Episode 156

Apr 27, 2018

Referrals can be tricky. What if we refer a client to a trusted practitioner and their experience is awful? Are we liable? We discuss the ins and outs of referring and how to handle a resulting awkward situation.

Referrals can be tricky. What if we refer a client to a trusted practitioner and their experience is awful? Are we liable? We discuss the ins and outs of referring and how to handle a resulting awkward situation.
Image for E156: Am I Liable When I Refer a Massage Client to Another Practitioner?


Referrals can be tricky. What if we refer a client to a trusted practitioner and their experience is awful? Are we liable? We discuss the ins and outs of referring and how to handle a resulting awkward situation.

This episode is sponsored by:


Michael Reynolds Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast, where we discuss the business side of massage therapy. I’m Michael Reynolds. Allissa Haines And I’m Allissa Haines.

MR And we’re your hosts. Glad you’ve joined us today. Allissa, what’s going on?

AH Well, I am strictly cutting out caffeine after noon time nowadays, and we are late afternoon. But I feel okay, and it’s sunny out. So that’s my update. That’s my Allissa update. How are you, Michael?

MR Just living the dream.

AH [laughs] You had a fun weekend doing outside stuff with your kid.

MR I did. Yes, my Instagram account is evidence of this. We did some fun stuff. Went to the zoo; rode the trains. Good stuff.

AH What’s the favorite animal? We need to know Eli’s favorite animal.

MR Well, we asked him that over and over, and he always says, “I saw lots of animals.” So I think all his —

AH Aw! He’s a little diplomat.

MR Oh, no, no. He did love the sea lions.

AH Ah.

MR I think he did say the sea lions were his favorite at the end there. Those were a lot of fun because they barked like a dog, but they were in the oceans — or in the water, so it was a whole weird thing. Eli liked that.

AH How sweet is he that he doesn’t really want to pick a favorite, he just wants to love them all.

MR Yeah, he loved them all.

AH That’s a good boy. Well, good. I’m glad you’re enjoying spring finally.

MR Finally, yes. So our topic today is am I liable when I refer a massage client to another practitioner? Ooh, this sounds juicy.

AH I know. This is totally one of the ones that where, like, the question is going to be longer than my answer. But I’m going to ready you the question —

MR Yes or no. [laughs]

AH — that came from one of our friends, and I think one of our premium members. Yes. One of our premium members. And she’s a delight. Here’s what she said. It’s kind of a two-part question.

As a massage therapist with lots of local connections, I’m often suggesting or recommending other practitioners to my clients like chiropractors, acupuncturists, craniosacral therapists, yoga, etc. I never say, “You should do this particular treatment.” But, I’ll say, “You could try this,” or “Other clients have had success with this.” And I’ll respond to their own inquiry about a treatment as if a client says, “Do you know anyone who does craniosacral or do you do craniosacral?”

She’ll say, I recommend this particular practitioner. So the first part was, what are my thoughts on that? Is that kosher or are there different ways to suggesting and recommending and referring?

And I say, that is is perfectly right. You can’t say — you shouldn’t say to people, you should definitely do this thing. But to say, these are the practitioners that I know; here is the one I would choose for you for this reason and this reason. And I refer out to four or five chiropractors in the area, but all for different reasons. If someone’s having a neurological, systemic thing, I refer out to a particular guy who’s really good at neurology stuff. If someone has — if they’re pregnant, there’s a chiropractor around here that does a ton of really wonderful work with people during pregnancy and right after. So I think it’s great to be able to say who you would refer them to for that type of work and why. And if you’ve got someone with a stubborn issue that you haven’t been able to help, of course you can and should refer them out to — if your knee’s having trouble, here’s the physical therapist that I like for that. So that’s part one of the question. Michael, before I launch in to part two, I want to do our halftime sponsor. So who is our halftime sponsor today?

MR You know who it is. Jojoba.

AH Yay! Special thanks to the jojoba today for sponsoring this episode.

Sponsor message We believe that massage therapists should only be using the highest quality products, because our clients deserve it, as do our own bodies. I, personally, have been using jojoba for years. And here’s why: Jojoba is nonallergenic; I can use it on any client and every client without being concerned about an allergic reaction. That is awesome. And it also does not go rancid, so it can get hot and cold again. It doesn’t contain triglycerides like many products do, so it doesn’t break down; it doesn’t go bad. This also makes jojoba a really great carrier for essential oils. If you’re going to put a couple drops of a very expensive essential oil into a carrier, you want that carrier to last a very long time. And it won’t stain your 100% cotton sheets. So if you want to learn more about jojoba, you should go to massagebusinessblueprint.com/jojoba. That’s massagebusinessblueprint.com/J-O-J-O-B-A.

AH Now, let’s get back to our question. So the second part of this question was a little more complicated.

And she wrote, “If I recommend a practitioner and the client has a negative experience, am I held liable in any way?”

And this reader did actually have a situation go bad. She referred someone to, I think it was an acupuncturist. And then when the massage therapist was catching up with the client, the client mentioned that she felt uncomfortable with that acupuncturist. And our reader handled it beautifully by saying, “If you feel uncomfortable with any practitioner, please seek someone else who you do feel comfortable with.” The client didn’t hold her responsible, but in her head, our reader was wondering, am I responsible if that client blames me for treatment that went wrong or just discomfort during their treatment?

