Written By: KIM FOSTER, M.D.
Maybe you’ve heard of a fellow health coach who managed to land a client through a referral from a doctor.
And you thought: that’s amazing. I would love to do that.
It might seem like the holy grail--actually finding a doctor who is nice enough to refer one of their patients to you. Maybe you’re asking yourself: is there a chance I could get a doctor to help me with my business like that?
Well, here’s what I have to tell you: you’re asking the wrong question.
It is definitely possible to get MDs to refer their patients to your health coaching business. It’s not about them doing you a favor, though. In fact, if you can think of it the other way around, you’ll have a much better chance of success.
With my clients who are health coaches, I often talk about the attitude flip they need to make in order to be successful at collaborating with doctors. And it’s the secret I’m going to let you in on today.
If you’re struggling to get enough clients into your health coaching business, if you’re longing for freedom from your day job but need more clients to get you there - keep reading - because referrals may be your ticket to that freedom.
The reason why I can speak with authority about this topic is because not only am I a coach myself, but I’m also an MD. I’ve been a practicing family physician for more than 18 years. I’ve always been interested in wellness and nutrition, ever since I was a teen, but as I began to practice medicine, my interest in the preventive and lifestyle aspect of medicine flourished.
This was partly because of my work with patients (and seeing first-hand the massive difference a healthy lifestyle can make), but also because of my own health challenges, and the lifestyle changes I made as a result.
When I discovered the world of health coaching, I immediately knew there was a ton of potential. I became obsessed with learning as much as I could about transitioning to a coaching model, and also about business strategies, marketing, and building an online business.
I’ve built a community of health coaches and can now speak with authority about this industry from both the perspective of doctors and health coaches - many of whom I can see are struggling to get their businesses off the ground.
And I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
Doctors need you.
This is the critical mindset flip you need to make.
Most health coaches I work with have the mindset that they need doctors to help them out. And in fact, all too often they approach doctors as though they are asking for a favor. Hoping the doctor will be kind enough to refer some of his patients to help her out.
But that’s going about it all wrong. If you want this to work, you need to think in terms of what’s in it for the doctor.
Because the truth is, doctors need you. They may just not realize it yet.
Let me explain. It’s no secret that doctors are run off their feet trying to meet patient demand. Many doctors have long waiting lists and packed waiting rooms.
Family doctors typically see 30 or more patients in a day. That works out to about 15 minutes per patient, including charting, and that doesn’t factor in any time for a lunch break.
It’s pretty easy math. Basically, family doctors go from room to room, solving problems and then moving on to the next patient on their list. Truth be told, it’s always been my least favorite aspect of working as a family physician, but it’s the way our system functions right now.
So because family doctors have such brief encounters with their patients, it’s very difficult to do significant amounts of preventive and lifestyle counseling with their patients. And that’s even if they happen to possess the skills, knowledge, and interest in those topics, which, unfortunately, many doctors don’t.
It’s not a secret that nutrition and lifestyle topics are not taught in depth at medical school, so unless a doctor has gone out of her way to study these topics, she may not have a great knowledge base to draw from.
At the same time, chronic illnesses are on the rise. Preventable illnesses, like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. People are struggling more than ever to lose weight, stay active, manage their stress, and find true wellness.
And, as you and I both know, it’s not easy to make those lifestyle changes on your own. It takes time and it requires a lot of effort, motivation, and support. Something doctors are not in a position to do--but it’s something that patients desperately need.
Essentially, what we’ve got is a perfect storm: frazzled doctors with too little time, and frustrated patients with unmet needs.
Which is exactly where you, the health coach, comes in.
If doctors can hand this aspect of patient care over to you, they will. (Well, some of them will. And that’s okay! You only need a few doctors on board.)
If you can come in and offload some of the burden from doctors, some of them will be very happy to hear about it. If they can confidently refer some of their patients to you, the ones who need more individualized support and coaching to make those healthy changes, that is a win for everyone involved.
So when you’re approaching doctors, this is the stance you need to take. You are in a position to help them, and help their patients. You can offload some of the pressure of their day, and give them a useful resource for their motivated patients who could really use your services.
Essentially, you need to frame your offer of collaboration as a problem solved for an MD.
To figure out exactly how to word your pitch and your proposal, try to put yourself in the shoes of the doctor. Think about it from the perspective of the typical doctor I described above. She cares about her patients, but her hands are tied in terms of how much time she can spend with them.
Think about what you can offer, how you can help in that situation, and craft your proposal from there.
Your Competitive Advantage
I hope you can see that the answer to the question posed in the headline, “Do Doctors Need Health Coaches?”, is yes.
If you can internalize this and use it to your advantage, you will be miles ahead of other health coaches who are still trapped in the mindset that a doctor would be doing them a favor if she referred her patients to them.
If you’re keen to approach doctors for referrals (and I clearly think you should!) you need to begin by gaining total clarity on how, specifically, you can help support their patients. Whether it’s to coach them through the lifestyle changes needed to lose weight, quit smoking, transition to veganism, deal with chronic migraines, or navigate through menopause….whatever your niche is, you need to communicate it clearly.
Once physicians know you’re there, ready to assist a specific segment of their patients, many of them will be keen to connect. You just need to start by preparing your proposal, and then reaching out.
If you want to learn more about the process of how to get MD referrals...I’ve created a free downloadable guide, click the image below:
Kim Foster, M.D.
Kim Foster is a doctor and a coach. She obtained her M.D. in 1997, completed her residency in family medicine, and began working as a family physician immediately afterward. Her interest grew in the wellness side of medicine and discovered health coaching. Kim now offers key business advice to health coaches on how to partner up with M.D.'s to get clients and keep them healthy!
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