This week’s podcast continues our “Success Leaves Clues” series on “From Motherhood to Micropractice” and features Dr. Michelle Sands aka “The Metabolic Mama”, a Naturopath and functional medicine practitioner from Vermont and member of our Practice Accelerator program.
Dr. Sand’s story is an inspirational one for women and men who struggle with balancing running a practice and being an active parent. She achieved this seemingly insurmountable goal, by implementing what she learned in the Practice Accelerator to set up a virtual dream practice targeting mothers.
If you’ve ever wondered how to have it all—practice, purpose and active parenthood—tune in right now and hear:
- How Dr. Sands went from technology-phobic to a thriving telemedicine micropractice
- How to design a killer autoresponder series that targets the demographic you want, while pre-educating and empowering patients and prospective patients
- Which technologies save Dr. Sands hours of time on intakes, natural pharmacy management and practice development, while improving patient outcomes
- How to organize an efficient telemedicine care structure for practitioner and patient, using membership-based pre-recorded modules and weekly Q&A calls and private consultations
- Why telemedicine is the perfect “virtual house-call” solution for busy moms (a huge market)
- And much more…
Resources mentioned in this podcast:
Evolution of Medicine Practice Accelerater
Free Online Marketing Training from EvoMed (Eventbrite Webinar)
Institute for Functional Medicine
Announcer: Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast. The place health professionals come to hear from innovators and agitators leading the charge. We cover the latest clinical breakthroughs in health technology as well as practical tools to help transform your practice and the health of your community. Now here’s your host, James Maskell.James Maskell: Hello and welcome to the podcast. This week we feature Dr. Michelle Sands, a naturopathic doctor from Vermont who has built a telemedicine digital practice delivering functional medicine and naturopathic medicine to her community. She is an important member of the Practice Accelerator and in this series we call it Success Leaves Clues because Dr. Sands really shares how using technology and going from being a technophobe to starting to implement technology like autoresponders allowed her to build the type of practice that she could be at home with her son. She’s a new mother as well as a new naturopathic doctor. She talked about some of the technologies that she’s used to get there and she also shared some thoughts on the power of telemedicine and why she’s using it and who it’s opened up as a demographic to work with which I thought was really interesting. So it was a great half an hour and enjoy.
So, everyone welcome to the podcast. Dr. Michelle Sands, welcome doctor.
Dr. Sands: Thank you James, I’m super excited to be here.
James Maskell: It’s such a honor to have you here on the Evolution of Medicine podcast. We’re continuing our Success Leaves Clues series and the goal of this series really is to reduce the barriers to each next practitioner. Doing functional medicine, integrative medicine, naturopathic medicine to just reduce the amount of time that it takes for them to build a successful practice and I guess see more possibilities than perhaps they see at the moment.
So, let’s jump into your story to start with. What made you want to be a naturopathic doctor and tell us about journey to actually establish yourself in practice?
Dr. Sands: Yeah, so one of the reasons I wanted to be a naturopathic doctor, I didn’t know I wanted to be a naturopathic doctor growing up. I just knew I wanted to feel good. I grew up in an Italian family in New York where we ate a lot of pizza and pasta and pastries. Unknown to me at the time I actually had Celiac disease so after I would eat I’d feel really bloated, really uncomfortable. I struggled with my weight. I struggled with acne but so did a lot of the other people in my family. So I just figured it was pretty normal that after you ate you felt horrible.
But as I got older, as I started going into high school I started getting a little more and more concerned about the weight, the acne, the digestive issues. I had a lot of gas and that was really embarrassing. My family doctor didn’t really do much about it so as I went into college I started … well I was on the track team and I’d asked my … when they did our annual physical to make sure you’re ready to compete I kind of broke down in the clinic office and I asked them to run some more tests if they can dig a little deeper into finding what was wrong with me. They really couldn’t do much but they did some testing on my hormones because I had really bad menstrual issues and cramping. What they found out is that my hormones were at the level of a 65-year-old when I was in college.
