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5 Secrets to Befriending the Gatekeeper When Marketing to Doctors’ Offices

Posted by Rick Lau on Aug 8, 2023 6:30:00 AM
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Marketing to Doctors’ Offices: How to Befriend the Gatekeeper When Marketing to Doctors’ Offices

5 Secrets to Gaining Their Trust and Increasing Patient Referrals

So often when your clinic tries to market to doctors, you discover that what you’re really doing is marketing to the doctor’s office, meaning getting to know the key person or people who stand between you and the actual doctor.

This could be:

  • the medical office manager
  • receptionist 
  • front desk team 

But we refer to this person as the gatekeeper. They control the access to the doctor, both for patients and for physiotherapy, chiropractic, or other medical clinic owners like you. 

As a clinic owner, it can be hard to get doctors to send referrals. And it’s true, what's even harder is to get past the front desk gatekeeper in the first place. But there are ways.

In this post, I will be sharing with you 5 secrets on how to get past the gatekeeper so you can talk to the doctor and get more referrals. 

Doctor Marketing with Gatekeeper Key

Your goal isn’t always to build a good working relationship with the doctor. Sometimes, it’s all about the gatekeeper. It depends on how each office is run.

In a recent episode of New Patient Secrets, Jamey Schrier and Rick Lau discussed:

How to befriend the gatekeeper in a doctor's office and get them to put you on their referral list. 

Jamey is a physical therapy clinic owner who also founded Practice FreedomU, a clinic-coaching business that helps clinic owners dramatically increase their operational efficiency so they can get more done and make more money with less time and work required from the owner.

Jamey spent $300,000 and nine years trying to figure out how to stop sacrificing his family and his time to his clinic business. 

He succeeded. What he learned, he now uses to help other clinic owners do the same.

You can watch the video of this portion of my interview with Jamey, or you can keep reading to see the secrets below they discuss about befriending the gatekeeper.

Secret 1: Be Memorable by Being Friendly

The key is to get personal and make it memorable. Take the time to find out the gatekeeper’s name and more importantly, use it!

Kill them with kindness: 

  • Be polite and friendly.  
  • Smile.
  • Be courteous - allow patients to come first when you get to that front desk.
  • Connect with them and find a way to have a conversation - this is particularly important. You can often pick up clues on their desk (photos of loved one, hobbies, their coffee mug) and ask them about it
  • Use humor - if you can find a way to make them smile, they will like you for it. Their life is already stressful enough so a breath of humor can lighten up their day.

What does it mean to be “friendly”? It’s pretty simple stuff, but if it’s not second nature for you, you need to make sure and do some very specific things when you talk to the gatekeeper:

5 tips to Physician Referrals

The first time you meet the gatekeeper, these simple behaviours will help you make a good first impression. But you want to continue practicing these habits every time you see them. 

Knowing and speaking a person’s name when you great them puts you far ahead of anyone else they talk to. It communicates that you know and remember them, and that they matter to you. It’s a sign of genuine friendliness and awareness. 

Knowing and speaking a person’s name when you greet them puts you far ahead of anyone else they talk to

Secret 2: Be Mindful and Respectful of Their Situation

If you walk into a doctor’s office and the gatekeeper is on the phone, or there’s a bunch of people in the waiting room, understand that you are entering a situation that could feel stressful and out of control to them.

Your attempts at building rapport and bugging the gatekeeper about referrals may not be at the top of their priority list. So don’t lean over their desk while you wait for them to get off the phone. Wait patiently somewhere else.

Then, when the business subsides, say their name as you greet them, and ask this question:

“Am I catching you at a bad time?”


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You can also ask if you’re catching them at a “good” time, but ‘bad’ might work better because it triggers the human response of wanting to avoid rejecting someone.

People don’t want to say yes to this, because a part of us feels like it might be rude or offensive or hurtful. It’s a natural reaction to say ‘no’ in this situation, even just to be polite.

But to be sure, you can even follow up with...

“You seem really busy today, is this how it always is around here?”

Again, you are showing that you acknowledge how busy they seem, and that you respect their time.

Secret 3: Ask the Right Questions

At some point, the gatekeeper will ask how they can help you. But remember your goal, especially if this is your first time talking to them. You are not trying to seal the deal. You are simply having an invisible ‘cup of coffee’ with them.

This is just a conversation, and you’re hoping to get some basic information so you will know what to talk to the doctor about if you get the chance.

❌ Don't Ask: Can I be put on your referral list? (Right away)

✅ Do Ask: What do your favourite physiotherapists do that makes you like working with them?

✅ Do Ask: What types of services do you typically refer out to specialists?

You might ask the gatekeeper which kinds of services the doctor refers out, if you want to go that far.

But in this first conversation, you really want to just build rapport. Notice what’s on their desk, and ask a question about something interesting you see. Check out their social media profiles before coming in, and ask about something you saw on there, especially if it’s a common interest you share.

