Whether you are a heart surgeon, neurosurgeon, dentist or dermatologist, it is virtually impossible to build your business without patient referrals from primary care providers. According to a study by JAMA Internal Medicine, the number of physicians referring patients to other physicians nearly doubled from 1999 to 2009, growing from 4.8 percent to 9.3 percent. That represents a jump from 40.6 million referrals annually to 105 million.
Clearly, patient referrals are the lifeblood of a medical specialist’s business, so it is important to formulate a plan that will lead primary care providers to recommend you to their patients when they require care in your field of expertise. Here are some strategic ways to build patient referrals:
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Your goal is to remind referring providers how you can help them. Identifying the right channels, such as LinkedIn, emails, workshops, etc., to build your business is essential. Creating quality content about your expertise and service is an effective means of attracting patient referrals. This content could be packaged into a newsletter, a professional alert or even a handwritten note that focuses on the features and benefits of your practice. An effective, mobile-optimized and user-friendly website is a necessity.
Take time to interact with referring providers at every opportunity.
Join them in the hospital dining room. Participate in medical society meetings. Take a physician to lunch to explain your background and philosophy. Doctors refer patients to specialty practices they know and trust. Work at knowing each referring doctor’s style and communication preferences. Keep the referring physician informed about the patient’s progress or complications. Consider yourself part of a team in caring for the patient.
Build and mobilize a strong office staff.
Your office procedures and the behavior of your staff are a critical part of your total service. Make certain calls from referring providers are taken promptly and your appointment staff understands your priorities when working with newly referred patients. Be sure written reports to the primary care physician are processed quickly and accurately. Positive staff interactions with patients are big plusses for your practice, and patients will also relate a positive experience to their referring physician.
Embrace your sources.
Identify the physicians who send you the most patients and spend extra time and resources cultivating those relationships. Inform them about updates at your practice, such as extended office hours or new diagnostic equipment. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Send written thank-you notes. Don’t take for granted that your referring physicians will always be there for you.
Remove any obstacles.
A misunderstanding about your area of specialty, your credentials, insurance plan participation or your availability could deter a referral. Be available to see a patient promptly. Make it easy for patients to get an appointment. Avoid scheduling phone tag between the two offices.
Get to know the staff members at the referring office.
Physicians may give their patients a list of specialists, but their staff often recommends the doctors they really like.
In the final analysis, the way to build patient referrals goes beyond providing high-quality care. You must reach out to primary care and other referring providers. Get to know them and make sure they know you. In so doing, both sides will see the benefits of working together.