Basically they told me I would never have children naturally and I’d have to be on birth control, antidepressants and a whole list of other medications for the rest of my life. That was devastating to me. So what I decided to do is I just … I was always kind of a question asker. All growing up I wanted to know why and I wasn’t getting the answer to why so I started going off and interviewing, asking questions of Eastern medicine doctors, Ayurvedic practitioners, energy healers, naturopaths. All these kind of doctors to find out that there is other people like me out there in the world that actually were able to get better and weren’t having to just live this way. I found the answer was yes.
And so I decided to change my major from marketing to medicine and I originally started regular pre-med and then over the years I moved over to the naturopathic medicine side because I was really interested in the nutrition aspect and the lifestyle aspect. So I got my license and then I also was pregnant with my son and that was through what I learned through school. I learned how to rebalance my hormones through all this testing that I was offered and the knowledge that I also thought I wouldn’t be able to start my practice because I wanted to be home with my son.
So I was really at this crossroads between whether I wanted to work for a doctor in a clinic full time or in a hospital or another avenue or I wanted to stay home with my son. And so that was kind of a crossroads for me.
James Maskell: Yeah, I’d imagine that’s kind of a big crossroads for a lot of people who come down this journey because ultimately what you’re looking at is you’re looking like okay, naturopathic medicine just like functional medicine is what like 75% female as far as the physicians that go to it. And then obviously you’re sort of doing your graduation, doing your training at a time where you’re most likely to have kids. Do you think that’s a big contributor towards the sort of numbers that you see where you see that many graduates of naturopathic school don’t end up in practice or don’t end up as naturopathic doctors just because life gets in the way?
Dr. Sands: I think that’s one part and then the other part is it’s really hard to know … we learn a lot about healing the body but we don’t learn a lot about business and how to run a business or even facilitate things that you may think as simple as booking an appointment. We don’t learn any of that and I did actually hire a business coach just out of … I looked her up and found just a traditional business coach. I started learning stuff that I didn’t feel applied to me as a physician, as a healer. It was more I was learning a lot of marketing techniques that were … would put me in jeopardy legally if I used them. And so I was really seeking someone that got it. Someone that understood what I was trying to do and how to put that into the business and that’s when I found you guys, Evolution in Medicine.
James Maskell: Awesome. Yeah, so great. So you found us. This is … you were part of one of the first pilot programs right?
Dr. Sands: Yeah, the very one first. I had my call with Gabe just to find out about it because I was really just wanting to know if there was a way. I did start my own clinic but it was really, really, really small because I wanted to spend time with my son, right, so I was trying to do it just kind of grassroots. I was doing manual appointment bookings. I was writing every email or Gmail and I was doing everything manually and so I was only able to have a very small patient list. But then since I was seeing moms I was starting to see more and more of my patients through telemedicine and that was when I heard about Evolution of Medicine and I heard about the Practice Accelerator so I got on the phone with Gabe. He started asking me if I used all these different softwares that I had never heard of.
So that was when I knew that I needed to learn more. I jumped in right away and wow, what I learned totally transformed my ability to not only take on more patients but also provide better service to them and get better outcomes. But also to upgrade my lifestyle to where I wasn’t spending hours and hours going through intake forms anymore. I was using technology that you guys taught me about to actually leverage my time and present the information in a much clearer more concise and patient friendly manner.
James Maskell: Absolutely. Yeah, I really appreciate you sharing that. I want to dive into a little bit of that in the beginning and just talk about your experience of going through that process. One of the things that we get into it’s the first thing that we teach in the Practice Accelerator. The first thing that we help people to get up with is this email autoresponder because it’s a core technology that you can build anything else off of.
Now, we have in the Accelerator we have a 10-part series that we’ve pre-written. Other people that we show people it’s like Dr. Sachin Patel has his 30 and 30 that he takes people through. When you had a first go at this, I think you ended up making 42 emails that are dripped out to everyone who opts in your website at the beginning. Why did you choose that and what’s the feedback been since you started to automate all of that?
Dr. Sands: Well one I feel like I have much more control over what’s going on. I felt as though people were falling through the cracks before when I was trying to manually do all this. When you guys helped me to implement the autoresponder, wow, it was not only made my life easier but the patients were learning so much and they were really getting a firm understanding of what we do at Glow Natural Medicine but also empowering them on how they can actually take action right then and improve their lives just from the information we were giving them in an email. And that was just amazing. It made me feel as though I’m not only helping the patients in my practice but I’m helping anyone who comes in contact with us.
