Less Pain, More Gain

Interview by Dana Blickensderfer 

Written by James Alexander 

Dr. Steve Barnett is a chiropractors chiropractor. For over 30 years, Dr. Barnett has fought to promote, represent, educate, and protect the entire chiropractic community in Georgia while advocating for unrestricted access to chiropractic care and tending to patients at his celebrated practice. At the heart of Dr. Barnetts second act is collaboration; gracing stages across the nation, and delivering deep insights on topics such as neuroscience-neurosurgery in tightly knit lecture series to eager chiropractors of all ages. 

Dr. Barnett joins us today to discuss his continued mission of building a strong, thriving chiropractic community in the state of Georgia. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

On behalf of Regional Medical Group, Id like to extend our heartfelt gratitude. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us today. Now, tell us about how a Brooklyn College star basketball player becomes a dominant figure in the field of chiropractic healthcare. How did you evolve from the ball court to chiropractic? 

Dr. Barnett: 

Thats an interesting question. So, I went to Brooklyn College and played basketball for the school. I got injured probably mid-way through my junior year with a hip injury and went through the traditional medical route with our teamorthopedic surgeon. The problem got worse, so I decided to see a chiropractor, an athletic trainer, and a physical therapist. 

I was so impressed by what they did that I changed my major from pre-med to physical education. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

So, the way they treated you in recovery made an impression on you, and changed the course of your entire career? 

Dr. Barnett: 

Thats correct. I was pre-med for the first two years I was in college. And, at that time, I didnt know anything about chiropractic so I found out as a chiropractic patient what chiropractic could do and what it was all about. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Wow. 

Dr. Barnett: 

I was so impressed that I wound up changing my major, graduating in January, and then teaching high school physical education in Brooklyn for six months before moving to Davenport, Iowa, to attend Palma College of Chiropractic. Thats how I got into chiropractic. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Thats how your journey into chiropractic unfolded. 

Dr. Barnett: 

When one door closes, another one opens. So for me, it was an exciting change as it is for many people and their personal stories about how they get into chiropractic. Many of us got into the profession through personal means, where traditional healthcare might not have worked to resolve our injury or pain, so we went to a chiropractor as either a first or last resort. In my case, it was a last resort. For me, it was muscular and skeletal. It was a pretty bad hip injury for a 19-year-old. 

So, I fought through that and continued to play and had a good career and then just moved on. I had some offers to play in Europe that I turned down to go to chiropractic school because, at that time, European basketball wasnt where it is today. So, all of the opportunity was there, and I knew it was short-lived. I decided to go to chiropractic school instead and graduated in September of 1979, moved into the area to read the X-rays and teach at Life University. I opened up my office four months later in Stone Mountain, Georgia. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Thats exciting! During your 30 year career, youve fostered deep connections with your patients and fellow chiropractors and physicians. Were curious to know what makes you so passionate about relationships and connecting professionals together. 

Dr. Barnett: 

Well, because healthcare is relationship-driven. The Rs of healthcare are Relationships, Referrals, and Reimbursement. Traditionally, chiropractic is afraid to make referrals to medical providers for fear of losing patients. But if they know these doctors personally, they will feel a lot more comfortable in their review and referral process. It creates a much better situation for the patient because it allows for collaboration. Treating patients is a team effort, and its because of that collaboration that patients wind up with better outcomes and a higher success rate of recovery. At the end of the day, thats what we all want. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Youre quoted as saying, Back pain is an epidemic, and the 78,000 chiropractors in the United States are the foot soldiers who are fighting it. Thats a powerful statement. Can you tell us more about what that means and why its important to you? 

Dr. Barnett: 

Well, because chiropractors are entry-level providers and approximately 40 million patients a year are under chiropractic care. We do an excellent job at triaging and treating those patients. Some of these patients need emergency care when they come in because they have problems that are other than chiropractic. An example would be kidney stones. Patients come in presented with acute lower back pain or flank pain. They could have diverticulitis; they could have a gall bladder issue. So its essential to perform the examination and get the patient to where they need to be. They might not need chiropractic, but the vast majority of the ones that we treat do. Patients put their trust in us as healthcare providers, not just as chiropractors. So were responsible for the patients health in general, not only to help with their spine and thats a big responsibility. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Yeah. It is a big responsibility, and I can see youre the foot on the ground that kind of leads them to know other ailments they may not necessarily know they have. 