Keep asking questions, and you will keep the conversation going. But don’t drag on forever. Be sure to make it clear who you are, that you run a clinic and are curious about their referral process.

Depending on their answer to this, you can then plan your next step. Because in many doctors’ offices, the doctor doesn’t make referrals. They just have a list of providers they use. In that case, you want to be on that list!

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  • Convert more calls into booked appointments.
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Check out this quick clip on, '7 Things to Say to a Doctor if you Want More Referrals'...

Secret 4: Ask to Get on Their Specialist Referral List 

This is why the conversation and the rapport needs to be good. When the topic shifts to referrals, you want to know their process. You must BE CLEAR about this. If they have a list and if you have won over the gatekeeper, it should be pretty easy to get them to put you on that list.

Tell them your name and your specialty, and confirm they have added you.
Watch this short clip from the same video about this very important topic.

If another person in the office makes referral decisions, find that out and get permission to speak to them. In many cases, the doctor doesn’t even make these decisions, so knowing the doctor doesn’t do you much good. Again – be clear about their referral process, and make the appropriate request to the right person.

Make the appropriate request to the right person.

Secret 5: Don't Lose Any Referrals Sent to You By the Doctor

Once you’ve gotten on their referral list and made a good connection with the gatekeeper, you will start getting referrals. But don’t take this for granted – you still have to book them as patients!

If these patients call you but:

  • No one answers the phone 
  • Someone does answer but they don’t book an appointment in the first call
You need to work hard to win these patients back. We call these winbacks, and this is the second phase of any successful effort at marketing to doctors’ offices.

How well you treat these patients will eventually make it back to the gatekeeper. Your reputation as a referral source is at stake.

And if you really want to maximize your booking rate from new patients, there are at least 7 types of outbound calls that will dramatically increase your revenue and cost you nothing in your marketing budget. And when you make these calls, you will have a higher success rate if you use good phone scripts like this one.

Using these strategies, you can then track your data –a major advantage of direct marketing over brand marketingand know how well your marketing strategies are working, including your marketing to doctors’ offices. 

Building systems like these are what Jamey and Rick both teach to the clinic owners who come to them for:

  • Help to grow revenue
  • Increasing efficiency  
  • Improving patient operations
But you can’t build systems like this if your clinic has a dysfunctional culture filled with burned out or unmotivated team members.

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➡️ Get 11 tips for creating an amazing clinic culture HERE ⬅️

Now this is the only part of the framework of marketing to doctor's offices. If you would like to get the full framework that the best clinics use to befriend the gatekeeper and receive doctor referrals, then I'd like to invite you to take the FREE Mystery Caller Audit.

We'll call your front desk and tell you what they did well, what they need to work on, and exactly how to handle the objections they had trouble with to dramatically boost your booking rate from your phones. This way, when a referral from a doctor calls your clinic you know that they will be taken care of over the phones.

We will also give you the phone scripts playbook that contains 9 proven phone scripts to help you turn more of these referrals into patients and confidently handle virtually any objection they’ll throw at you. You can take the FREE Mystery Caller Audit Here


1. Why can’t I get past the front desk gatekeeper?

Here is the honest truth: they don't like you.  You likely sound like every single sales person  that is trying to sell something to a doctor. The response from the gatekeeper is often: “Sorry, Doctor X is seeing patients. Can I take your information and I will give it to them. If the doctor is interested, he will get back to you.” The doctor never responds and here’s why. The gatekeepers are paid to keep you away from their doctors because every physiotherapy clinic, pharma rep, or medical device company is trying to sell something to the doctor - and there are a lot of them!

2. How many visits will it take for doctor marketing to work? 

It takes more than one visit. It takes more than one visit to get the gatekeeper to like you or to consider having you talk to the doctor. You should look at this like dating: You’re building a relationship. With each date (visit) you are going to nurture and woo the gatekeeper to like you. To see you as a friend, so much so that they are willing to squeeze you in to see the doctor even though the doctor has given their clear instructions not to talk to any sales person. Statically it takes a person 8 times to say no before they finally say yes. Don't give up.

3. How do you market a physical therapy clinic? 

The easiest way is to market to patient patients and existing physician referral sources.  You can also run google ads campaigns and target keywords like "physical therapy" or "chiropractic care" or "IMS treatment".  One of my all time favourites is to run online workshops (ie back pain workshop on gardening) and use that as an opportunity to collect emails, build trust and offer a free back/posture scan.  



Rick has built three 10 million dollar healthcare businesses over the past 15 years including a network of 127 clinics with over 1400 employees. He is one of the most sought-after mentors for clinic owners in Canada and USA and the founder of Clinic Accelerator where he helps owners double, triple, and even quadruple their profits by optimizing their clinic operations using his proven systems and leadership strategies. Plus, he has spent over millions in google and facebook ads during his career. He is also the founder of Callhero, an all-in-one communication platform to grow your clinic.

You can follow him on Instagram

Topics: Doctor Marketing


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