James Maskell: Yeah, that’s really .. we’ve used actually your testimonial on that to speak to the value of this before because I remember you got a message from one of your people, one of the people that had got the email. “Hey I’m going to book an appointment plus I’ve been forwarding these emails to my friends because I think they could do it.” That’s really the intention of what we wanted to come up is like don’t leave all of your best information sitting in your head when no one can get it. Put it in a place that people even older people can get, can digest and can pass on.
Dr. Sands: And that is one of the distinct differences between the Practice Accelerator what we learn there and what the other business coach was teaching because what I was learning through the traditional business coach was every email was selling something. That was really not in alignment with what I wanted to do. It wasn’t who I am as a person or a practitioner. And then in Practice Accelerator we were really taught to provide value and to improve people’s lives every time they were in contact with us. That has not only made me feel better, but it really has increased the conversions into our practice. It’s increased patient outcomes and like you said. People are forwarding them to their friends.
I get so many emails from moms who send me back the email that their daughter sent them thanking me for giving that information out. The funny thing is many practitioners listening might think the information they’re sending isn’t valuable because they know it so well. We all know so well the importance of drinking water and the importance of eating whole real food but it’s not what the general public knows in their day to day. And so by sending that little seemingly not important email that we are sending, it really changes lives. It really, really does.
James Maskell: Yeah, I think one of the things is awesome as well is that you’re creating a consistent experience for people who come into your practice, right? Everyone gets those emails. Everyone reads the same information so you have a good idea of what people have got before they ever even come to see you which is a key part of it. One of the things that from our conversations before, what it seems like it’s done is it kind of opened up a new demographic of patients into your practice too. Do you want to just talk in a little bit about how … what demographic of people wanted care and how you set up your model to be able to support them?
Dr. Sands: Yeah, we actually started thinking that our demographic was young moms and what we found is our demographic is really older folks. Or women who are 50 to 60 that really might not understand their bodies or understand their health that maybe aren’t so comfortable with all the technology and aren’t so comfortable with the conventional medicine system really telling them what they need to do and they really want to be a part of their own healing process and understand it.
James Maskell: Absolutely yeah, so they’ve got the time to come in. They’ve got the disposable income. What were some of the barriers to getting to that new mom population, the young mother and younger demographics?
Dr. Sands: I think and this is really my opinion on this is I feel as though … and this from my own life experience as well, I think that when you’re young you are not … you haven’t tried everything yet. I find most of my patients have been to 10, 12, 13, 15 doctors before they come to see me. And so I think the young demographic is still going to the conventional medicine. They’re still trying the fad diets. They’re still trying the quick fixes. It’s not until they’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked several, several times that they are understanding that they need to do something different. And I think that’s why we are getting slightly older demographic than we originally thought we were going after.
James Maskell: Absolutely. So now you’ve got sort of like a digital structure to be able to educate people into the practice. What was it … how have you sort of organized the structure of how you see people? How you actually deliver the care?
Dr. Sands: Yeah, so it’s really interesting. As I was doing telemedicine and we were doing it with all private patients one on one, I found myself explaining all the same things over and over again. Each patient while they had a very unique situation, a lot of times were working on the very same foundations of health, the very same fundamentals of healing. So I decided to create what I call a Glow Protocol and what it is is it’s a membership based, self-guided patient level educational system that teaches them how to work on healthy eating. They understand all the foundations of health and diet, rest, exercise, health building activities, meditation, mindfulness, stress reduction, supplementation.
We go through all of that plus I teach them how to understand their conventional medicine lab testing. How to understand … we take through their complete functional medicine intake where they’re going to get their functional medicine Matrix mapped out and their timeline so I really help them understand how they got where they are and how they can get to where they want to be. And then we dig into each area of the Matrix in different modules we would go into how to improve your immune health. How to improve your nutrient absorption and assimilation. How to improve your mitochondria health detoxification, structural integrity, all of those.
