Updated: Apr 26, 2021
Developing a referral network is critical to ensuring the success of your medical practice. While growing your medical practice’s revenue, the main goal attracting new patients consistently. Along with advertising and connecting with insurance agencies, establishing a reliable referral network is a great way to bring in new clients.
As healthcare practices merge and consolidate, it can be especially difficult for small practices to build and maintain referral relationships. Even if a referral channel is created, sustaining it can become a challenge. While you may be doing your part by referring patients to specialists, it is equally important to ensure that other doctors are returning the favor by referring their patients to you. This is where networking plays a vital role as other doctors will only refer patients to you if they trust your practice. The better known your practice is, the more likely it will be for other doctors to refer patients to you.
What drives physician referrals?
In the last decade, doctors have referred patients to a specialist at a rate that has more than doubled. Referrals have only grown because doctors want to expand their practice, but for a multitude of factors that drive physicians’ decisions. Some of the points that are contributing to the increased referral rate:
Too few doctors: There is a shortage of primary-care physicians in the United States, meaning doctors lack the time and resources to pay attention to patients with complex symptoms. Rather than decreasing the quality of patient care to maximize revenue and balance expenses, these patients are referred to specialists who have the resources for handling their symptoms. According to reports, the availability of primary-care physicians is not going to improve for at least the next few years. In the years to come, the rate of professional referrals will grow as physician availability declines.
Fear of malpractice: Recent studies have revealed physicians’ constant fear of malpractice. This concern is one of the main reasons behind requesting lab tests and referrals. While physicians’ fears of being sued for malpractice are disproportionate to the actual risk of being sued, as long as malpractice remains a concern for physicians, it will influence their referral patterns. Additionally, patients often request to be referred to a specialist. So, a larger portion of referrals is coming from patient requests as well.
Keeping the patient satisfied: Patients have much more opportunity to be informed today than they were a decade ago. Healthcare websites, online reviews and heaps of other information found online have increased patients' role in their own healthcare decisions. Some patients even walk into the physician’s office already having determined what specialist they want to be referred to. In such cases, the physician usually refers them to the desired specialist.
Why are professional referrals necessary?
Studies show that referral marketing can expand the growth of your medical practice. Industry experts say that referred patients tend to be more loyal than regular patients. Getting an included referral program in your marketing strategy toolbox is essential for every medical practice.
While there are many more reasons to consider a physician referral program for growing your practice, here are just three primary ones:
Attracting new patients: The biggest advantage of developing a referral program is that it creates an endless stream of new patients. Patients will come looking for you rather than you having to find them.
Increasing brand recognition: Once your referral sources start referring patients to your practice, brand recognition is a huge benefit. The more satisfied patients you have, the more personal referrals and positive ratings you will receive. This leads to increased traffic through your practice website and social media. All of this is bound to boost your brand’s image and recognition.
Higher ROI: Online networking, eNewsletters and social media groups have made it simple for smaller practices to promote themselves and become a reliable source. Referrals programs have considerably higher ROI than traditional marketing methods.
Some valuable tips to get you started:
Now you know physician referrals are a critical component in growing your practice and attracting new patients. However, just waiting for other doctors to refer patients to you might not be sufficient for gaining new clients. You will have to go after them.
Here are some tips for small medical practices that are looking to establish, maintain and strengthen their referral relationships:
Create a plan and adhere to it: Create a plan to work in close collaboration with a healthcare marketing expert to help design a referral marketing plan and execute it. Many practices expect instant results from such plans, but it is important to understand that developing a referral network is a process that takes time. Too often, practices change their priorities or suspend their referral-building plans before they have time to yield results.
Adopt technology: In the healthcare business, being technologically savvy is vital in order to share information with networking doctors for improving efficiencies and delivering better patient care. The ideal solution for hosting and sharing patient-related information is cloud-based. This will not only allow the physician to receive referrals electronically but will also streamline the referral process and eliminate paperwork.
Communicate often: Keeping communication channels open will improve the quality of patient care and support your relationship with the referring doctors.
Know your target audience: Your practice's speciality is vital in building your patient stream For instance, growing a primary-care practice requires a patient-friendly approach, while developing a plastic surgery practice requires a targeted approach to physician referrers.
Welcome new physicians: Contact and welcome any new doctors in your area. You can also offer to serve as a resource and a friend, whether for professional or personal needs.
Meet your referrers: When you are looking to increase your referrals, a face-to-face meeting with the referring physician can make a major difference in developing your relationship. Networking and maintaining relationships with the referring physician’s staff is a great way to increase the number of referrals to your practice.
Keep the referring doctor informed: Usually, referral doctors would prefer working with physicians who do not require constant follow-up on tedious paperwork or the patient’s treatment. Providing excellent care makes the referral doctor’s life easier as they may not need to see the same patient again.
Re-evaluate and revamp relationships: Regularly evaluate and update your relationships with referral sources. To be successful in referral marketing programs, it is important to be aware of any changes occurring around you.
Avoid these mistakes:
Not monitoring patient satisfaction: While there are various ways to control the status of your referral network, patient satisfaction the most important one. Just because your patients are interacting with other healthcare providers as well, you should not stop monitoring their satisfaction.
Choosing bad referral partners: It is important to be mindful and selective while choosing your referral partners, as you could find yourself neck deep in a sea of unhappy patients and bad partner relationships. It may seem tempting to sign on with any provider with good reviews, but you must spend some time getting to know them and their practice. If you are looking to form long-term relationships, find partners who have similar goals and target audiences.
Poor communication: Patients want to feel cared for and welcome, and not that they are being shuffled from one office to another. Therefore, it is critical to have regulations around your communications. Your staff should be trained to communicate effectively, and should be regularly evaluated.
Your medical practice is a business, and it is critical that you think of the future. Implementing a systematic method to identify, create and maintain healthy relationships with prospective referrals is a necessity for your practice.