Marketing is one of those things you either love or don’t. Some even call it a “necessary evil.” Regardless of your opinion on the efficacy and value of marketing, you would be hard pressed to find a business that grows without it. That’s because whether you realize it or not, you have to market to some degree to get people to walk through the door.
Most specialty healthcare providers, surgery centers and hospitals would agree that referral marketing is the most important marketing strategy. With healthy and strong referral relationships, providers can rely on a continuous stream of new patients for their practice. But what happens if the relationship is severed or that trusted referral source begins offering the same or similar services? Here are five secrets that will help you strengthen and secure your physician referral relationships.
Kindle the Relationship
Even the best doctor in town will have a difficult time generating physician referrals if he doesn’t have healthy relationships with his referral sources. While your expertise is important, it will only get you so far when it comes to doctor referrals. People refer to those they like. This means providers must take time to kindle relationships with referral sources.Referral relationships should never be one sided. Any good relationship requires give and take. Instead of jumping straight into how you can treat all of their patients, ask questions and learn what their challenges and needs are first. By taking the time to learn from referral sources you can offer sincere solutions to real problems.
All physician referral sources are not created equal. Some will refer all patients to you, while others may refer patients sporadically. The visits you make to referral sources should be segmented appropriately.You will probably find that your referral sources can be divided into 3 or 4 groups based on how many patients they refer and their potential for referring more. Your ‘A’ referrers are your top referrers while your ‘B’ referrers are providers that refer less frequently, but have the potential for becoming great referral sources. Your ‘C’ referrers refer even less frequently and may even primarily refer to other providers. Whereas your ‘D’ referrers may have referred in the past, but there is no consistency to their referrals. These referrers also do not have a high likelihood of changing their current referral patterns.
After organizing your list, you will probably find that most of your referrals come from a very small percentage of your total contacts. Don’t make the mistake of assuming this group is already strong and not in need of your attention. Regular interactions with your office will keep a strong foothold on the relationship and prevent competition from swooping in.
Review your contact list and make it a priority that your A and B offices are visited monthly or at least every six weeks. This will help you stay top of mind. Determine how many days you will need someone out in the field to meet with existing and potential physician referral sources. Remember, you don’t need to see all of your contacts every month. Your C and D offices may only require bimonthly or quarterly visits. Most offices do not require someone fulltime. In fact, most of our clients successfully grow with one of our physician liaisons in the field one to two days per week. This can help keep your costs down, while generating revenue through increased referrals.
Spread the Love
The doctor’s name may be on the referral, but it is often the support staff that makes the decision as to where a patient is referred. Take care of them. Work to build a relationship with as many people as possible in the office. You’d be surprised how many patients ask a nurse, tech or other staff member where they would personally go for their procedure. Their opinion is valued and trusted and your name should be the one spoken from their lips. Work to ensure it is.
The process for referring patients to your office should be a well-oiled machine. If referring patients becomes an arduous task for your referring providers, they will find easier doctors to work with. Some of the best referral sources are lost because of busy faxes, unreturned phone calls and a lack of communication with the referring office.If your office has challenges in any of these areas, improvements should be made. Designate a specific fax number for referrals and make sure people can get through easily. Assign a point person for answering referring providers’ questions. And make sure you provide status updates to your referring providers in a timely manner. This ensures the provider is kept in the loop and can appropriately follow up with their patients.
Get some Help
For most doctors it can be challenging to find time to build relationships with referring offices. A friendly, knowledgeable and well-spoken representative from your practice may be able to serve in this capacity. The title of this person is Physician Liaison. Some offices may feel this role can easily be performed by an office manager or nurse. While they may have the knowledge to do the job, they may not have the sales experience or time to dedicate to this very important role.Choose someone that is not only comfortable talking with doctors, but is also sales oriented. They should also have a strong clinical understanding so they can properly address any questions that come up. They shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the doctor’s thinking. You can also outsource your physician liaison needs through a respectable medical marketing company that specializes in this service.
Building a strong referral base should be a foundational element to any surgery center, hospital or specialists’ office. By taking the time to kindle relationships, you will secure your foothold with referring providers as a trusted partner in the care of their patients.