And so it’s delivered in membership based through video tutorials, handouts and then we have weekly Q&A calls. So I’m actually leveraging my time by saying it … recording it on video one time and delivering it out to hundreds of people at once. But the beauty of it is they get to … the difference between what they’re doing and what my private patients are doing is that the private patients actually are only accessing me one or two hours per month whereas, the people in the membership program and the Glow Protocol, they’re getting probably 30 hours per month of me explaining to them in detail what’s going on, how to understand their body. And then they’re getting access to me every week on the weekly coaching call. So they’re actually getting more access for less money and I’m able to make this available to everyone without the financial being a barrier.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. It’s super interesting. At the beginning I think you referred to yourself as a non-techie person. How does one go from being a non-techie person to basically organizing and automating your own online course in such a short period of time?
Dr.Sands: It’s really funny because I think I identify with myself as a non-techie person but going through the Accelerator and having all the education and actually take you … breaking it down into the very simple here’s how you go to the website. Here’s how you create an account. Your program has actually made it very simple and so things like using LivingMatrix for intakes, using Acuity for appointment booking, using Fullscript for a supplement delivery. All these things were so overwhelming to a non-techie person like myself but having someone hold my hand and really show me screenshots and exactly how to do everything, it really broke down the barriers so I was able to go beyond that and learn how to use final billing software and video technology.
You learn a lot in the accelerator as far as filming the videos and uploading them. So putting the course together was actually very simple having that foundation of knowledge that I learned in the Accelerator. So yeah, I really attribute James and I attribute you guys to much of my success.
James Maskell: Thank you. I appreciate you sharing that. One last thing I want to talk a little bit about functional medicine and naturopathic medicine. Let’s just talk a little bit about telemedicine here because I know that you’ve shifted from seeing people in person to doing telemedicine. What’s been the benefit for you? What’s been the benefit for your patients? What would you recommend to other practitioners now who are sort of coming through and looking at what it means to be in private practice and sort of what it’s meant for you?
Dr.Sands: Yeah, so as I mentioned earlier, having my son and the ability to stay at home and have my practice inside my home, that made a huge difference in the amount of patients I’m able to see, the amount it takes to have a patient meeting. I’m able to record the meetings that we have and send them a copy of that so that’s increased value for the patients. But a lot of the people I see are sick, right? They’re not feeling well. They have digestive issues. They have fatigue. They have children at home that are not feeling well and so the ability to just hop on to their computer and not have to get dressed and go to and drive to an office or get someone to drive them there, that is a huge benefit. We have many patients who over the course of working with us have actually moved to different cities and they didn’t have to go find another practitioner just because they moved because we’re available to them wherever they are. That’s a huge benefit.
James Maskell: Absolutely. And how about … I know you mentioned earlier working with mums, you get to a point where now they don’t have to get child care in order to come to your appointment.
Dr.Sands: Before I started doing telemedicine I used to get so frustrated because moms would always cancel their appointments at the last minute or the day of because a child was sick or they didn’t have a babysitter. We have hardly any cancellations now with telemedicine because it’s so simple. Even if you don’t want to get dressed. If you’re not feeling well, telemedicine is the way to bring a doctor to you. It’s almost like the old fashioned house call that doctors used to do. I feel like that’s what I’m doing. I’m going inside their home now just through the magic of technology.
James Maskell: Absolutely. So that’s cool. You’ve got your telemedicine platform. You’ve got your Acuity for scheduling. You’ve got your Fullscript for the supplements. You’re doing the LivingMatrix. I’d love to just chat a little bit because we do have a lot of naturopathic doctors that are starting to come our way, maybe they’ve read the book or otherwise. I know there’s sort of like a split feeling in naturopathic medicine about functional medicine, right? Is it an MD is stealing all their ideas? Is it just like an evolution in the practice? I know being in this world for a long time to know that there’s different feelings about it. What was it about functional medicine that sort of drew you in and why do you think that functional medicine is a good starting point to be able to build this kind of practice?
