Why Don’t MDs Refer to Chiropractors?

:dropcap_open:T:dropcap_close:he coveted physician-referred patient is a source of pride for those chiropractors fortunate enough to receive one. The referrals may come in large numbers, proliferate and, if done properly, be self-sustaining.
mdandchiroHowever, reaching out to local physicians is something the average chiropractor thinks little about or even attempts. Fear prevents many chiropractors from trying something new and different; we enjoy our practice comfort zones. This is a colossal practice mistake. We find contentment with our technique of choice and do not hesitate to ask a current patient for a referral of a friend or a family member. We do this for one primary reason: we simply must in order to survive in practice. Secondly, we become quite good at requesting patient referrals, and most chiropractors in this country thrive primarily on them.
I often ask other chiropractors around the country: “Why don’t medical doctors refer patients to chiropractors?” There are several objections that at first seem reasonable but in reality could not be farther from the truth.
A common objection is that physicians “hate chiropractors.” This simply is not true. They dislike any specialist who makes them feel uneasy or in the dark about their patient. In turn, any specialist who acts roguishly and unconventionally without first consulting with the MD will see a cessation of referrals. Physicians must be kept informed.
Another objection is that MDs question our being “real” doctors. We produce charts to tout all of the hours of anatomy and physiology that we attend to in chiropractic schools and how they compare to our MD colleagues. The problem is that we show these charts to our patients and not the MDs. How are they to know? Are we expecting our patients to make a case for us? The truth is MDs do not think we are uneducated. We are licensed doctors, and they know and respect our ability to treat patients. They simply do not know what we actually do. All of the degrees and titles we acquire will never earn us an MD’s referral if we care for their patients in ways that they do not understand, or worse, that we fail to inform them about.
I have often heard that MDs will not refer to chiropractors because they think we will “cannibalize,” or steal, their patients from them. A primary care doctor may see over 100 different cases per week, or 400 per month. A conservative estimate is that 10% of those seen are musculoskeletal complaints, which is 40 patients. If the MD treats half of these patients, then there will be 20 patients that must be referred out for therapy. It is imperative that the MD not be worried that the specialist will cannibalize his patients. He sends to cardiologists, neurologists and endocrinologists on a daily basis. If he feels confident in what you do as a chiropractor, a musculoskeletal specialist, he will truly appreciate having an additional clinic to which he can send his patients. If chiropractic sees only 8-9% of the population, why would we not turn to where over 90% of the patients visit?
:quoteright_open:By nurturing your relationship with physicians today, you stand to enjoy a healthy supply of new patients for many years to come.:quoteright_close:
A physician’s referral is extremely strong. These patients tend to be more compliant and are eager to begin care. Once MDs refer a patient to you and trust is developed, they will stand by you and support the care you provide. We had a patient with a rotator cuff injury present to our office. Kinesiotape was used as part of the treatment. The patient developed a rash from the tape and related this to his physician. The MD responded, “Don’t worry, they are good, it will heal. Just keep up with the therapy.”

The patient returned to our office and related what the MD said in response to his now-healing reaction to the sports taping. The patient said, “Gosh, my doctor said you guys are the best and not to worry. He wasn’t concerned at all!” Clearly the MD thought our education and experience was enough to handle this incident. If we gain the trust of the MD, they will not be afraid that we will harm their patient, and furthermore, they will support us during those rare occasions we do.


The key to acquiring physician referrals is to build lasting, professional relationships. Just like any relationship we cherish in life, much care and attention must be given to our relationships with our local physicians. After all, we are all in it for the patient. View yourself as a fellow member of the healthcare team, and you will succeed. By nurturing your relationship with physicians today, you stand to enjoy a healthy supply of new patients for many years to come.

Dr. Joel Starr, D.C. is a co-director of a Multidiscipline clinic in Silver Spring Maryland.  He is also a consultant for Consultants of America and Endless MD Referrals.  For more information on medical doctor referrals, call (888) 972-0811.

Leave a Reply