Dr. Barnett: 

Thats correct. Its a chiropractors job to be able to diagnose, treat, or refer those patients accordingly. It builds the respect of the medical community very quickly. Thats the way it was in my office. They know that if I treat a patient, they knew that patient needed to be there. They have to be comfortable and confident with me as a person. They have to know that if the patient isnt going to get treated from a chiropractic standpoint, that they will get referred to a medical provider that can perform an exam or do what they needed to do to improve that patients outcome. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Yeah. Thats excellent. We know youre a dominant figure in the neuroscience and neurosurgery field, participating in lecture series on chiropractic collaborations for comrades of Spina care. Howd you get involved with these lectures, and what role do you want it to play for your fellow medical professionals? 

Dr. Barnett: 

Well, I got involved because I run a program at Emery, a hospital with a National footprint. So, it was easy enough for other chiropractic associations to find out what I did, who I was, where I was, and how to reach out to me. There were several stories written about a program at Emery that was picked up by other news services. One of which was the Mayo Clinic.  

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Talk about that. 

Dr. Barnett: 

Two years ago, I was invited to be the chemo speaker for their neurosurgical and neuroscience lecture series, and the title of my presentation was a Chiropractic Collaborative for Comprehensive Spine Program. Whats fascinating about the whole thing is it allows me to go ahead and talk to a group of medical providers and let them know what chiropractors do and what we specialize in and how we can help in both sending patients and receiving patients to get a better outcome for the people that put their trust in us. Being the only chiropractor for a health system that has 30,000 employees, it puts me in a unique position. Sometimes I feel like an army of one inside the hospital. Still, it lets me spread the chiropractic message to providers of all types in the hospital because, as I said at the beginning, all the business of healthcare is relationship training. If they put their trust in you and think that youre a reasonable person, youre knowledgeable, theyll have no problem sending you patients. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Do you think the lecture series is a continuous conversation for the next couple of years? Or do you think youll evolve into different types of lectures in the near future? 

Dr. Barnett: 

I hope to get involved in more lectures because getting out there, spreading the word, sending our message to people who havent heard it before is powerful. So there are a lot of different healthcare providers in a lot of various disciplines, and they need to know what chiropractic is all about. Of course, starting The Academy of Georgia Chiropractors has been very important because those are like-minded chiropractors who share my vision of co-management and furthering relationships between medical providers and chiropractors. Spreading the message is something that Ill always want to do because there will always be people who havent heard our story. 

 Regional Medical Magazine: 

After over 30 years of running one of the largest and most successful practices in the state of Georgia, you spent just three weeks in retirement. What brought you back? 

Dr. Barnett: 

The hospital reached out to me and invited me to lunch after they found out I retired, and then, at the end of the meeting, they hired me to be their first director of chiropractic relations in the 53-year history of the hospital. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Wow. Thats amazing. 

Dr. Barnett: 

And that was because I sent the patients there. So, they either knew me or knew about me. They track referrals, and they keep the metrics just like everyone else does. So, when I retired, they wanted to know what I was up to and if my practice was still viable. They also wanted to know if my associates would continue to refer to the hospital for advanced imaging and everything like that. Of course, the answer was yes, but then they were so fascinated with the fact that chiropractic could be such a valuable referral source. They wanted to start a program, and they wanted me to lead it. So, thats what I did. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

You have successfully created a way to connect free-standing imaging centers and specialty providers with hospital-based primary care resulting in the largest referral service of its kind, the Chiropractic Referral Network. Would you tell us a little bit more about this initiative? 

Dr. Barnett: 

When we started our chiropractic program at the hospital, I realized that we would have to build an infrastructure then involve the network to go ahead and send patients to the hospital in-patient. Imaging was only part of that. The downstream referrals that came from the imaging surprised the hospital. They realized that most chiropractic referrals for MRI resulted in further specialty care, and the MRIs were positive for lack of a better term. They were very impressed with the chiropractors ability not only to identify which patients needed an MRI but also how these MRIs did produce positive findings. So, they realized we were diagnosticians. They knew what the importance of evaluating these patients recognizing the fact that they did need additional advanced imaging was something that they were very impressed with. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

You mentioned The Academy of Georgia Chiropractors. What impact do you hope this new initiative would have? 

