10 Tips for Building Professional Relationships

Part of a series on the chiropractic residency program in the VA health care system

Whether your desire is to work in private practice or in an integrated setting such as a hospital, working with other health care providers is critical in the management of patient health and wellness. No one professional has all the answers and no one type of treatment will work for all people. Therefore, building professional relationships will help you to create a network for referral and to receive insight or feedback on specific patient conditions. The following 10 tips will outline ways to cultivate these relationships, gain the trust of other providers and secure your place in the community health system.

1. Ask other providers to meet you for a cup of coffee or lunch. This allows you to meet face-to-face, answer questions in real time and make a good first impression.

2. Figure out how you can help them manage their patients and provide value to their office. Do some research on the other provider’s office. What is their typical patient like? Are there any opportunities to see a specific demographic that is being underserved or for which you can provide better results? Whether it’s lowering some of their patient load or saving them money by treating their uncomplicated low back pain patients, figure out how you can help them. Ultimately, they want to know “what they’re getting out of the deal” and provide the best patient-centered care.

3. Be polite. No one wants to work with a jerk, no matter how talented you are.

4. Use professional language. Speak to them like a colleague, not a drinking buddy. Use terms they know so you’re on the same page (i.e. less chiropractic nuanced terminology and more medical terminology). For example, describe low back pain with muscle aches as “facetogenic lumbar pain with myalgia.”

5. Explain what you do in clear terms. If speaking about a specific diagnosis for a patient (i.e. mechanical low back pain), express to them your estimated trial of care, how you will treat the patient and the outcomes you would expect to achieve. If speaking in generalities, express to them that you offer management of a variety of musculoskeletal conditions and explain you manage those conditions in your office, including expected outcomes.

6. Let the provider know you want to be part of a team. After you’ve discussed your background, treatment style and typical plans for care, let the provider know you are looking to collaborate and participate as a team member. This shows humility and a willingness to collaborate. As author and management expert Ken Blanchard once said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

7. Return the patient to the provider when you’ve completed your trial of care. Get them in, do your best and return the patient to their provider. You won’t get many referrals if the other providers think you’re “stealing” their patients or overtreating.

8. Document everything and be specific. There’s nothing worse than a sloppy note. Well, maybe sloppy treatment, but you get the idea. The more specific you are in your diagnosis, the more credible you will appear and (more importantly) the better equipped you’ll be to manage that patient.

9. Talk less, do more. You can’t expect to build a strong relationship only by talking about what you can accomplish, you have to actually deliver the goods. Ultimately, if you get patients better that’ll do more for you than anything you say. This reminds me of the quote, “What you do speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.”

10. But when you need to talk, make sure you’ve got the facts. Know your field; be able to speak about chiropractic in general and “how it works.” Know your limitations; don’t make unfounded claims. You’re not going to cure cancer. Know your research, and understand their research. This is a great way to show you’re well read and keeping up with relevant literature from other related fields.

When all is said and done, the main purpose of building interprofessional relationships is to optimize care for the patient and to produce better outcomes. My hope is that some or all of these tips will lead to the formation of many successful and beneficial connections in your career.

Dr. Huybrecht is the chiropractic resident at the VA St. Louis Healthcare System under program director Pamela Wakefield, DC. He is working toward completion of the Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician program and certification in chiropractic acupuncture. Dr. Huybrecht’s professional interests include chronic pain management for veterans, organizational leadership, and state and national advocacy.