Physician referrals are, without doubt, the key drivers of patient volume to a hospital. Most physicians would make referrals to a practice that they have established a relationship with - someone they trust for their patient’s healthcare needs.
More often than not, physicians close off their referral streams to in-network providers. So it becomes a necessity for practices to be able to develop physician loyalty through a concerted referral marketing strategy. This would in turn help them attract more referrals from a larger number of physicians.
An essential physician referral marketing plan should be able to incorporate all methods that establish, maintain and extend relationships, all intended towards ensuring a continued flow of professional referrals.
Healthcare Referral marketing today has to be a mix of digital and “person-to-person” strategy to achieve the intended results.
Why are Referral Relationships Important?
We know they drive volumes to the hospital but there are some more benefits that can be enumerated as under.
1. They Give You Consumer Insights
Referral physicians are one of your most important sources of consumer insights. They can help you gain understanding on how they see their own practices, be it with respect to demographic shifts, payer mix, trends in medical requirement, and thus enable you to create more focused campaigns based on this first party data.
2. They Provide Opportunities for Redress of Grievances Through Feedback
There will be times when some snag leads to a referring physician being disappointed with your services. In such instances, if you already have a referral relationship, a feedback can help you rectify those issues and get your referral interaction back on track.
3. They Give You First-Hand Knowledge of What Referring Physicians Need
A physician-to-physician relationship delivers wonderful outcomes in learning first-hand what the referring providers really want and need. This can enable you to take effective steps to bridge the gap between expectation and what is being delivered.
4. They Give You Increased Brand Recognition:
Brand recognition is a natural resultant of physicians referring patients to your practice. Physician referral has a cascading effect. The referred patients can lead to more personal referrals, and in turn increase traffic through your website and social media profiles. All of this is bound to boost your brand’s image.
Considering the huge benefits that accrue to physician referrals, a healthcare marketing strategy has to go beyond consumer-vendor kind of interactions between specialists and referring physicians. It has to create a more meaningful relationship that focuses on building trust and loyalty.
Before you build a healthcare referral marketing strategy you need to ask yourself:
a) Even before you have got a referral, what’s the exceptional value you are offering in return for engagement?
b) Is your brand messaging as self-explanatory to physicians as what it is in the campaigns meant for consumers?
In order for you to distinguish yourself in an increasingly competitive market, your rstrategy needs to address the needs which drive physician referral choices. You have to create a system of meaningful communication with an eye on long-term value that goes beyond simple referral exchanges.
Physician Loyalty – The Key to Referrals
When physicians refer patients to you, it is their own reputation and credibility that they put on line. What can you do to enhance their trust in you and ensure that there is a regular stream of referrals coming in from their direction?
For this you need to put into place a systematic method to identify, create and maintain healthy relationships with physicians. You need to cultivate physician loyalty. The entire scheme would involve:
· Identifying present and prospective referral sources
· Establishing and maintaining a relationship with them
· Regularly monitoring the referrals
· Measuring the process and results of referrals
· Generating feedback from physicians who refer
· Resolving the problems that are reported
· Routinely improving service
· Producing timely management reports
So how do you go about building physician loyalty. Here is a comprehensive list of building up your physician loyalty program.
1. Get Back to Basics: Meet Your Referring Physician
A face to face meeting always inspires trust and makes communication so much easier than through any other medium. It can go a long way in enhancing your relationship.
An open attitude, positive body language and clarity in communication on how you would be an ideal choice for a referral can go a long way in establishing a positive image of your practice in the physician’s mind.
Once trust is established you have to keep networking and maintaining cordial relationships with the physician and his/her staff.
In case you cannot maintain regular communication yourself, have an experienced personnel to do the job of maintaining referral relationships.
2. Focus On What Your Referring Physician Wants Out Of You
You need to ask your referring physicians the all-important question of what is most crucial to them when it comes to taking care of their patient. It is critical that you know and understand what they want and expect, so ask them personally, directly, and keep asking them this question from time to time.
It is obvious that they would want top-class clinical care for the patients they refer, but there could be other considerations as well of which you may know nothing of till the time you ask them and they tell you.
This is extremely important for effective referral marketing. It gives the referring physician confidence in you as a health provider, who values the physician’s opinions and expectations of what he wants, for the referrals that he makes to your practice.
3. Give A Comprehensive Run-Through Of Your Practice And Abilities
You need to educate the referring physicians of the facilities that your hospital provides, and what makes it ideal for patient referrals. Bring them abreast with your capabilities, the kinds of cases where you can help, and other case management particulars. You could even suggest ways of a two-way referral channel.
You need to impress upon the referring physicians that you have the right systems in place to not just take care of the patient medically, but also ease the administrative process of admission, treatment and discharge.
4. Follow Up
Follow up with an e-mail after your meeting, with a compelling video demonstration of your facilities.