And, no. You’re not. You’re not legally liable if another well-insured, licensed, practicing practitioner has a situation. But, that said, I see where this question is coming from because when a referral goes bad or when a referral doesn’t fit, of course we feel bad. We feel very responsible to our clients on a lot of levels. And our reader wrapped it up with “The situation is making me rethink referring and recommending other practitioners.” And it should. Because if you had a client who felt uncomfortable with that practitioner, maybe you need to rethink that relationship. It could just be that it was a bad fit. But maybe you want to find out a little bit more about why she felt uncomfortable. Did she feel like that practitioner touched her in an inappropriate way? Did she feel like she was rushed through the visit? If she just felt like it wasn’t a good fit for her or she felt rushed through the visit, then I’d probably consider continuing to refer the correct kinds of patients to that person. But maybe even with the caveat, listen, they move quickly through their office so it’s a little different than a visit here with me where you get 60 minutes one on one.

I refer out to different people with caveats. I refer to a chiropractor that I love, but that man will never run on time. So when I sent people to him, I say, “I’m sending you to him because you fit into his specialty perfectly and I think he’s the best person to treat you for this. But you will always wait at his office. He never ever runs on time. And you should be aware of that.” And I would never refer somebody who needs a really structured schedule and needs to be in and out in 20 minutes. I would never refer that kind of client to that chiropractor because that is never going to happen.

If you feel like — if a client reports back to you a discomfort or being treated badly in some way, yeah, it should make you rethink referrals to that office. And you may or may not choose, depending on the issue, you may or may not choose to talk to that practitioner about it and just say, really openly, I’ve referred a handful of people here and they’ve all complained that your office isn’t clean or that your receptionist is terrible or this, this, or this. Do you see this changing? Or you can just stop referring to them. And that’s okay, too. You’re not legally liable for the actions of another practitioner. But your reputation is very much based in the referrals that you make and the experiences people have with them, so think that through.

And also know that sometimes clients are wrong. That’s okay too. Just because one person had a bad experience doesn’t mean everyone will, and it doesn’t mean that practitioner did anything wrong. And that’s the end of it. It was kind of a simple one. Sorry. But I’m done, Michael. What do you got?

MR [laughs] No need to be sorry. Sometimes the simplest wins are the best. Obviously, it was a question on people’s minds, so I think it needed to be discussed. Good call.

AH Have you ever had an experience of making a referral that went wrong and felt super uncomfortable with it?

MR I have. Not very often because I’m pretty picky about referrals, but it has happened before. And I do feel bad. When it happened, I felt very bad. I was like I’m so sorry; I’ve never heard that before. It sounds like something went wrong. Obviously, all you can do is apologize and say, oh, I didn’t realize it would turn out that way. People are very understanding. No one blames you for making a referral — it’s not your fault. They know that. So yeah. I think I felt bad.

I just really try to judge my referrals based on the strength of the relationship. If it’s someone I trust completely, I’m more willing to say something like “Hey, you should go to this person. They’re the best. They will take care of you.” Blargedy blarg. But if it’s someone where I’m pretty sure they’ll be okay, but I’m not super tight with them, I might say “Hey, from what I understand, they do great work. I would suggest talking to this person.” That way, it keeps it a little more distant. It’s not really an endorsement, it’s more of a nudge toward a potential option and that way it helps me with the proper distance. So I just really base it on the strength of the relationship, personally. That’s [indiscernible] for me.

AH Sweet.

MR All right. Great. Thank you. Appreciate it. I will go ahead and — if you don’t mind, I’m going to wrap up in a few minutes here with one more shout-out. It’s end of the month coming up here, so just a reminder: we’ve seen a lot of people taking advantage of locking in the current $9 a month premium membership fee for membership — for premium membership. But it is going up May 1. The price as of May 1 for new members will be $17 a month. We’ve already talked about why it’s worth it, all the ins and out, the details, they’re all out there. I won’t go into that again. But just a reminder, if you’re on the fence and you’re thinking about becoming a premium member and joining our premium community and you want to lock in your rate indefinitely at $9 a month before the price goes up, go ahead and sign up on our website before May 1. We look forward to having you join us. With that, we will go ahead and wrap up there. And, Allissa, I can totally hear you typing. [laughs]

AH Sorry.

MR I was going to say something throughout, but I thought we’d get through the whole episode without it. But I think your headphone did not plug in correctly because I hear all your typing.

AH I’m really sorry, man.

MR Oh, no worries. I thought I’d just — it reminds me. Have you seen Up in the Air?

AH Yes.

MR With George Clooney. Remember how they were on the plane and she’s like, “I type with purpose.” People joke with me about that because I type really loud and so I say, “I type with purpose.” It just reminded me of that.

AH I was typing with purpose because wrapping up the bit of this ethical quandary of referring out gave me an idea for another podcast, and I wanted to write it down before I forgot. I’m sorry, people, I am really dedicated to this podcast, okay?

MR [laughs] I appreciate typing with purpose. Anyway, with that, we will wrap up there. Thanks, everyone, for joining us. A reminder, our website, as I mentioned before, is massagebusinessblueprint.com. If you have a question, comment, hate mail, love notes, whatever you want to send us, you can email that to us at podcast@massagebusinessblueprint.com. We appreciate all the referrals and iTunes reviews we have been getting. That’s so much. Again, we’ll see you next time. Have a great day.

AH Bye.

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