To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Expert Advice: Physician Referrals,” by David Lang and Julie Sonnenberg, in the September 2012 issue. Article summary: In recent years, physicians have made significant changes in how they perceive massage therapy. Integration has become a mantra across the country. There are some simple steps you can take to start expanding your practice to work directly with physicians in your community.

by David Lang and Julie Sonnenberg

Historically, patients have managed aspects of their health care without guidance or collaboration. For instance, virtually all of your massage clients have a primary-care physician who they see sporadically, but few tell their physician they also receive massage therapy to address a range of symptoms. Why is this? Potential reasons include:

1. Fear. Fear that the physician may not be familiar with the benefits of massage therapy and may ask questions they can’t answer; fear that their physician doesn’t approve of massage therapy and will tell them to stop receiving the treatment they find beneficial; and fear that their massage therapist might not want the physician to know they’re receiving massage therapy.

2. In years past, lack of collaboration between physicians and massage therapists has led to a lack of relationship and trust on both sides. Patients are perceptive and often aware of what isn’t said as much as what is said.

3. Physicians and massage therapists speak different languages and use different conceptual constructs for explaining and treating symptoms.

4. The physician doesn’t ask if patients are receiving treatment from other providers. In recent years, patients only have a 15- to 20-minute visit with their physician, even after waiting several weeks to see them. While the physician’s office has suggested they bring a list of questions and concerns to their visit, the few patients who do so rarely think to include massage therapy on their list.

In today’s environment of large medical practices, it’s not uncommon for patients to see a different primary care provider every visit. Physicians frequently move between practices, and the patient’s insurance may not allow them to follow their physician to his or her new practice location.

Also, primary-care physicians are assigned large patient panels, which can mean a long wait for patients if they want to see their personal physician.

Despite these roadblocks, with persistence, professionalism and dedication, today’s massage therapist can forge relationships with physicians and, thereby, grow their medical-massage practices.

David Lang, L.M.T., is the director of advanced manual therapy at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Life, an integrative and preventive medicine clinic (www.unmcfl.org). He teaches courses in hospital/clinical internship and observation for massage therapists, business, Active Isolated Stretching and myofascial therapy.

Julie Sonnenberg is a licensed professional counselor and the practice manager at the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Center for Life. She served as the director of emergency services at UNM Children’s Psychiatric Hospital and as UNM Hospital’s clinical quality manager. Sonnenberg is devoted to providing patients with a “wow” experience through integration of mind, body and spirit.

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