Collaboration is an integral part of my day to day work as a chiropractor. I run a multi-disciplinary practice, working alongside osteopaths, physiotherapists and podiatrists amongst others. We all recognise that patients will receive the most effective and appropriate treatment if we work together. This means meeting regularly to jointly discuss patients and their conditions and, if necessary, we will see patients together.
It’s important to appreciate the expertise of other health professionals. I understand the strengths of the osteopaths that I work with and they understand my strengths as a chiropractor. If we work together and combine our expertise we can more effectively meet the needs of the patient. For a large percentage of patients, a one size fits all approach doesn’t work. I frequently see patients alongside the osteopaths and physiotherapists who work in the practice. Our collaborative working extends to jointly writing to GPs to give our professional advice.
Meeting the patient’s needs
The needs of the patient must always come first. There are times when we recognise that our team doesn’t have the specific skill set to help a patient. On these occasions, we look outside of the practice and make a referral to the clinician who, in our opinion, has the specialist expertise, for example, a consultant surgeon. We would always inform the patient’s GP of our recommendation.
It is our responsibility as health professionals to have a good understanding of who is working in our affiliated space and to know their strengths too. Do your research and then work on building relationships with other specialists and surgeons to whom you might wish to refer patients for their consideration and opinion. Always try to find a solution by providing appropriate referral advice to patients that you feel you cannot help directly.
This approach can also serve to help to establish yourself professionally with the patient’s GP as the surgeon will usually copy both you and the GP in to any correspondence.
GPs are the gatekeepers to referring patients to chiropractors, osteopaths and other specialists. However, due to the nature of their NHS training, many GPs still don’t have much of an understanding of what we all do. GPs will usually therefore take the very formulaic NHS approach when referring patients for treatment. This is a pathway which suggests physiotherapy in the first instance and, if this doesn’t work, then onward referral to a specialist or surgeon. There is not much leeway in this mindset that allows a referral to a chiropractor or an osteopath.
This approach doesn’t always benefit the patient but it is how GPs are trained. It is our challenge to demonstrate to GPs how we might fit in to this pathway.
The importance of communication
Communication is obviously the key to working with other health professionals and especially GPs. In addition to the letter written to every patient’s GP about their treatment, I have, over the years, written endless follow on letters to local GPs, both private and NHS, to raise their awareness and understanding of how my practice can help and support their patients. I have invited GPs to the practice so they can see and even experience our work first hand for themselves and as a result I now have a number of them as patients.
It undoubtedly takes time to break down these doors (sometimes many years) but I know from experience that it can be a successful approach that leads to patient referrals. Ultimately, for the patient it means they have access to more treatment options that may prove to be more effective and appropriate for their needs.
A GP who is able to offer different treatment solutions to a patient appears more informed which can only enhance their personal reputation. I always remind patients to thank their GP for referring them to a chiropractor or osteopath. It serves to remind and reinforce to the GP that the referral and thus the treatment worked for the patient.
The GCC is working with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) to explore how collaboration between health professionals can improve patient outcomes and quality of care. A collaborative approach can lead to better coordination of patient care and more effective communication between health professionals. Find out more here