You need to give them a peep into your healthcare’s ecosystem and illustrate your strengths— how your customer service, modern equipment and diagnostic assets can now become an extension of their practice.
5. Have A Strong Presence On The Web
Most people look for medical service providers on the internet. Once your referring physician has made his acquaintance with you, he obviously wants to do his bit of research at his end to figure out how much water do your verbal promises hold.
His next step is to go and check you out on the internet. An effective website can be the tipping point for any physician to decide in your favour. If your website resonates with the same appeal as what you have spoken of to the referring physician, there is naturally a confirmation of your brand promise with respect to your facilities and expertise.
6. Be Accessible – Keep Communication Channels Open All The Time; Act On Feedback
Be accessible to the referring physicians or their staff at all times possible. At any point of time that you are not able to answer their calls or messages, have a representative inform them of your unavailability and that you would get back as soon as possible. Make sure to communicate with them as promised.
If there is negative feedback on any aspect, take action on the problem, inform the physician and check if the problem has now been resolved or not. It would strengthen the physician's faith that you are being proactive at removing all glitches that mar patient experience.
Keep open all channels of communication, be it telephone calls, mails or instant messaging. Keeping communication channels open ensures that your referrers can discuss patient issues and they feel that you are keeping them involved in the process of patient care and recovery. This will improve the quality of relationship that you enjoy and foster further trust.
7. Communicate On A Regular Basis
This communication can take the form of newsletters and journals that can be mailed on a monthly/fortnightly interval to the referring physician. It works as a good way of being within sight, without being intrusive and in your face.
It also keeps the physicians informed of the strides that your practice is making, be it a breakthrough in a difficult case or a complicated surgery or any significant achievements even within your administrative set-up.
8. Keep The Referring Doctor Informed Of Patient’s Progress
Usually, referral doctors are half afraid that you might snatch away their patients from them. You need to remove this sense of mistrust by keeping them informed of the patient’s process of treatment and the progress being made.
It serves a dual purpose, one, the referring physician feels important in being kept informed; two you can impress upon him the quality of care that your practice provides. This makes the physician further reassured of having made the right choice in having referred a patient to you.
9. Use Technology Extensively
When we talk about sharing information and keeping the physician informed, it implies having the right technology in place so that you can share these details electronically for improving efficiencies and delivering better patient care.
The best way for hosting and sharing patient-related information would be cloud-based. It would allow you to receive referrals electronically and will also streamline the referral process and obviate the need for paperwork.
10. Re-evaluate and Revamp Your Communication Material:
Referral marketing is a continual ongoing process. You need to regularly evaluate and update the material that you share with your physicians. Be aware of the changes that are happening around.
For instance a newsletter with long detailed articles is no longer catching the interest of your referring physician. Find out ways and means of keeping your communication instruments attractive, attention worthy and relevant in the domain of medical knowledge and expertise.
It reassures the physician that you are abreast with the latest that's happening in the area of your expertise.
11. Give to Get: Your Providing Quality Content Can Builds Referrals
Your referring physician himself has a need for continually improving his own customer service and experience. You should step in to help him fulfill that need, be it with quality content on relevant topics which help him improve his own services or giving access to free educational tools or access to hospital programming for his patients.
Give your referring physicians free access to podcasts, ebooks, and print materials and emerge as a helping partner so that it becomes a symbiotic relationship for them and your practice.
12. Acknowledge Physicians For The Referrals They Send
A new patient walking in through a referral is just the start of your physician loyalty building effort. You have to keep in touch with your referring physician on a periodic basis through mail, telephone call or business lunch.
Even more personal would be to respond with a prompt thank you call or message, it would be great if it could be a clinic branded handwritten thank-you card. This would help you stay at top-of-mind of the referring physician.
- Build A Personal Rapport, Greet Them On Special Occasions
Beyond the gamut of things that you would do as part of your business communication, a greeting card or message on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries or festive season can give a personal touch to your rapport with the referring physician.
14. Deliver On What You Have Promised
You have won the trust of the referring physicians and now it is time to walk the talk. Be it providing prompt appointments for their referred patients or keeping them in the loop about patient care, you need to follow to the T, what you have portrayed your abilities to be.
Your patient experience is crucial in corroborating the trust that the referring physician has reposed in your practice while making a referral. Each referral presents you with the opportunity of strengthening your referral physician’s loyalty depending on how effectively you provide your services.
Your referral physicians can multiply the volumes of patients to your practice, provided you have won their trust and loyalty on the basis of your services to the patients and the kind of relationship you have nurtured with the physicians. Physicians’ loyalty is a function of time and concerted, regular effort on your part to maintain a positive relationship.
Effective and regular communication with your referral physicians and listening to their expectations is vital towards building trust and loyalty. Delivering on what they need will foster healthy relationships, and you can be rest assured that there will be a regular stream of patients coming in from your referral physicians.