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Q: “What are the three most important things to do or know when networking with physicians?”

“Be respectful of the physician and their whole clinic; educate yourself and educate them; and be willing to work with the whole team-the nurse or receptionist-not always just the physician,” says Laura Koch, C.M.T., founder of the Hospital-Based Massage Network. Koch’s network has provided information for massage therapists creating and developing massage therapy programs in hospitals and medical settings since 1995.

Regarding her first point of being respectful, Koch explains, “A massage therapist wanting to work with physicians needs to approach the doctor from the standpoint of what they can add to what the doctor is already doing, not suggest the physician should use massage instead. Because of the medical environment right now, and where we are in that hierarchy, we have to be very honoring of what [physicians] do and what their expertise is.”

Koch also stresses knowing medical terminology so that when a physician talks about a condition, you’ll know what she or he is talking about.

“Physicians are the head of our medical system right now. We need to approach them in terms they understand rather than trying to get them to be open to words like ‘structural integration’ or ‘balance.’ Those words mean something to us, but not to them. Talk to them in their language,” Koch says.

Regarding the second point of educating yourself and the physician, Koch says, “Know what you do. Know why massage works, how it works. Be able to explain it in medical terms and when possible, be able to back it with research or articles physicians have written.

Xerlan Geiser, who owns the Massage Therapy Institute of Oklahoma, in Tulsa, contracts with two hospitals and consults with 10 area hospital programs, also stresses the importance of speaking the physician’s language.

“Know what that doctor’s specialty is; do your homework. You’d talk to an orthopedic [specialist] a lot differently than an oncologist,” Geiser says. “We have to be able to speak pathology to doctors; we have to show a knowledge base of the type of patients they see in order for them to trust us enough to send their patients.”

Geiser recalls hearing an example of a massage therapist who was dumbfounded that the orthopedic surgeon she visited never sent her any of his patients. Geiser related that the therapist told her, “‘He sees hundreds of wrist patients every year and I told him I could work with his patients with ‘corporal tension send out,’ but he never sent any.'” Small wonder, Geiser says, since the correct term is carpal tunnel syndrome.

Geiser also concurs with Koch’s point about understanding your own skills and knowledge base. “The total package of services that you offer must be appropriate to that doctor’s specialty,” Geiser says. “Be honest with your limitations. If you have to, say, ‘I haven’t had the opportunity to work with very many cancer patients, but I’d really like to,’ and you’ll be more credible than saying you’ve done everything. Be reasonable about what you are offering.”

Koch also stresses being able and willing to work with the physician’s whole team. “Be flexible: there are times when one clinic wants you to fill out a release form signed by the patient; other places are more casual. Every place has different policies and procedures and you have to be flexible enough to accommodate what is necessary.

“Learn that sometimes you don’t even have to ask to talk to the doctor,” Koch continues. “You can tell the receptionist what you are calling about and why, what kind of information you’d like to get across. Make it as simple as possible. It’s the receptionist’s job to figure out how to help you. Honor her as part of the health-care team. She knows how to handle the call and how to [communicate with] the physician.”

Confidentiality is a very important component to the massage therapist/physician relationship, Koch adds. “In a situation when you are networking between client and physician and perhaps family members, you are going to hear things, but you don’t share anything they say that is not absolutely relevant to what treatment they are getting. You need to discern what needs to be repeated. Be very strong with tact, privacy and confidentiality.”

Koch offers this example: A client gets on your table and starts to complain about a physician’s personality quirk, which she doesn’t like. It is not the massage therapist’s place to report that back to the physician or family.

How do you actually get your foot in the door at a physician’s office, and what do you do once you get there? Offer free massages, be confident and bring literature, both Koch and Geiser said.

A very common and effective means of opening the doors, according to both, is to offer free massages. Koch suggests offering to give the medical staff a free 15-minute massage. “And, massage therapists tend to work more closely with the nursing staff in hospitals and they are a very good way to get in the [physician’s] door,” Koch adds.

In Geiser’s program, she goes into the medical offices and provides a free massage at lunchtime. “For 30 minutes we talk to the doctors and their staff about the benefits of massage, who we are, what we do, how we can benefit their patients,” she says.

Koch adds, “A massage therapist has to be confident, especially in a place where we are more prone to be intimidated. Some physicians may lord it over you that you are ‘not really in the medical system’ and you have to be sure of what you do, know why it is of value and be able to explain it under circumstances that are not very friendly.”

Geiser concurs. “Don’t be wishy-washy about your offer. Know what you are offering and be very clear about it.”

And bring literature once you’ve got your foot in the door. Koch suggests, when you’ve got that first meeting with a physician, first pull out material that is most relevant to making your point.

“I go with a binder, [with] not more than 10 articles,” she says. “Keep it simple-maybe one page that reads, ‘Massage therapy helps patients after surgery,’ and then list articles that support that statement.”

Koch strongly suggests finding articles about massage therapy written by physicians. “This way, even if they don’t actually read the articles, they’ll glance through them and see that other doctors support this work.”

Geiser suggests getting your literature from the American Medical Association, the Touch Research Institute or the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, because these institutions are highly respected, medically based and probably recognizable to physicians.

Both Geiser and Koch stress the important role that massage therapists play in bringing humanity back to medicine, but also stress that it has to be done on physicians’ terms.

Geiser sums it up: “We are bridging medicine and massage. Doctors and patients will hesitate at something that is totally hippie or flowing robes and lava lamps. But we don’t have to go completely chrome and white starched sheets to be effective. You can have a professional appearance and still be relaxed.”

– Charlotte Michael Versagi, L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., is a journalist and a massage therapist who specializes in manual lymph drainage and work with clients with cancer.

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