Dr.Sands: I really … I’m a very science geeky kind of person and I love the way functional medicine is just very systematic. It’s very process oriented. It makes clear concise sense. It’s easy to teach. It’s easy to explain. It’s easy to learn and so after talking to Gabe on that first meeting I actually signed up for IFM right away because I wanted to have as much knowledge as I can. Even though I have my MD license I … there’s more to learn or there’s a better way to teach way to teach it or a better way to explain it. I want to have access to that. And so anything I can learn that I feel will benefit my patients is that’s where I want to be. But I really like the way functional medicine just breaks down the body and really explains the process of how things happen, how things go off course and what you can do to get them back on course. I really like the systematic approach.
James Maskell: Yeah, the Matrix and the fact that everyone’s doing it the same sort of brings a lot of confidence to everyone in the community because it’s like a consistent system and that’s something that I think is lacking from naturopathic medicine is that you can have two Naturopaths. They practice very differently, right? They practice like on naturopath is like a classical homeopath and one’s like a functional medicine doctor yet they’re still called the same thing. And if we’re trying to make it easy for people to understand what’s what, having that common language is super important.
Dr.Sands: I think that’s so true, yeah, because even a lot of our patients have been to “naturopaths” that may have been unlicensed or may have been … done a weekend course somewhere. I really like the consistent language of functional medicine where if I’m working with someone even through our patient course, they can go to a local functional medicine practitioner and it’s the same language, right? They can take their information to any functional medicine practitioner and they’re going to understand what’s going on and up to date and I really like that.
James Maskell: Absolutely, yeah. So, a couple more things that I’d love to just find out your experience about. One is just the use of the community. I know that you’ve been very supportive inside the functional … inside the Practice Accelerator Facebook group and helping other people come along. And then also just sort of like when you’re developing your course now you have these coaching sessions but it’s in a group format. What has been your experience like technology is certainly a foundation of the Practice Accelerator, right? It’s like get the right technology, do it, but community has also been a part of it both in the doctor part of it and then also in the patient part of it. I’d just love to get your thoughts on what you’ve implemented on that end and where you see the power of community in your practice. What you’re doing now or moving forward.
Dr.Sands: Yeah, so first I want to commend you on the Evo Med Practice Accelerator community because that is a vibrant community. I know from my own practice takes … it’s hard work to get the community so active and vibrant so that is awesome. In that community I’ve learned so much from the other practitioners both what works and also what doesn’t work. We share a lot of our fails and our successes in that community. It’s a great place to really learn and observe and see what people are doing and get ideas. That’s been great.
But in my own practice in our community it’s been great just to see how the patients step up and start answering each other’s questions because we do that a lot in Practice Accelerator community but I didn’t know that that would be happening in my own community. But it’s really great to see people sharing recipes and sharing ideas on what’s worked for them and different brands of health food products that they found online or found at Trader Joe’s. And it’s really neat to see that support. Anytime in trying anything new or going into a new area, a new journey of your life to have other people who are also going through that, it makes you feel like you’re in the right place.
I think that’s the importance of having community. It’s really, really been a great way for my patients and practice members to get to know each other and get to know us too because we share a lot of what we’re doing in our communities as well. I have … my son Paxton’s two and a half years old so sometimes he’ll make recipes with me and we’ll share those videos. My patients feel like they know my son now. So it’s kind of neat because they have a glimpse into my life and what I’m going at home as well.
James Maskell: Yeah, what I see from most practitioners in this space is that in the time that they’re at home they’re actually modeling the lifestyle. And the problem has been is that there’s been no cameras to capture it, right? It would be your own TV. There’s no way that you can capture what does that actually look like to cook this way, to live this way, to support this way. I think one of the things that why we’ve encouraged people using video if you listen back to Dr. Jerry Bailey’s part in this series he talked about the power of video to really create connection with local people in your community. Get your face there. Create valuable content. Show it directly to your target market.
But I think one of the other reasons why we’ve been really helping people to get in touch with video is that if you make a good video of your and your son making a recipe and it shows it, first of all you’re communicating a lot outside of just the recipe. You’re communicating what it looks like to work with your kids and cook healthy recipes and develop that one. But also one video could then be seen by every single practice member now and every single practice member that will come in the future.
So each time you create an asset, it’s one more asset to link to and just … it allows you to create over time a really full patient experience for every patient that’s not dependent on your time.
