Cultivating & Growing Physician Referrals to Your Medical Practice
By: Tina Bell A recent survey by the Clinic for Studying Health Clinic Change found that “when selecting new primary care physicians, half of all consumers relied on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and relatives, but many also used doctor recommendations (38%) and health plan information (35%), and nearly two in five used multiple information sources when choosing a primary care physician.” How does this apply to the Medical Practice setting? Relationships with primary care physicians (PCP) can be a really great referral source for your business, especially after hours, when a PCP’s office is overbooked, or when a PCP wants to go on vacation for an extended period of time. When working on getting physician referrals to your Medical Practice clinic, the old adage, “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours,” applies. For the last six years I have built and handled physician referrals to our Medical Practices, and the biggest thing I have learned is the doctors we refer the most patients to are the same ones most likely to send patients our way. Additionally, the doctor’s offices in town with whom we have built the best relationships with are also our biggest fans. In the world of Medical Practice, the biggest boost to growing these fans comes through education. Since Medical Practices are still a fairly new concept in many communities, it is important that this education process start before you open your doors. Step 1: Physician Education Physicians in the community need to understand that you are not the competition but are in fact a great business partner for their practice. When we go into a new community, we contact the area physicians and tell them our role is to fill the gap between their patients and the ER and to provide a place for patients without a personal physician to get their medical care. A PCP with a relatively busy practice will at times have patients that need to be seen quickly and an appointment book that just won’t allow this to happen. In this instance your Medical Practice has the opportunity to be an extension of sorts for a primary care clinic’s practice. They can refer patients to your Medical Practice knowing their patients will return to them on a scheduled basis. Step 2: Continuity of Care As part of building a referral program with area physicians, you may find it mutually beneficial to provide visit records from your clinic to them indicating what their patient’s chief complaint was, along with the treatments you provided. Step 3: Establish Reciprocal Referrals The next thing you can do when talking with physicians is find out if they are accepting new patients. In an Medical Practice setting you may not be able to treat problems like high blood pressure, chronic pain, or diabetes. You will need somewhere you trust to refer your Medical Practice patients to. Most doctors will welcome the help in patient recruiting. Step 4: Train Your Staff Next you need to make sure your office staff responsible for making your outgoing referrals knows who to reach at the appointment desk at those physicians’ offices. Properly educating your staff on how each physician’s office prefers to get their referrals is important. Each office will have their own way of doing things. The easier you make it on them, the better off your business will be. One really important thing to remember … the physician’s office staff speaks with the patients much more than the physician does. They are the ones fielding the calls when patients need to be seen. When they see that your office staff is genuinely concerned with doing things correctly, they will be appreciative. A good relationship between your staff and outside offices is a major key in the success of referrals being sent to you. Step 5: Relationships are Ongoing Getting someone to refer to your Medical Practice is just the first step. You must continually make sure each clinic referring to your office is happy with the services you are providing - even if it’s only a five minute stop to say hello and ask if your office is doing everything correctly or if there is anything you’re not doing. Basically, you need to have the “What else can we do for you?” conversation with them often. Your office manager, marketer, or clinical coordinator is perfectly capable of doing these visits. Finally, at least once a year, make one of your visits a gift bearing visit. Your gifts don’t have to be big. Small things with your Medical Practice’s logo on them (pens, notepads, magnets) help keep your name fresh in their minds and also serve as a small token of appreciation for your business relationship.