Essential Doctor Referral Marketing Strategies
A dangerous tendency for some medical practices—providers that are primarily fueled by referrals from doctors—is to believe they don’t need to attract new patients. Having all your eggs in a singular conveyance is a high-risk proposition, and referral marketing is an ongoing “must.”
In our experience with practices throughout the nation, the three circumstances that most commonly strangle referral-reliant providers are:
- Benign neglect. When the referral stream is flowing, and it seems that inbound patients arrive at your doorstep “automatically,” the entire organization can neglect both process and referring physicians.
- No customer service plan. From a marketing strategy perspective, the “customers” are the referring physicians and practices. And this audience requires continuous and proactive attention.
- Increased competition. The constant re-invention of health care is a shifting competitive landscape. Groups are absorbing practices, medical groups are becoming super groups, and both are rolling up to hospitals and health systems.
Folklore has it that doctor-to-doctor referrals follow golf course rapport, lunchroom connections, occasional hallway conversations, medical school alums, and the like. If there ever was such a time, they evaporated long ago.
The essential requirements of an effective doctor referral marketing strategy are not casual or incidental, they are diligent and business savvy. To maintain and grow professional referrals:
Use a business development system.
The key is having a systematic method that identifies present and prospective referral sources, establishes and maintains a business relationship, constantly monitors and measures the referral process, guards against competitive erosion, routinely improves service, resolves problems quickly, expands your referral base, and regularly produces timely management reports.
If that sounds like a big assignment…well, it is. And since the health of the practice relies on this system, it’s well worth giving it the time and attention that it deserves. You’ll probably need some help, beginning with a database of referral sources.
Organize around a robust relationship database.
Business author, entrepreneur and relationship-building Grand Master Harvey Mackay’s system lists over 60 details for each of his customers, prospects and other contacts. A detailed profile about each current and potential referral source (by practice, individual doctor, and key staff members) documents their interests, personal information, and in particular, their expectations when making a referral.
Hint: In many practices, it is not the doctor, but a key staff person who actually handles the referral mechanics. Regardless of the doctor-to-doctor bond, be certain to identify and include the real gatekeepers.
If your system is digging deep enough to get it right, you will probably want to use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Physician Relationship Management (PRM) software. This sort of tool not only tracks “people particulars,” it provides provider organizations with an awareness of referral activity, tabulates cases and revenue, and frequency of contacts and correspondence of your liaison/representative.
And speaking of physician liaison…
If you don’t have a physician liaison, your competition probably does.
As previously mentioned, the traditional healthcare-referral environment has been turned on its ear. Doctors are too busy to actively and accurately maintain dozens (perhaps hundreds) of referral source contacts. Consequently, there’s a growing demand for experienced people to call on doctors’ offices, maintain relationships, and thereby inspire referrals into the practice.
We’re something of a pioneer in physician liaison marketing behind doctor-to-doctor referrals. The successful representative—someone whose work brings more business in the door—will be a combination of the right hire, the right training, the right measures of performance and the right supervision. Actively engaged relationships are the engine of doctor referral building.
First, ask the “Golden Question”…
Ask each and every referring physician: “What’s most important to you regarding how we take care of your patient?” You need to know what they want and expect, so ask them personally, directly…and ask again from time to time. Of course they expect first-class clinical care for the patients they refer, but other considerations might surprise you. For effective referral marketing, listen for what your customer tells you they need from you that gives them confidence in continuing to refer. (Hint: Don’t assume. You’ve got to ask.)
As a bonus, a candid “voice of the customer” conversation between colleagues in this situation can:
(a) further educate the referring doctor about your capabilities, the kinds of cases where you can help, and other case management particulars; and (b) reveal ways to improve the two-way referral channel, correct problems, enhance communications, and build rapport.
…then build your service plan around the answers.
Providing prompt appointments for their referred patients, brief (or detailed) reports about patient care, confirmation calls, or whatever your constituent doctors tell you they value in a referral relationship–listen closely and include these details in your database. Use this direction to create processes, systems or operational changes that deliver what’s valued most. For more about giving referring offices exactly what they want, see our special report: 11 Secrets to Doubling Doctor Referrals.
Establish tracking and reporting for measurable goals.
An effective program will prove its worth when measured by specific goals and objectives. It’s important to be clear about the intended (specific and quantifiable) results, such as “increasing physician referrals by x-amount in x-period of time.”
Regular progress reports, typically monthly, will reveal effectiveness, what works and what doesn’t, and guide periodic adjustments.
Hint: Distinguish between activity and productivity. Simply calling on physician offices without a measure of change is of little value.
The essential doctor referral marketing strategies are all intended to support a proactive system that establishes, maintains and extends relationships…and assures a continuing stream of professional referrals.