Independently owned clinics - particularly specialty clinics - may find the process of getting physician referrals to be daunting. There are multiple reasons for this. For one thing, the number of specialist categories has grown in the past decade, so there are more types of specialists for patients to be sent to. At the same time, there are more multispecialty groups that refer to specialists within the group, while many smaller clinics are being purchased by hospitals where internal referrals dominate.
Many educational events at which doctors used to network in person are now held online, and the old cliché of doctors spending Wednesday afternoons golfing and networking isn't even possible for most physicians, who struggle with higher costs and declining reimbursements.
One way and another, building up a profitable specialty medical practice means building strong referral relationships with other physicians.
1) Brainstorm and Prepare to Put Yourself Out There
A good place to start is to create a list of every possible referring source for your practice. This may be a long list, and some of the names on it may not be realistic for getting a strong stream of referrals. Highlight the physicians you already get the most referrals from so you can prioritize nurturing and maintaining these relationships.
Of names that remain on the list, create a short list of potential referrers who would have the best referring power, perhaps because they've been in your city a long time, or they have a large and successful practice that sees patients who often need specialty services you provide. Bear in mind that physicians generally refer patients to other physicians whom they trust, respect, and just plain like.
Your goal is to be one of those trusted, respected, well-liked doctors.
2) Develop a Strong Rapport with Referring Physicians' Staff Members
As important as it is to have a relationship with physicians themselves, it is perhaps equally as important to have great rapport with the office receptionist, nurses, assistants, and office managers.
These are usually the people who will be handing out your business card or perhaps phoning your office to make appointments for patients they refer. Therefore, you want you and your own staff to have a good working relationship with these staff members.
Learn their names and use them, and be sure to thank them for referrals. Regular follow-up is critical for remaining at the forefront of their minds, and quarterly is usually a good interval for reconnecting, supplying more of your business cards if necessary, and generally reminding them of your services.
3) Remember that Many Patients Do Their Own Research
You can expect that patients themselves will do research on specialists to whom they're referred. That's another good reason you should have an engaging, up-to-date website containing relevant, valuable information about what you do and who you are.
Hospitals often employ people specifically to assist with follow-up appointments and paperwork, and they can be influential in making sure the specialists that patients see are from the same hospital system.
This presents a challenge to you, but with patients taking more responsibility for their healthcare costs, more of them want to know their options before committing. Make it easy for them to learn about your practice.
4) Keep the Referrals You Generate
Getting referrals is only part of the process, of course.
Keeping the referrals you receive involves several best practices. Make it a priority to get back to the referring physician about their patient promptly so that neither the referring physician nor the patient is left wondering. And of course, if you treat a specialty patient who doesn't yet have a primary care physician, you can return the favor by referring the patient to one of your referring physicians for primary care.
Finally, just as you maintain strong, friendly communications with referring physician staffs, so should you maintain communications with the physicians themselves.
5) Make Referrals an Ongoing Business Process
Generating referrals should be an integrated, ongoing part of running your medical practice, and not something you do only when your patient volume starts to dwindle.
Fortunately, many of the steps involved in getting more referrals are fairly simple and not time-intensive. Mostly it's about initiating, building, and maintaining professional relationships, and if you can master that, you should have no trouble generating a steady stream of referrals from other physicians.
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