Get Doctor Referrals

Persistence, Preparation, and Professionalism Pave the Way

By Irene Diamond

A massage therapist’s perfect world: where doctors, dentists, pain clinics, psychotherapists, and other health-care providers would unequivocally refer their patients to you simply because they know you are a professional who can provide the best care for their patients. For most of you in the real world, however, medical referrals happen rarely, if at all, and you may find yourself wondering where to begin the process of meeting doctors who will be eager to refer their patients to you. Believe it or not, it is actually pretty easy to get medical referrals. It all starts with establishing relationships with only one or two health-care providers. Once you feel comfortable working in the medical paradigm, branching out to other medical providers will become less intimidating.

Before pursuing these referral relationships with doctors and other providers, it’s important to first ask yourself if you can provide solid, consistent, clinical results to clients. If you have not yet perfected your therapeutic skills, don’t know how to perform your pre- and posttherapy assessments, and cannot yet quantify or document your therapy treatment or results, you absolutely must fine-tune those skills first, before you attempt to reach out and ask for medical referrals. If you blow it by not being able to help patients improve their condition, sending in shoddy SOAP notes, or not being able to establish clear therapy plans, you risk tarnishing your reputation even before you get started.

Once you are a competent provider, it will be much easier to build a strong reputation in your community as an allied service provider. Your potential referring partners want to have the utmost confidence in your ability to care for their patients. Their ultimate goal is to keep their patients healthy and happy, with as little stress and strain on their own resources as possible. This means your number one job is to be sure their patients report back to them with positive results and that your interaction with their staff is seamless.

When someone sends a client to see you, they have a lot at stake. Their reputation is on the line (and in some cases their medical license as well). Before they take a chance on you, you must gain their trust.

Making Contact

As in any referral relationship, it is often said, “People do business with people they know.” This is true within the health-care arena as well. Once you are on a doctor’s radar and she knows you will treat her patients well, you will continue to receive referrals.

Most massage therapists try to attain medical referrals the hard way, by cold-calling doctors with whom they have no affiliation. Instead of going after the unknown, spend the bulk of your efforts with your current clients first. Let your clients know you want to be sure you are providing them with the best care, and therefore would like to be in contact with their other health-care providers. Ask them if they would like you to communicate with their primary physician, or other health-care providers, about the therapy you are doing together. If they agree, have them sign your release form and list the name and phone number of the providers.

When you call providers, let them know you are providing massage therapy for their patient, and you are calling to introduce yourself. Ask how often they refer out for massage so you can gauge if there is a need for their patient population. Do they have someone they already refer their patients to? Some clinics even have a referral list you might be able to get your name on.

Once you have said hello to the front desk staff, ask if the doctor might have a few minutes to speak with you, or when would be a good time to call back. Take the opportunity to reiterate how your work is benefitting their patient. Reassure the doctor that you will provide an allied, noninvasive therapy to their treatment.

Ask the doctor if they are accepting new patients so you can refer your clients to them as needed. Also tell them you have prepared a short description of your practice and the therapy you offer that you would like to send them to make it easy for them to refer. Confirm that they would like to receive it, and determine if you should mail or email it to them.

Once you’ve established your relationship with the referring provider, it is critical to maintain the relationship by providing them with the documents and services they request.

The next referral relationships to seek out are those with medical providers you know. If you have your office in the same building as, or near, other providers, call, email, or write them to let them know you are looking to establish relationships with a few select providers to whom you can refer your clients. This allows you to promote their practice to your clients and, once they see your professionalism, it is a natural progression for you to ask them if you can send them your introductory packet. Some of these providers might not be aware that you work closely with others in the medical arena. Just as with your clients’ doctors, make your initial contact friendly and professional and start by asking them if they are taking new patients.

Preparation is Key

It’s important to be fully prepared before contacting a doctor with whom you would like to work. Going in without all your ducks in a row will not do much to bolster your professional reputation and can shut down the process before you even begin. Here are some things to consider.

Establish Your Specialty

When you become known as an expert in treating a specific condition or working with certain areas of the body, your referrals will skyrocket. A therapist who works with everyone, but specializes in no one, won’t stand out in the provider’s or the client’s mind, and you will never see the same level of referrals that you will if you niche yourself. Make sure your clinical knowledge and skills support your claim as the premier therapist to, for example, give relief from whiplash injuries, help pregnant women with an easier labor and delivery, reduce migraine symptoms, or help relieve the pain and increase function stemming from reconstructed knees or hips.

Create an Introductory Packet

Print an introductory packet, on good quality paper, to mail to the providers. Your packet should include:

• A brief letter of introduction explaining the type of practice you have (solo or group), your office location, your clinical specialty, and the symptoms and conditions you address. This is your opportunity to explain how you can help their patients. Don’t hype it up or go overboard with grandiose promises—just keep it simple and factual.

• A brief paragraph or two outlining your education, experience, and training that specifically relates to your ability to work with their patients.

