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Debunking the Myth That All Care Begins With a Primary Care Doctor

, April 19, 2013

You may not think it, but many patients see a chiropractor before seeing a primary care physician.

Most health plans do not require patients to see a primary care physician before seeing a chiropractor. Chiropractors have extensive training to assess and treat back and neck pain. If we see the patient first, and see indications that there could be a medical problem, we refer the patient to their primary care physician. Similarly, primary care physicians refer patients with back and neck pain to us when the underlying symptoms are caused by joint or muscle conditions.

Often primary care physicians are not prepared to treat back pain beyond writing prescriptions. As primary care physicians become more aware of the safe and high-quality treatment that chiropractic care provides, collaboration increases.

The patient is the biggest beneficiary of this collaboration. Our own surveys of the nearly 1,700 ChiroCare chiropractors show patient satisfaction rates in the high 90 percent range. In addition, our treatment cost is usually lower than medical treatment, and patients tell us they are feeling relief after one or two treatments.

I recently ran across a National Institutes of Health study showing that primary care physicians enjoy very good professional relationships with other primary care physicians. However, the lack of direct formalized referral relationships between primary care physicians and chiropractors hinders referrals. We know that familiarity and relationships play a big part in medical referrals. Since many care systems have physical therapists on staff, primary care physicians will get to know them and refer to them. But most chiropractors remain in independent clinics and have to look outside for ways to connect with doctors.

Our own Chiropractic Care of Minnesota, Inc. (CCMI) board member, Dr. Molly Magnani, led establishing the first chiropractors on staff in a Minnesota care system, in this case Allina Health. Fairview Health Systems, North Memorial Hospital and Health Partners now employ chiropractors as part of their systems. Other creative ways medical doctor/chiropractor relationships have developed are serving on hospital boards and helping with local sports teams, alongside medical doctors.

Until this familiarity between medical doctors and chiropractors increases, most patients with back or neck pain will have to initiate contact with a chiropractor directly. Let us know your ideas of how to increase collaboration between chiropractors and medical doctors by commenting below.