A strong referral network can be a huge advantage for your practice and a source of new patient volume. What are the keys to getting a solid referral structure in place and maintaining strong relationships over time? Let’s examine a few key factors:
Pick the right partners. First and foremost, when you are looking at building a referral network, you need to be selective in who you choose to partner with. Spend time getting to know their practice. Make sure there is an aligned vision and purpose in both of your practices. It’s easy to simply select some other practices that are convenient to partner with, but it takes real work and effort to pick ones that will be long-lasting and effective. In the mind of your patients, your referral network is an extension of you and your practice. What’s done well at the practices of your referrals will reflect positively on you. What’s done poorly there, will also reflect negatively on your practice. If your practice has great communication flow with your patients, be sure that your partners follow a similar philosophy. If you’ve adopted an EHR system, be sure that there is compatibility in your partners’ systems or better yet that they are on the same system. How well aligned are your intake questionnaires, your clinical processes, your administrative processes, etc? The more aligned they are, the more the connection will feel natural to patients and the more effective your partnership will be for the long term.
Communicate and build the relationship. Your referral network should extend beyond the business of moving patients between your offices. Setup a communication protocol so that whenever you refer a patient, the receiving office gets all the information they need to serve the patient well. Setup a follow-up protocol where the office you referred to provides regular updates back to your office on the status of a patient and how they’re responding to the treatment approach. If you receive referrals from other practices, send simple hand-written thank you notes to the referring physician and provide the patient with treatment materials upon discharge. When the patient returns to their original physician, you want them to be able to have a conversation about the treatment approach you used and how well it worked. The expectation of the patient is that the medical system that is treating them is talking to each other and sharing information. By providing this kind of communication flow between practices, you’ll create an environment that generates higher patient satisfaction scores and more referrals from other offices.
Measure and improve. It’s important for you to regularly conduct surveys among your referral network to get a 360-degree view of your practice. What do they think of your referral practices? How smooth are the transitions? How well are you setting expectations for patients about the referral? There are a number of third-party companies that can regularly conduct referring physician surveys or peer-to-peer surveys to help you gain insight in this area. Once you have feedback from your referral network, take action on it and identify specific improvements you can make. Don’t stop there: Communicate to your referral network about the change you’re making. This will help set expectations for your referral partners that something has changed so when they experience a change, they properly attribute it to their feedback.
Physician referrals are a significant source of volume for many practices. Be sure that you get the right infrastructure in place to manage those relationships well and over time they will provide even more benefit.