This week in Healthcare Marketing Made Easy, we discuss successful approaches to market your practice to other physicians and increase your patient referrals.
After years of working with various hospitals, medical centers and large group practices I have come to the conclusion that there has been such a struggle to keep up with the trends in Internet Marketing that there is now a tendency to neglect that old stand-by—obtaining physician referrals. Yes, there is still an online component to obtaining physician referrals, but the overall mechanism remains as it ever was: Establishing and maintaining relationships with referring doctors.
I think the main reason for this neglect—beyond the fact that it is just plain difficult to keep up with all the different aspects of healthcare marketing—is that many groups and centers simply take it for granted that referring physicians already know their organization’s reputation.
But it’s a huge mistake to take your referring physicians for granted. This area will always be a significant source of new patients and just because the Internet has transformed marketing in general, it does not mean this traditional bedrock can be ignored. It can’t.
So, the first order of business is to remember that just because this type of marketing involves peer-to-peer marketing, it does not mean this isn’t still marketing. As a result, healthcare entities will have greater success using a systematic, focused approach to getting referrals.
Here are several keys to successful physician referral marketing:
Before even attempting a new referral initiative, make sure that newly referred patients won’t have to wait too long for an appointment with you. Failure to address logistics will doom your efforts and damage your credibility in the future. Unless it’s an exceptional circumstance, a delay of more than six weeks will likely create a headache for your referrers. This is no way to start a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship. Also, how easy is it for the new patient to actually set up the appointment? I’ve had some groups surprised to find out that a patient or physician has to call several different numbers just to set the appointment! Nobody wants to deal with all that, and it takes only a couple of annoying encounters with your practice before it gets a bad reputation that will be extremely difficult to rehabilitate. So make sure access is timely and simple.
Here’s a simple step that not only yields profits, but is also—so I’m told—good medicine: Communicate with the referring physician. If you fail at this step, then you’re simply going to lose the business you’ve worked so hard for. The best way to show proper respect and appreciation for referrals is to give follow-up reports as though you are not only treating the patient, but the referring physician as well—because, in a way, you are treating both. Imagine how your organization would prosper if it made a focused and concerted effort to call the referring doctors and patients with the relevant reports or results before they called you. There is no doubt this would demonstrate the efficiency and efficacy of your operation.
3. Even More Old School Marketing
Believe it or not, referring physicians do more than treat patients. They read newspapers and magazines, watch TV, and listen to the radio. Even though this type of media is quite “traditional” by today’s standards, it still has potential to take your practice or center to the next level. There are worthy options in this arena that deserve consideration and you can forge new relationships through these old channels. Consider financial publications like your city’s Business Chronicle, or even talk radio, among other mediums. Also, get your younger, newer physicians in the habit of reaching out to their peers. Yes, this is “old school marketing”—but not everything that’s old is irrelevant!
4. New School Social-Media Marketing
Even though I’ve emphasized traditional marketing so far, it doesn’t mean the Internet has no place in referral marketing. Manhattan Research estimates that 99% of doctors are online daily, and more than 80% consider the Internet “essential to their practice.” Additionally, the research group indicates that almost 90% of all physicians go online for the latest information about new drugs or medical devices, and doctors actively consume videos, blogs, and podcasts. There is no doubt that your online marketing efforts deserve attention—just make it a point to direct some of that attention specifically to referring doctors.
Also in line with broader societal trends is the fact that physicians use the Internet for networking. Whether it’s Facebook, GooglePlus, or LinkedIn, you will find other physicians using these platforms, and many of them active participants. Even more relevant are the networking sites that cater exclusively to physicians. Sermo, for example, is a physicians-only site that has more than 200,000 providers in its network.
Chances are, there is a lot of untapped potential in your online marketing plan to reach other physicians and potential referrers.
5. Your Website
Does your website have content written specifically for referring physicians? It really is astonishing how often a medical center or large group practice fails to provide useful information to other referring doctors. As I’ve already outlined, they use the Internet too; thus, your site should have at least one page that provides referral information. Make it simple for the physician to learn how to refer a patient by having procedures in place that pave the way for straightforward, private communication that makes the primary doctor part of the process. Ask yourself what you would want to see if you were the referring physician, and then provide it.
6. Concluding Thoughts
Do not neglect referral marketing. Strength in this traditional realm will act as a bulwark against the vagaries and vicissitudes of direct consumer advertising. It will diversify your patient sources, while simultaneously increasing your revenues.
We’re here to help. If you have questions about physician referrals or other healthcare marketing approaches we’d love to hear from you. Connect with us directly, or visit us online to get instant, hassle-free healthcare marketing support from Paramount/MD.