Coming out of school I was fired up to help people. I attended lots of conferences, did evening training sessions with veteran chiropractors, worked with athletes, sports teams, and everything else I could think of to be as good as possible.
Like massage, chiropractic yields good results and it feels amazing to help people get better. However, I wasn’t always successful which was disheartening. For some patients, I tried everything I knew, but it wasn’t enough.
Looking back, I can see that my ego was getting in the way of what was best for the patient.
After being in practice for 13 years now, I realize that no practitioner, no matter how good, can help everyone. Referring a patient is sometimes the best option, even when it feels frustrating that chiropractic treatment didn’t get them where they want. I think it’s best to refer to therapies you trust or have had good experiences with. For example, I’m happy to refer to things such as massage or acupuncture because they’ve helped me with my health.
I have found that referring a patient isn’t always easy. Medical professionals should consider the practitioner to whom they are referring.
The most important question any practitioner should consider is: “Do I trust the person I am referring my patient to?” Ideally, there would be a relationship between the two practitioners and trust built therein. You want to feel comfortable that your profession won’t be denigrated, or you, for that matter.
You also want to be comfortable enough to have a conversation with the practitioner to ensure the patient is not getting contradicting information which puts them in the difficult position of not knowing what to believe or who to trust. We all have our patients best interest at heart but if two practitioners are saying different things, it can diminish the patient’s healing process. If I trust the other practitioner and know they are professional, and good at what they do, it makes it easy to refer.
Sometimes this still might not work because that practitioner may already have a professional in your field they are more comfortable with. It’s optimal to be in a reciprocal relationship where you refer to them and they refer to you. It may take time to find that person and to build trust with each other.
Don’t expect referrals to come right away; build relationships and get to know practitioners both in your field and others. Remember too that patients move around, so knowing practitioners in other communities can be of benefit as well.
5 Keys To Building A Relationship
Building trust with a chiropractor may be more challenging than you think.
I’ve received dozens of phone calls, emails and even had RMT’s come to the office to drop off business cards. Honestly, very few, if any, have turned into meaningful referral relationships. Many of the healthcare practitioners I trust the most and have the best relationships with have taken time to build.
Typically this has happened through working on sports teams with them or trading services. Having a common interest with another practitioner such as a chiropractor can be very helpful. An example might be working with athletes or specific types of injuries or even specializing in children or pregnancy. Trading services is another fantastic way to build trust because you both know exactly how the other person treats and the way they work with patients.
As a huge benefit, you both stay healthy so you can help more people and enjoy life.
Here are five keys to excellent referral relationships:
- To get referrals you need to refer. Recommend your patient see a practitioner in another field when you feel it’s needed. A good time may be if the patient asks about other therapies or if they aren’t progressing as quickly as expected. If you refer the patient, it is likely they’ll have a better outcome and it helps build professional relationships. I know when I receive a referral from someone I’m more likely to reciprocate.
- Follow-up with referrals by thanking the other professional. This could be in the form of a call, card, letter, or email and it doesn’t need to be lengthy or overly formal. In situations where you know the professional well and have a good working relationship, a text may be appropriate.
- When you disagree with another practitioner diagnosis, don’t share that with the patient. Often other professions look at things differently and it doesn’t make them wrong. Treat them the way you feel is right. You can have your interpretation or diagnosis, but it doesn’t help to discredit the other professional. If appropriate, have a conversation with the other practitioner to understand their reasoning or point of view. This will build the relationship and educate you both. If you do decide to have a conversation, it is important to make sure you are approaching it from a position of learning rather than defending or arguing.
- If the patient gets relief from your treatment and it is appropriate, be sure to send them back to the referring professional as needed or for co-management. This is important because if the patient doesn’t return to the original practitioner they may feel that you have ‘stolen’ their patient.
- If you are struggling to try and find practitioners to refer to, it may be time to build your professional network. There are many ways to meet chiropractors from networking groups, meetings, seminars, etc. Be friendly and genuinely inquisitive about the other person’s business. Find out what types of patients or conditions they like to treat and how and where they practice. Be sure to exchange business cards and follow up.
If you had a rapport with another professional, even if it is in your own field, it is well worth your time to maintain contact and build the relationship and trust.
Unexpected Benefits to Referring
Another reason I was reluctant to refer out early in my career was because I worried that if I didn’t help the person get relief and someone else helped them, that they would think poorly of myself or chiropractic.
As a result, I tried to be a ‘jack of all trades.’
The problem with that is I found myself worrying about patients getting results and I started to spread myself thin. I found this stressful and it made my practice not very fun. I know now that patients don’t expect miracles from their healthcare provider, just results and an honest, competent and caring demeanour. They understand that one healthcare professional can’t fix everything. The beauty of referring a patient to someone else with a different expertise is that it takes the pressure off you, patient’s get better results and they know you have their best interests at heart. I hope you’ve found this helpful and wishing you a wonderful career!
Dr. Copeland is a frequent speaker on the topics of health, performance and prevention. He is also the host of ‘Back to Health’ a bi-weekly podcast where he interviews established professionals from all disciplines on health and performance. He is married and has two children and his interests include family, health, fitness, hockey and life. For more information about Dr. Copeland please visit his website at www.vfchiro.com.
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