Dr.Sands: Yeah. Another thing we’ve noticed just with working with people is that people learn in different ways. Having that video is going to be great for the digital and auditory learners and also having the recipe written down is going to be great for people that learn better through reading. I think having that dynamic really helps especially when we’re doing a distance based practice. They’re not getting that in person as much as they might be used to so they’re feeling that connection like you mention where we have those videos.
Not all our videos are perfect and we do work with moms. One of the things is they’re like, “How do I get my kids to eat healthy,” or, “How do I get my kids to do these things,” and we’ll also show the behind the scenes of when I made elderberry gummies to help my son’s immune system. How he just picked them up and threw them against the wall and he didn’t eat them so we actually caught that on video and shared that because it doesn’t always go as planned either.
James Maskell: No, exactly, yeah that’s real vulnerability. Vulnerability leads to trust you’re showing what it’s really like to do things and I think that’s a huge issue. I think that the more and more that we can make it easy for people to be able to take action and learn from each other, that’s where it needs to go.
So, look doctor, I really appreciate your time coming in here. I want to give you one more opportunity here. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and I particularly think that there’s an opportunity for us to be able to open up the practice of medicine to more people who have decided not to practice medicine because of being a mother like I think that’s a legitimate thing that’s happening and I hear it all the time and having a lower overhead practice that you can do from home I think is a great starting point for that.
Anything else that you’d like to share with the practice community worldwide?
Dr.Sands: Yeah, I think that … my feeling is if you have a passion to do something, there’s a way to do it. I had the passion to have this practice and I had the vision of what I wanted to do but I didn’t see other people doing it when I first started. I just saw the clinics and I just saw the doctors going into the office. I kept searching and I think if you keep searching, you’re going to find an answer. You’re going to find people who are doing what you want to do. You’re going to find mentors and people who are going to pull you forward in this community that we’ve created from the Practice Accelerator.
I think that if you have a vision and a dream, you stick with it. Your practice can be anything you want it to be. We’ve evolved our practice so many times and if you would have told me two years ago that this would be my practice looks like, I wouldn’t believe you. And so it’s just amazing how technology and community and vision can change so quickly.
James Maskell: Absolutely. Yeah, you just keep moving in the right direction. You have a vision and then you get in the right community and ultimately our goal with the Practice Accelerator is to get all of the doctors that are creating these practices of the future that are delivering functional medicine in new and innovative ways into a community so that we can all move forward more quickly. You’re a great example of that and it’s great to hear that that vision is still there but the execution of that vision changes over time as you become more familiar with new different ways that other people are doing it.
That is evolution happening in real time. That is medicine adapting to its new environment and adapting quicker than ever. So thank you for being such a great example in the community. We really appreciate so many of the pilot members from a year and a half ago. Look, it takes time to execute this stuff. It’s not like you sign up for the Accelerator last year and in a year you’re a millionaire. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would promise that. This is building a medical practice, right?
This is about what it’s going to look like in three years and five years. One of the things that we’re considering is giving everyone that comes into the Accelerator … I saw this diary the other day that was a five-year diary. Most diaries are a year but think of it as like a five-year window and you’re two and a half years into it. In five years who knows where you’ll be. But ultimately it seems like you’re on a journey towards helping way more people than you thought was possible. Having income that comes in independent of your time. Not coming in just basically in a time for money situation. And being fully in love with medicine and really enjoying the work that you do.
That’s ultimately the journey that we would love to be able to help everyone to take.
Dr.Sands: Yeah, thank you so much. I really do appreciate everything you and your team have delivered and that keep bringing to us. Thank you so, so, much.
James Maskell: Also well thank you. This has been the Evolution of Medicine podcast. This has been our Success Leaves Clues series. If you have been listening to the last four podcasts you know we’ve got a very dynamic, exciting group of practitioners in our Practice Accelerator. If you’d like to join that group you can go to goevomed.com/brochure. Get the brochure and you can talk with one of our team. We’d love to have you join the Accelerator and we’re really looking to build the community here of the future.
This has been Dr. Michelle Sands. She’s a naturopathic doctor from Vermont. She’s been with us. You could find out more about her practice at the link in the show notes. But in the meantime I’m your host James Maskell. This is the Evolution of Medicine podcast and we’ll see you next time.
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