nutrition practice

Interviewer: I have with me Gary Merel who is a licensed acupuncturist and functional nutrition practitioner based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gary, I wonder if you could explain for the folks a little bit about your practice?

Gary: A simple question. I would say my practice is focused on primarily three components. I’m an acupuncturist. I went to acupuncture school in New York, I don’t know, many years ago, and am licensed in the state of Pennsylvania. But I found over the course of my first years in practice that I was unprepared to deal with the complexity of patients’ presentations that came into my office.

I’m also an inpatient practitioner, an inpatient clinician, I like results. Also, people pay out of pocket, so, it’s not like I have an infinite amount of time. There’s usually a personal investment clients make in coming to see me. So, I started studying functional medicine, and I would say, functional medicine uses the tools of medical science, but unlike most allopathic practitioners, functional medicine, well, let me say this differently.

Allopathic medicine, for the most part, not exclusively, is really based on symptom management. You have symptoms, they have drugs or procedures to manage them. Functional medicine is really rooted in finding out the underlying cause. Symptoms don’t live in a vacuum, our bodies don’t live in a vacuum. The knee bone is connected to the shin bone.

So functional medicine uses the tools of science, which is blood work and some other diagnostic tools – saliva testing, urine testing – to help figure out why the symptoms are appearing and using that knowledge to empower my clients to own their health, and, as often as possible, resolve that underlying condition, and in most cases, the symptoms just take care of themselves.

I also use nutrition as a big part of my practice. I have a very Paleocentric practice. I use food as a primary source of healing. I do use supplements, but food always comes first. Seventy percent of our immune system is in our gut, so you need to deal with that first. I find between using the tools of acupuncture and Oriental medicine and functional medicine, I can bring the best of both worlds to help a client in the process of healing and ultimately making health a choice.

Interviewer: That’s great. It sounds like you use a wide variety of methods to really empower your clients to help themselves with their health. What are some of the techniques that you use to help you get new clients for your practice?

Gary: I use a few. First of all, word of mouth always works best, but that takes a long time. It probably takes a good five to seven years to build up substantial momentum where that can support an ongoing practice. So referrals from patients and other practitioners, doctors, you need to get your name known in the community. A healthy online presence, and I see a lot today about you have a website, branding. If you’re talking about website and you’re talking about branding, and that’s my opinion, you’re a day late and a dollar short because that’s like talking about the yellow pages five or eight years ago.

You need much more than a website and good branding because everybody’s got that. So, I do a lot to maintain my organic listing. I have a monthly newsletter. I have an ongoing blog. I have an email list of up to about 3,500 email names. I could tell you at least 25% of them open every email that I send them. I don’t send a lot, but, you know, open up my newsletter.

I do spend a lot of money on Google AdWords because I find that really pays. I don’t do any display advertising and I barely have a Yellow Pages presence, and I give a lot of talks. People really like what I have to say. I think my message is somewhat unique and my approach is somewhat unique, so I tend to draw a pretty big audience of people.

Based on three years of newsletters, I just wrote a book. It’s basically repackaging – I like the term re-purposing – re-purposing my newsletter, and a pretty substantial book, it’s about 350 pages. It’s available on Amazon, but I can now talk about being a published author, which I am. So, I would say, those combinations, and I’m always fine-tuning, always looking for new ways to keep the momentum of my practice going.

Interviewer: Well, that’s great. That actually dovetails nicely with my next question, which is around, how do you market your business?

Gary: Basically the way I just mentioned. A lot of talk. I will talk to almost anybody. That’s not true, I’m a lot more selective after being in practice for a long time, but I give a lot of talks. My newsletters, for instance, I do a fall and spring detox program, and my newsletters are very engaging. They’re talking about varied topics that are very close to peoples hearts.

I have a very Paleocentric practice, so I use that as a marketing tool. I’d say that’s it. I spend a lot of money making sure my ranking on the search engine is where it needs to be. People talk about, “We’re all acupuncturists, we’re all practitioners,” but you know, we’re also competitors. I don’t hate to say that; we are competitors. So you need to draw peoples attention very quickly and in a way they can identify with. So, that’s basically my marketing.

Interviewer: That’s some great advice. I know a lot of practitioners would be able to view those things in a slightly different lens now and get a sense of what they would need to do. Especially, like you said, around their website presence and branding. So, you definitely have a lot of things on the go when it comes to new clients and marketing your business. So, how do you efficiently manage your time?

Gary: Sometimes I don’t. So, because I am a single practitioner and I do have an office administrator, my office, because I do a lot of lab work – a lot – there’s a lot of follow-up, and I also do some insurance, not much, maybe 15%. So, my administrator takes care of all of the paperwork, follows up on everything, makes sure the insurance is getting paid for, sends out supplements, deals with all the insurance administration.

I’m not as automated as I’d like to be, but for me that’s a double-edged sword because if you’re automated you need software, you need to maintain it, you need to train on it, and, so that is something I could definitely do better. My priority is based on who’s coming in that day or that week and what I need to do to prepare for them. Because I do a lot of blood work, a lot of testing, saliva testing, blood work, urine testing, patients come in for, what I call, a statement of findings. That’s an hour and a half. They leave with a three-ring binder full of test results, information, strategies, so that needs to be put together.

So, to answer you, a long-winded answer to a very short question is time management isn’t always as efficient as it should be, but at the end of the day everything gets done.

Interviewer: Well, that’s great, and, like you said, it’s important to focus on the priorities of what you’re going to do either for that day or for that week.

Gary: Right.

Interviewer: What’s the one thing you’d change about your practice if you could?

Gary: I would call every patient before . . . I think the single most important area for me is reminding people of their appointments. Most people who do fee-for-service, it’s automated because they have software. Today you can text, email and call. That’s one area I could definitely do better.

Interviewer: And, like you said, if there’s one thing that you could do which would increase your impact or decrease the admin, it’s definitely worth looking at.

Gary: Yeah. I would say.

Interviewer: Perfect. Okay, Gary. Well, I’ve really appreciated your views. There have been a ton of interesting comments and I know that people are definitely going to be thinking differently about some of the things they’re doing based on what you’re doing and the success you’re having. I’d like to really thank you for coming on with us today.

Gary: All right, thank you.



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