Our industry grows faster than it seems to mature, and new gurus seem to emerge daily. Therefore, readily available advice flies around related to many topics, including how to connect with the medical community. In fact, there are movements taking shape directed at "third-party reimbursement" for all kinds of fitness services today, even including personal training. And so now, there are burgeoning "ideas" for the best way to solicit medical doctors that will allow wellness professionals to infiltrate this sphere of influence.


"If You Want to Build a Clientele, Get Referrals."

            It makes sense. Such advice would be the equivalent to, "If you want to build a clientele, get referrals from CEOs" or, "If you want to build a clientele, get referrals from Robert DeNiro." However, there's one primary challenge in both of those cases. Unless you're rubbing elbows, watching football games on Sundays with the surgical team from the local med center, before you can get these referrals, you need to establish relationships that are conducive to receiving them. Many wellness professionals know about referring medical doctors every bit as well as they know Robert DeNiro.

            Before you jump to defend this mantra, ask yourself whether those in the medical world are going to place "providing the wellness professional with lots of client referrals" high on their priority list. If you do, read a different article, as this one's unnecessary. However, if you're like most beginning fitness professionals, wishing clients would drop from the sky, establishing the referrer-referee relationship is the carrot at the end of the stick. Just as you understand that each and every one of your clients need more than a workout, you should understand that a professional needs more than half-truths, disposable tips and wanton advice. There has to be an action plan, a strategy and the willingness to follow that strategy with an unending assessment as to whether or not it's leading you to your desired destination.


Mapping Out the Plan of Action

            Here's the strategy that rarely works: Go to a medical doctor's office; try to set up appointments with them; impress them with your passion and expertise, and assure them that if you have clients who need medical attention, you'll refer them. 

            The unfortunate reality is that on the importance hierarchy, many fitness professionals fall below the drug reps who are seeking appointments that week. Even if you make it as far as the meeting, your offering is impotent. In reality, successful doctors are successful because they've established a presence and a position among a special population. While it might sound nice, theoretically, the medical world really doesn't need your referrals for patients. However, this fact does not mean that the wellness and fitness industry cannot capitalize on a medical relationship. Once this relationship is reframed and the real goal of pursuing the medial doctor is clarified, the possibilities of the medical referral can be turned on its ear.

            The theory of our profession is: We hope we'll get clients who respect us as professionals, who openly admit and discuss their health and fitness needs and who we know we can impact measurably in terms of improving their lives. Isn't that what we, as wellness and fitness professionals, really seek when trying to establish referral networks? There are two ways to effectively achieve this end:


            1. Get to know a doctor, and impress him or her with your ability to deliver health-inducing results.


            2. Position yourself on the same pedestal, from a public-perception standpoint, as medical doctors are placed.


Introducing the Medical World to Yours

            Let's start with the most consistently effective and in hindsight, the most obvious method of turning the medical practitioner into a referring ally retaining him or her as a client while exceeding his or her expectations. For those fitness professionals who have yet to acquire such clients, this addition to your customer base might seem intimidating. Of course, medical doctors are experts in their fields of practice. And I wouldn't presume to educate a neurosurgeon in the workings of gray matter. I've found, however, that when it comes to understanding how to integrate resistance training, aerobic movement and nutrition into a cohesive, result-oriented program aimed at achieving metabolic improvement and positive body composition shifts, most doctors have the same questions as accountants, teachers and postal workers. While the idea of a fitness professional sending referrals back to a doctor's practice may not excite that physician, the idea of that same physician getting back into shape or healing a long-standing sports injury might be extremely compelling. To date, I've had over 250 doctors as clients, and when you total up the number of medical professionals who've been transformed by my trainers, it numbers well into the thousands. That remains an immense referral machine.

            So, get a physician into a more functional body, improve his golf game or help her find the tasks of daily routine simpler to achieve, and they will, in turn, refer not just because they want something in return. These doctors will refer because they believe in your ability, and if they are going to provide sound advice to their patients, they're going to mention anything that can be beneficial.


Matching Up with the Right Professional

            So now, aren't we back to the Robert DeNiro situation? If we don't know him, how do we get him as a client? If just meeting Robert was your goal, I believe you could design a strategy that could make an introduction a very real possibility, but if your goal is to get physicians as clients, finding the outcome is simpler. If you currently align yourself with or are an employee of a health club, such a business maintains a member database. A quick search of "Dr." in the prefix field of the database would likely reveal a few dozen medical doctors in any club with the typical 1,500 to 3,000 member base. Contact them, not about your business, but about their own health and wellbeing. With some diligent follow up, you could be well on your way to medical referrals pouring in.

            If you are an independent professional with no such affiliations, there are many other options for reaching the physician. While I would discourage you from visiting their practice in hopes of a meeting, I would encourage you to visit and connect with a receptionist, a nurse or employee. However, don't view the employee as a doorway to the physician, at least not immediately. View that employee as an individual who has some very real wellness and fitness wants and needs. This introduction can lead to an offer to do a morning seminar, boot camp or other educational sessions for the staff. 

            You can also set up a table at a local hospital. Find an opportunity to either conduct a mini-seminar, a demonstration or participate in an in-house health fair. Remember, the immediate goal is not to find the medical practitioner who will refer, but it's to meet professionals who have wellness and fitness needs. Prove yourself worthy of their referrals by helping them find positive changes. If you think a hospital health fair is a rarity, go to Google and search using the words hospital, health and fair. Then, once you're convinced these events happen more frequently than you suspected, reach out to your local hospital, and make some contacts with the organizers of these events.

            As another option, offer to introduce a physician who is going to speak at a function or event. Flip through neighborhood periodicals, and you'll no doubt find a number of seminars and workshops that are offered by medical professionals. Serving as first-at-the-podium gives you the microphone for a minute or two, but more importantly, allows you a preliminary period to interview the doctor so your introduction is appropriate. If you ask the right questions and explain what you do, "getting together for a sampling of services" won't be such a stretch.

            I am limiting my suggestions to methodologies and strategies I've personally used, more than once, with proven results, and even with that as an overriding criteria, I can list another 20 actions that would put you in touch, on a professional level, with physicians. As I previously stated, there are two ways to achieve optimizing the end result of finding new clients through a relationship with the medical world, the second of which I described as "positioning yourself on the same pedestal, from a public perception standpoint, as doctors are placed." This involves using marketing strategies that put you in the same limelight, standing side by side with medical professionals. Writing articles in medical newsletters, creating your own medical newsletter where MDs contribute pieces or organizing your own health fair where a number of doctors speak or exhibit are a few examples of marketing strategies that will put you inside the same professional circle, at least in terms of the perception of participants, readers or attendees.


            Phil Kaplan is a fitness professional with a commitment to bettering the lives of others. His new program, "Change Your Mind Change the World," is available at www.philkaplan.com.