Referring a client with nail problems to a physician sounds like a great idea—until you realize you don’t know where to send her! It’s not practical just to tell your client she has a problem you cannot treat in the salon. She’s likely to walk out of your salon and straight into another one. You should make clients aware of the importance of medical care because a nail problem may seem to them a mere inconvenience. This is where you come in. When you notice a nail problem, you should point it out and explain the abnormality and why you can’t perform services. Then stress the importance of proper medical care.
Obviously, hangnails and other minor nail health problems are not going to require this kind of attention, but if there is a problem you cannot identify or service, don’t just send the client home. Refer her to a physician and encourage her to make an appointment. By providing the client with a physician’s card as well as a recommendation, you may help communicate the potential seriousness of the problem.
You can’t, however, just pick a dermatologist’s or podiatrist’s name out of the phone book and refer clients to that physician. The doctor may not be taking new patients, or worse, may have a reputation around town as “the last doctor on Earth I’d let touch me.”
Establishing a referral relationship with a physician is the first step in establishing your salon’s policies regarding nail diseases and disorders. Many of your clients may already have a regular physician or may have health insurance that requires treatment at a specific facility. But offering a referral is a strong statement of your professionalism and concern.
How do you find a good doctor? Your clients are much more likely to follow your advice if you personally recommend a trustworthy local physician who specializes in nail health.
When searching for a good physician for your clients, use the same tactics you would when seeking a doctor for yourself: Ask your friends, family, and clients for recommendations.
If no one can refer you to a good dermatologist or podiatrist, contact your local hospital or country medical association and ask for the names of doctors interested in referral relationships. If you still don’t have any luck, you may have to consult the yellow pages and let your fingers do the searching.
Once you have several physicians’ names, it’s time to get on the phone and set up interviews. Most physicians are busy with patients during office hours, so expect to leave a message. Tell the receptionist your name, telephone number, and why you are calling. Keep the message brief, however, or it’s likely to become confused. If you don’t hear from a physician within two days, call back.
When the physician returns your call, explain your interest in establishing a referral relationship. Before you invest any more of your time, ask if she’s also interested. If so, set up a convenient meeting time to get acquainted.
During the meeting, note the physician’s personality and her reception to your plan. Is she friendly and talkative, or neutral and reserved? Does she listen closely to what you say, or does she interrupt with her own opinions? These observations are good indicators of how the physician interacts with patients.
If you are comfortable with the physician’s personality and are satisfied she’s knowledgeable about nail disorders, it’s time to ask the questions that will be important to your clients, such as:
- How long do new patients customarily have to wait for an appointment?
- What type of medical insurance is accepted?
- Will the doctor’s office bill insurance companies, or is the patient responsible for payment at the time of the appointment?
- What payment procedures are allowed for patients without medical insurance (i.e., can the patient make instalment payments on large bills, or is full payment expected at the time of service)?
Finally, discuss a mutual referral relationship. Does she realize the benefits of professional nail care? Explain your philosophy that looking good is part of feeling good, and that there are many things a professional nail technician can do to make her clients with fingernail or toenail abnormalities look good.
Don’t expect the physician to agree immediately to a mutual referral relationship and don’t push her. Remember, your objective is to help your clients and protect yourself. Invite the physician to your salon for a meeting and be prepared for questions. If she declines, it is your decision whether to refer patients to her anyway. However, don’t throw away a good physician’s card just because she won’t refer patients your way.
Once you’ve found one or two physicians you like, make sure you have a stack of their business cards on hand. You may also want to write a note to your clients explaining how you know the physician, the types of insurance accepted, and billing procedures. Your clients will appreciate your efforts and will be more likely to see a doctor when you recommend it.
When you refer clients to the physician, follow up yourself with the client. Ask the client if she went, how she was treated, and whether she liked the physician. Monitor clients’ responses and respond to complaints or dissatisfaction by contacting the physician and discussing problems as necessary.
Although it sounds involved, the whole process shouldn’t take very long, and it will pay off for your business in the long run. There are plenty of good physicians, and most are truly interested in keeping patients healthy and happy, just as you are.