Receiving referrals from physicians not only improves your fitness business, it also helps you build credibility and respect throughout your community. However, not all physicians will be ready and willing to refer their patients to you right away. You must first gain their trust by demonstrating that you are a fitness professional who gives back to the community and treats the fitness profession as more than just a job, but as a career.
Even with all these qualities, don't expect to just walk into a medical office, give them your business card and have clients begin calling you. Working with the medical community takes planning, preparation and a lot of patience. Don't get frustrated if several physicians say no to you and your services. The key is finding the first physician who says yes!
STEP 1: Professional Preparation
The first step in receiving referrals from the medical community is developing yourself into a credible and respected fitness professional:
- Degree: While not mandatory, earning at least a bachelor's degree in the fitness/exercise field will improve your chances of being noticed and respected by the physicians.
- Certifications: Being certified by an accredited fitness organization will enhance your credibility.
- Practical skills: Gaining practical skills from internships, seminars, conferences and school-related projects are vital.
- Work experience: Health club settings, corporate fitness centers and private fitness studios provide valuable and unique experiences.
Preparing marketing kits for education department directors and physicians shows your professionalism and willingness to go that extra mile. Prepare the kits with the documents listed below, and place them in professional folders with binders and clear plastic covers.
For education department directors:
- Community fitness and exercise projects that you have been involved with
- Detailed job descriptions of previous work experiences
- Fitness/exercise articles that you have written in the past
- Testimonials from clients that you are currently working with
- Fitness/exercise programs that you offer
- Contact information
- (All of the above)
- Personal training insurance
- Agreement and release of liability form
- Health and medical questionnaire form
- Assessment form
The medical community is comprised of hospitals, medical plazas, medical facilities and their staffs and patients. Hospitals and bigger medical facilities will usually have an education department; this is where the health educators, registered dietitians are and where most of the educational seminars and lectures occur.
Locate medical facilities or offices, and gather the following information:
- Phone numbers and email addresses of the education department
- Whoever is in charge of lectures and seminars (look for an education department coordinator or director)
- Classes offered
Questions to ask the director:
- "What can I do to help improve your
- education department?"
- "Would you like a free training session to see what I can do for you and your classes?"
- "Can you give me an opportunity to do a presentation to your class?"
"Excuse me, my name is Michael, and I am a personal trainer [they will not understand what a fitness professional is]. May I leave this press kit for Dr. Jones? Can you please make sure you give it to him when you get the opportunity? Thank you."
What not to say to the front desk employee:
"Can you make sure you give this to Dr. Jones?"
Follow up after the press kit is given to the front desk employee. Come back one or two days later, and ask the front desk employee if she or he gave the press kit to the physician. If she did and the physician has not given you a call, ask the front desk employee for the physician's business card and all the information you need to get in contact with the doctor. Also, ask for the front desk employee's office phone number and extension.
STEP 4: Marketing Yourself to the Physician
The key to contacting physicians is being methodical and patient. Here's how:
Call during their off hours. When they are in their office, their thoughts are consumed by work and their patients' well-being, and they don't like being interrupted. When you leave them a message after hours, you can get your point across without feeling like you are in a hurry to say everything.
What do I say?
"Hello, Dr. Jones. My name is Michael, and I am the fitness professional who provided you a press kit containing information on how I can help your patients achieve their fitness goals. I have a masters degree in exercise physiology, and I am certified by two of the most recognized fitness organizations in the world. I would really appreciate it if you give me an opportunity to meet with you and discuss the services I provide or give me an opportunity to help one of your patients achieve their fitness goals. Thank you for your time and consideration."
The ones who care are the ones that will call. Remember, not all will call you back. Accept it, and move on.
The physician contacts you. Now what? This is your opportunity to shine. Have your press kit ready again, and be prepared to explain it to the physician in detail.
- Contacted by email — Email them back accordingly. Answer questions professionally, and show them that you will do your best taking care of their patients. Remember, new clients will always be their patients first and your clients second.
- Contacted by phone — If they leave a message, call them back as early as possible. They are showing you that they are very interested in your services; therefore, you must do whatever it takes to make it happen.
- Contacted by a meeting — This is the best scenario for you, but don't expect it often. The most important thing to do in this meeting is prove to the physician that you will take care of the patient. Go over your press kit again, and show them your medical questionnaire, how you would go over it with their patient and how you can care for their patient. Tell physicians that you will always be open to their suggestions and opinions, no matter what.
- At this point, the physician approves your services, and you both agree that the physician will refer you patients. The only thing that is left is proving to the doctor that you are taking care of the patients.
STEP 5: Getting Physicians to Consistently Refer Patients
Maintaining a great relationship with a physician is all about them trusting you with their patients as well as them liking you.
Once a month, provide a brief hand-written note to each doctor that you work with about the status of their patient that you are training. Use quality stationery. Hand-written notes mean more to them than computer-generated letters, and they provide a personal touch. Here is a sample note:
Dear Dr. Jones,
Ted is doing really well with me. His wife has been telling me that when he wakes up in the morning, his left leg rarely hurts him anymore. He is walking better and feeling less pain with his right hip. I will keep taking care of him. Thank you and take care.
Best in health,
Provide them with your business brochure or flyer to be placed in their office to give the physician easier access to your information when referring their patients to you.
Give them a gift card them a gift card to their favorite coffee place along with a hand-written thank-you note to show them your gratitude and your willingness to maintain a great relationship with them.
Having a great referral program with a physician will help your credibility throughout the community as well as other physicians. But more importantly, the patient will benefit tremendously from the guidance of a credible and educated fitness professional. Working with a physician takes a systematic approach that will require time, preparation, discipline, patience and hard work, but the benefits will always supercede the work it takes to make this relationship happen.
Michael Y. Seril is the founder/president of Michael Seril Fitness Inc. (www.michaelserilfitness.com) and the Excellence Through Exercise Foundation. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 562.902.0100.