• Two or three client testimonials speaking directly to the efficacy of your therapy on their symptoms and condition, the professionalism of your staff, or your positive attributes as a therapist.

• A Referral For Massage Therapy form. This is a one-page form that health-care providers can complete when they want to refer their patients to you (see sample, page 45). In addition to the basics, such as your contact information, date of referral, provider’s signature, and their diagnosis codes, it should include an area where doctors can check off the services they want you to provide, and the frequency and duration for therapy.

• A Provider’s Needs form. This is a one-page form that will help you provide the clinical documents and marketing pieces the provider wants to receive (see sample at left). You always want to send what they request.

Create a Client Release Form

To allow you to discuss your client’s therapy with their other providers, you will need a signed release form from the client before moving forward. This form can simply list the names of their providers and the details of their care that they allow you to discuss. Keep the signed form in their file and if needed, fax to their doctor.

Familiarize Yourself with Insurance Billing

You will increase the referrals you receive if you are able to bill clients’ insurance companies directly for the services you provide. If you can’t bill directly to the insurance carriers, you will do well to provide your clients with a statement, referred to as a “Super Bill,” which shows the services you provided the client and the payment received. Or, you can learn how to print your bill on a special form that insurance companies prefer to receive, called a Health Insurance Claim Form (HCFA).

Depending on the carrier and your state laws, the client may submit this Super Bill or HCFA to their insurance company themselves to get reimbursed.

Tips for Successful Referrals

You might have heard that providing medical offices with lunches or sending giveaways like coffee mugs works to keep you swimming in referrals. Pharmaceutical salespeople might be able to afford that, but for most of us, you won’t see enough of a return on your investment.

Instead, focus on providing stellar results to your clients so they can brag to their doctors about you and communicating effectively with doctors to streamline the process.

Tip #1: Speak Their Language

Even if you don’t use the word patient, health-care providers do. To be more accepted as a colleague, it’s best to speak their language. In your letter to the doctor, to avoid construing that you are practicing medicine, you can refer to the client as “your patient.”

For example: “To determine an appropriate therapy plan for your patients, I begin with a complete assessment that includes functional joint range of motion …”

Tip #2: Treat the Doctor’s Staff Well
Office managers, nurses, and front desk staff should be treated with respect and professionalism, as they are the ones who often make the referrals.

Don’t ignore them on the phone. They’re busy and deal with many patients and providers, so say hello and remind them of your name and clinic name every time you call. Do whatever you can to make their life easier and not waste their time.

If you are visiting their office, it goes without saying that you should always be punctual and professionally dressed and groomed.

Tip #3: Let Clients Say
Thank You

Keep a handful of various thank-you cards in your office. After your first session with a referred client, verify that he or she was happy to see you. Most clients are thrilled to jot a quick note on the card you provide, letting the doctor know they appreciated the referral. You mail the card to the referring doctor with the client’s return address. The doctor will be pleased to hear his referral to you was a success. (In this day of electronic communication with providers, you may instead ask your clients to simply send their referring doctor an email expressing their satisfaction with being introduced to you.)

Tip #4: Spread the Word

Ask every new client, “Were you referred to me by your doctor, a current client, or did you hear about me another way?” This not only helps you track your marketing and referral sources, but it also plants a seed in the client’s mind that doctors often (and do) refer to you. This will stimulate more medical referrals, because when they or a friend wants or needs a referral for your type of therapy, they know you often work with doctors and accept treatment “prescriptions.”

Tip #5: Document Your Work

Whether the doctor wants to see your SOAP notes or not (and many times they will), it’s important to document the work you do with these referred clients. You can be explicit in your detail, or more general, but documentation is important in these relationships.

Tip #6: ReciprocAl Referrals

Even successful, busy medical practices need to keep new business coming in. When you have clients or friends who need care, be sure to encourage them to see one of your referring providers and let the provider know you sent them.

Some Notes of Caution

As you work your way through the referral maze, it’s important to remember a few things.

• Never contradict the doctor’s recommendations or requested treatments. If something in the protocol is concerning to you, talk it through with the doctor for clarification.

• Never speak poorly about traditional allopathic medicine to your clients.

• Never gossip, breach client/patient confidentialities, slip up by not following HIPAA laws, or any of the other “Therapists Behaving Badly” things. It makes you look very unprofessional, gives our industry a black eye, and will get you removed from a doctor’s referral list quicker than you can say, “I shouldn’t have done that!”

If you follow through and keep the referred patients happy, you will be rewarded by having doctors and other health-care providers continue to refer more clients to you.


Irene Diamond, RT, is an educator, public speaker, and business coach who enjoys enlightening therapists, fitness trainers, coaches, and other “thera-preneurs.” She applies her knowledge and learned-in-the-trenches strategies and skills to improve therapists’ clinical outcomes and financial success. Diamond will be inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame in 2013 for her work with Active Myofascial Therapy, and her online business resource, Therapists can go to to request Diamond’s special report about getting referrals from doctors who are right in your neighborhood. Reach Diamond at,, or