Dr. Barnett: 

Well, we are a group of like-minded evidence-based chiropractors who look at chiropractic as a modality, not as something in totality. Chiropractic is a treatment, not necessarily a gift. So, what were looking to do is work well with all other members in the healthcare profession to create better outcomes for our patients. That is doing what we do best and then referring those patients along to either advanced imaging or collaboration on other types of medical services. Thats why The Academy was born. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job? 

Dr. Barnett: 

Looking at patients or other doctors and giving them the confidence that youre telling them the truth because what we do is too good to be true. So, they tend to trust that they are fine without our help. Its hard for them to realize that all ships can rise with an incoming tide. The first question hospitals ask is, “Why are you doing this? Whats in it for you? and theres nothing in it for me. Why would you send this patient? Well, because they need to be seen. Whats in it for you? Mm, nothing. How much does this cost? Zero. Why would you do it? Well, because its the right thing to do. Theres no hidden agenda here. If you can say thank you and send the patients back to the chiropractors, then we can send patients. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

If you could give advice to a first-year chiropractor coming into this space, what two things would you tell them? 

Dr. Barnett: 

First, your reputation is the most essential thing that you have because its the only thing that precedes you. So, guard it accordingly. And second, the same thing my basketball coach used to tell me, you need to work harder than everybody else. If you want to be unique and you want to stand out, you have to work harder and smarter than everybody else thats out there. When they used to motivate me for basketball practice, they used to show me a picture of the person that I would be guarding and then scream at me that hes taking an extra foul shot. Hed say, you need to stay in the gym longer, you need to practice more. You need to get back in the weight room because your opponent is stronger and taller. You need to work harder if youre going to succeed. 

Sports are a good way to learn about life because its not all about winning. In sports, you sometimes lose more than you win. Being a gracious winner and not being a sore loser. It teaches you how to roll with the punches, and it teaches you that hard work usually winds up with a superior outcome. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Thats great advice. I appreciate you giving that feedback. Are there new treatment methods emerging that you are truly excited about, or are the foundational principles of chiropractic still the primary path for care? 

Dr. Barnett: 

Well, hopefully, theres always new treatment options for any healthcare provider because, without growth and development, things can get pretty boring. However, the standard staple of chiropractic has always been the same. I think not only better treatment possibilities but also better diagnosticians come along with better education and better mentorship. So, just like every profession, theres got to be a certain amount of growth if the profession itself is going to grow. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Dealing with the stigma of chiropractic care, because some people uncomfortable with the notion of chiropractic achievements, like being adjusted due to negative stigmas by misinformation, what advice can you give your fellow colleagues to help combat that in their own practice? 

Dr. Barnett: 

I think it all comes down to the relationship and building trust with your patient. Taking good care of your patient and educating them. Patient education is an important tool. Maybe the most important tool in helping the practice grow. So give your patient websites. Give them training materials to review and read. Give them case studies. Ive had patients that would come in and say Im not sure I want my neck adjusted because I read an article that manipulation of the spine could produce a stroke. I said that is possible, but it is extremely rare.  

This always gets them. Ill ask them if they know how much chiropractor malpractice insurance is in the state of Georgia. No? I say, well, Igonna make you guess. Theyll guess up to 100 thousand dollars a year. But, no, its just 875 dollars a year. Not per month, per year. I pay more for auto insurance than I do for malpractice insurance. In other words, its more dangerous for you to drive a car than to come in here for treatment. There are so few chiropractic claims for malpractice that typical chiropractic insurance is just 875 dollars a year. So, the chances of you being injured in a chiropractic office are less than 1%. And the injuries that are reported come from chiropractic offices that dont perform a proper physical exam and dont take the proper case history. 

Regional Medical Magazine: 

Thank you so much for sitting down with us today and bringing over 30 years of experience and insight to our readers. We really appreciate your time and everything that youre doing for the chiropractic space. 

For more information on Dr. Steve Barnett, please contact him at (770) 355-2997.