Do you struggle with explaining what you do?

Do you ever feel that other people seem get all the patient referrals, and that you’re constantly overlooked? Maybe you struggle with explaining what you do?

This week I had a conversation with an amazing osteopath. I’ve worked with him for years, and I know he’s excellent. He’s helped so many of my patients who’ve ‘failed’ rehab elsewhere.

He works in a big, shiny, clinical centre; it’s very multidisciplinary, with surgeons, physios, physios and osteos all working alongside each other.

He told me how he was fed up with seeing nearly all the referrals from the surgeons, going purely to the physios. If you’re an osteopath, perhaps you’ve experienced this too. And like my osteo colleague, perhaps it also really gets right up your nose.

In my sports medicine career, I’ve be surrounded by osteos and physios who really shaped my learning, but that’s not the case for all people in the MSK world.

I asked one my knee surgical colleagues, “do you ever refer to osteopaths?” He looked blankly at me and replied, “I’m not really sure what osteos do. Don’t they just crack backs and necks? Why would I refer them an ACL rehab patient?” After resisting the urge to punch him on nose for being so short-sighted, it got me thinking.

The problem many Clinicians have with referrals, often boils down to stereotyping. If we’re not good at explaining how we can help patients, can we really blame the (non)referrer for not referring to us?

Equally, if we don’t make the time and effort to get to know a broader range of Clinicians, and get to understand their skill sets, aren’t we being blind to the opportunity of making more reciprocal referral relationships?

And it’s not just the referrers who might have their blinkers on. Sometimes so do the patients. When I’m referring a patient to an osteo for say, rehab of a hip problem, I may have to spend a few minutes shaping their understanding of what a particular Clinician does.

I have to explain that the skill set of physios and osteos is a bit like a Venn diagram. They each have their own particular skills, individual to just them, which may vary greatly from those of their own colleagues, but they may also have skills which are common to each other’s disciplines.

This will be blindingly obvious to you, if you’re a physio or osteo, but it’s worth remembering that non physio/osteo referrers (like myself) may be doing the ‘selling’ of your skills for you. And we need helping out.

What am I trying to get at here?

Regardless of what flavour of medicine we practise, we have to get better at explaining how we can help patients, and why we should be referred patients.

And here comes problem number two. Many osteos / sports podiatrists / neuropsychiatrists tell me that they find it difficult to explain (effectively) what it is that they do. Maybe you’ve felt this way yourself.

One of the simplest ways to get your message across is to tell stories. For example, you could could say that:

‘”I met patient ‘x’, who had been troubled for eighteen months with back pain that worsened every time he swung his golf club. He’d had physiotherapy, facet joint injections, hydrotherapy, chiropractic, and one-to-one pilates, and then he came to see me.

After watching how he moved, it became apparent that he had stiff right shoulder, which meant he couldn’t get into the correct position at the top of his swing. After correcting that, and teaching him how to how to balance himself through his feet when addressing the ball, his shoulders and pelvis began to rotate correctly together, and he stopped his poor lumbar loading pattern on the right-hand side. We added in strength work, and in month he was playing pain-free. He was delighted.”

As the listener, I don’t have to understand how you spotted those movement issues, or even a fancy name for your ‘system’, I just have to be given a bit insight into the transformation, so that I know next time I meet a golfer with back pain, I know you’ll be my go-to person.

If you’re struggling to get your message out there about how you can help people, why not consider joining the Private Practice Ninja Academy?

I’m at if you’d prefer a natter.