Business Management

The Doctor is “IN” - Establishing a Salon-Doctor Relationship

Finding a good doctor is like finding a good nail technician – people want a personal referral from someone they trust. If you’re still looking for Dr. Right, here are some suggestions from physicians and nail techs who’ve made referral relationships work.

With a background in nursing and consulting to the health care industry, Rosemary Weiner is well-attuned to the link between health and beauty care and the need for reciprocal relationships with physicians. From the start, her salon, The Brass Rose, has had a policy of referring clients to a doctor when Weiner or her staff thinks it’s in the client’s best interest. “It’s a safe bet to say we in the salon may be the first to notice a potential problem for a client,” Weiner explains. “For example, when we do a skin analysis we send clients immediately to the doctor if we see something that causes us concern. If we’re suspicious of a nail problem our policy is to remove the nails so we can inspect them and send the client to a dermatologist if we think it’s necessary.

“Overall, if we see anything like an infection or if we identify potential circulatory problems, we tell the client she should see a physician,” she continues. “Our computer software allows us to make a note of that recommendation, and we discontinue some services if the client doesn’t follow through. The other area where we make referrals is when clients express interest in holistic health care. We have a nice relationship with a natural health food store, so we’ll send those clients over to speak to the pharmacist there, and he has a nutritionist they can consult: with.”

Weiner knows she’s fortunate: Most physicians in her rural area, nestled in a northwest corner of New Jersey near the Poconos, know her from her previous career and feel comfortable sending their patients to the salon. Likewise, she knows just where to refer clients for almost any kind of medical complaint they have. Most salon owners and nail technicians aren’t that lucky, but that makes their need for establishing referral relationships with a dermatologist and a podiatrist (at a minimum) even greater. Which is why we talked to physicians and nail technicians alike to get their recommendations on how to find a physician, establish a relationship, and make it mutually beneficial in the long run.


Everybody Wins

NAILS has advocated referral relationships since its inception 17 years ago, and the idea finally seems to be one whose time has come, at least from the physician’s perspective.

“I see referral relationships becoming more of a trend because of the managed care environment,” notes Godfrey Mix, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Sacramento, Calif., and co-owner of Footworks in Elk Grove, Calif., with Laura, his wife, who’s also a nail technician. “Doctors are getting more entrepreneurial. I don’t personally promote my podiatry practice to the public because Sacramento is 80% managed care and you have to be in the group to get patients anyway.”

According to Dr. Mix, he, the salon staff, and clients alike benefit from the fact that his wife’s part-time nail business is located in his office. “Basically, we’re helping each other,” he explains. “If our nail professionals have a problem, I’m available to them. If the client has a particularly thick callus, for example, I’ll trim it down. If she has some other, more serious problem, I’ll advise her she needs professional care and make her aware of other podiatrists in the area as well as noting that I’m right here. That makes the client happy and she comes back. My patients, on the other hand, will come for pedicures between their visits to me, and we find they also buy salon gift certificates as gifts. It’s just been beneficial for everyone involved.”

Explains Mitchell Stickler, M.D., a dermatologist and president of Michelle Soignee and Cape Henlopen & Nanticoke Dermatology in Lewes, Del.: “In the HMO environment, physicians are having a hard time attracting patients, and dermatologists and plastic surgeons in particular want clients who have a cosmetic concern because then it’s not tied to medical insurance.” Just collecting payment from an insurance company can absorb as much as 25% of the service fee, Dr. Stickler says.

“The benefit from the doctor’s perspective is getting new patients, which is just a wonderful thing,” says Ivar Roth, D.P.M, M.P.H. In fact Dr. Roth has made a point of developing contacts in the professional salon industry near his practice in Newport Beach, Calif. “We started out by mailing notices to nail technicians that we were here and that we’d be more than happy to see their referrals.”

Next, Dr. Roth had an employee personally make the rounds to salons, handing out his business cards and introducing his practice to nail professionals. As an added touch, he partnered with a pharmaceuticals company to host a dinner seminar for pedicurists where dessert was accompanied by a presentation of foot disorders and a question-and-answer session. Of the dinner seminars, Dr. Roth says technicians benefited from the information he shared, he benefited from the potential referrals, and the clients ultimately benefited from the expert advice and treatment they received from both.

“The advantage for nail technicians of establishing a referral relationship is that it increases client loyalty and allows you to connect your client with someone who recognizes dermatoses of the nail,” adds Susanne Warfield, president and CEO of Paramedical Consultants and the publisher of PCI Journal of Progressive Clinical Insights (Glen Rock, N.J.). “If you’re able to recognize a problem then refer to a physician known to you who can treat it, you gain more credibility with your client.” Even more important, you’re assured that your client has access to a physician knowledgeable about her particular problem rather than a general practitioner who may not be as familiar with the nuances of the various nail diseases and disorders.


“Why” Easier Than “How”

The good news is that medical specialists are more receptive to communicating and doing “business” with salons. The bad news is that nail technicians may be one of the last to benefit. The physicians we spoke to acknowledge that dermatologists in particular are the least affected by managed care on the one hand (because their practice is not generally covered by HMO insurance in the first place), yet they’re also often the most resistant to professional nail services (because in some way they compete for clients/patients and they’ve historically been opposed to artificial nails).

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