Physicians often rely on referrals for new patient flow through their practice. Unfortunately, most doctors network incorrectly, inconsistently and ineffectively. Having a consistent effort toward building and maintaining a healthy referral network could be the key to resolving these problems and, in turn, ensuring a practice’s success.
Building this network from scratch, however, does require patience. Too often, practices change course or discontinue their referral-building programs before they can demonstrate results. If a practice can hold out for measurable results, the gains could be tremendous. Patience alone, however, is not quite enough to build a successful referral network. By also developing a smart plan tailored to your specialty, your practice can build a diverse network that keeps patients coming through the door without wasting valuable resources in this ever-competitive industry.
1. Make a List and Check It Twice
To start creating a plan of action for building a successful physician referral network, think about your ideal patient and where they may seek initial medical care before arriving in your examination room. Create a list of non-competing clinics and providers in your area, making the list as long as possible before eliminating prospects. Do you already know any providers listed personally? Is the clinic well marketed? Focus on groups that make sense geographically, have high patient volumes and appear to follow a similar value system to that of your practice. From there, reach out to the practices you’d like to develop a working relationship and build a rapport with them directly, visiting their offices and inviting them to yours.
2. Step Outside Your Specialty
Doctors tend to focus on going to the same industry events every year and staying within their specialty. However, it’s far more advantageous to attend events that draw from the entire medical field when seeking out new referral sources. Network with primary care providers and non-physician specialists, such as dentists or radiologists, who could benefit from a trusted place to send their patients. Additionally, make a purposeful effort to develop a relationship with local ER departments and urgent care facilities; these facilities are likely to refer out the majority of their patients after the initial appointment.
3. Increase Your Public Profile
Building your public reputation as an expert in your field is as important for referrals as it is for attracting patients directly to your practice. Consider contributing to a medical forum or writing blog posts for your website to help boost your online presence. Also think about networking with local media journalists to help contribute to news stories will help make you—and your practice—look both knowledgeable and trustworthy.
Publicizing your practice isn’t limited to the web. Volunteering at community events and joining professional societies such as your local chambers of commerce can provide increased changes to meet referral sources face-to-face. After a while, you’ll identify which out-of-office activities generate the most referrals so you can better target your efforts with increased specificity.
4. Welcome New Providers to the Area
Referrals are a two-way street, and developing a plan to contact and welcome new providers in town can benefit both practices. To identify prospects, take a look at your local county clerk’s office to review new doctors that have just received their business license. Call or write a personal letter to share a little about your practice, offer to serve as a resource as they establish their practice and maybe even go a step further and invite them to be your guest at a professional meeting. This strategy is a great way to build solid relationships early on and offer assistance to an up-and-coming doctor in your community.
5. Keep the Referring Physician Informed
In the world of outcomes-based reimbursements, it’s more important than ever for referral sources to partner with the best providers. Follow up with your referring provider after a patient’s appointment, providing a visit summary, necessary paperwork about the treatment and next steps in the patient’s plan of care. Primary care and general medicine providers are most concerned with the overall health of their patients, and the additional insights from the provider’s perspective into the procedures, medications and treatments their patients are receiving can be indispensable. Consistent and thorough follow-ups make it more likely that the referring provider will work with you on an ongoing basis.
For practice owners, balancing quality patient care and building a business is a balancing act, but taking the time to create a referral network for your practice is a worthwhile endeavor for any specialty. From identifying smart opportunities for networking to presenting yourself as an ideal choice for high-referral departments, your practice can effectively improve patient volumes while also generating the right kind of referrals.
Maren Kiemen is a Marketing Operations Manager.