Grow your referral network

Learn the essential initiatives under­pinning private practice success in a climate that is continuing to evolve. 

Sue O’Gorman presents some excellent practical ideas showing how to grow your referral networks in a competitive environment.

Building a robust referral base takes time and continual effort. A combination of providing excellent patient care, clear and effective communication and consistent engagement with a raft of healthcare professionals and hospital staff are all crucial for the long-term success of your practice.

While some, or all, of the below may seem ‘no brainers’, they are all real-life examples of good and bad practice I have witnessed in my many years of working with consultants and in private hospitals.

Hopefully, they will help you navigate some of the pitfalls and embrace good practice for long term referral growth.

Cultivate your little black book

Do…

Take time to build solid relationships with other healthcare professionals. Pick the phone up to personally thank and introduce yourself to any new referrers. 

Respond promptly to requests for patients to be seen, especially when that patient is urgent.

Ensure your medical secretary is aware of your primary/VIP referrers and they, too, are on board with facilitating any add-on or urgent appointments.  

This may sound obvious, but, above all, keep your referrer informed of their patients’ progress, test results and treatment plans. I have seen the detrimental effects to a consultant’s practice of this not being done and the negative impact it has on a referral. 

Have a clear understanding of where your referrals are coming from. Consider any practices where you do not currently receive referrals and make efforts to connect.  

Find out if the referrer has a specialist interest in a particular area where you think there could be an opportunity to cross refer.  

For some referrers, they will expect you on speed dial. This, of course, is a personal choice to do so, but it is generally a collaborative approach that works well for practice growth. 

Don’t…

Rush or cut short the patient consultation. You risk your reputation being tarnished among the referring community and you may also jeopardise your practising privileges if the hospital facility you are based at considers you are not compliant with good practice and so risk its good name being tarnished too.  

Don’t make the referrer chase you for results and updates. Inform them in advance of any delays to manage their expectations. The patient may be chasing them and if they feel uninformed, it will not leave a good impression and they may be reluctant to refer again.

 

Know who your referrers are

Do…

Track volumes, nurture relationships where you are seeing a steady increase in referrals and identify and understand any downturns  – is it customer service-orientated or clinical? 

This is a task your medical secretary can support you with, so make time to go through this data together on a regular basis.

Encourage your medical secretary to develop relationships with your referrer’s team. They may well glean a lot of useful information that can help develop your practice.

Don’t…

Be vague about where your referrals come from or simply expect your medical secretary to know. This is your business, your reputation and your brand.

Understanding your referrers, their needs and any gaps in your service provision will help you stay current and one step ahead in an ever-competitive climate.

Make it easy to do business with you

Do…

Ensure you have dedicated staff to handle inquiries, offer timely appointments and follow-up with patients and referrers.  

A disorganised administration process may give the impression that these standards apply to your clinical practice too. 

Ensure you have cover on the phones over the lunch period, as this is often when patients will contact you. Asking the patient to leave a message is simply providing your competitors with the opportunity to ‘steal’ the patient away from you.

Review the various access points into your practice and ensure they are optimised. For example, is your Bupa profile verified? Is your hospital profile accurate and includes all of the procedures you offer? Are your contact details up to date? Do you offer patients remote consultations?

Don’t…

Consistently run late or overbook appointments so that your clinics run over and your patients become agitated. They are very likely to inform others, including their referring GP. Reputation is everything and much harder to rebuild once damaged. 

Don’t have a very ‘busy’ website with endless text and diagrams. The general rule of thumb is that a patient should be able to find the information they need within three clicks of landing on your website.  

A good home page and contact page are likely to be the two they will spend the most amount of time looking at. Information overload can simply leave the patient frustrated and confused. Your website is there to help optimise your conversion rate from inquiry to booking.

Seek support from the hospital

Do…

Engage positively with hospitals’ marketing and business development teams. They are there to support you and it is in their interest for you to have a successful, thriving practice at their facility. 

They have strong links with many of the GPs, corporates and embassies, all of whom are referral sources into your practice. Make sure your hospital profile is up to date so staff can reach you easily and can understand the types of patients their call centre teams can refer to you.

Ask to be included in opportunities to speak at events, many of which attract good volumes of GPs and allied health professionals and a great opportunity for you to showcase your practice and clinical expertise.  

Include information in your talk about the facilities at the hospital and why you like working there. This will go a long way to ensure you are given other opportunities in the future, as it demonstrates a collaborative approach.

Be prepared to develop a series of talks you can offer at any time. You may be asked with short notice to speak at an event.

Encourage satisfied patients to write testimonials or take part in case studies which the hospitals will also use for PR purposes which will help further promote your reputation. 

Don’t…

Arrive late for your presentation if asked to speak at an event.  

I have seen consultants still writing their presentation five minutes before they start. Everyone’s stress levels are heightened and it does not give a good impression to the referrers, who have taken time out of their busy schedules to be there, if you come across as frazzled and unprepared.

Don’t be shy about handing out your business cards. If you have given a compelling and informative talk, referrers will want to know how to get hold of you.  

Pop your mobile number on the card too if you are comfortable doing so, it is a sure-fire way to get those referrals coming in. 

Don’t expect the hospital to be responsible for building your private practice. They are there to support and guide you.  

Many consultants consider it the hospital’s job to grow their practice for them and have turned down patients on the basis of not being provided a full clinic list.  

Private practice takes time to build and saying yes to one patient referral one week will result in two the following and before long, you will have your full clinic lists.   

The staff recognise your support and will likely want to help you grow your practice if you help them accommodate patients.

Are you attracting the ‘right’ type of patients?

Do…

Clearly identify the demographic and psychographic characteristics of your target audience. It is important to understand their needs, preferences and behaviours to tailor your marketing efforts and obtain optimum return on investment.  

Ensure your online presence is consistent with your messaging and values of the service you offer – referred to as ‘on brand’. This should apply to all digital platforms where you appear.

Your specialty may lend itself well to social media, especially in the current climate with the continued rise in self-pay patients, who often turn to the internet to seek out their specialists.  

You may need to consider investing in working with an agency who can help you attract your ideal patients and pinpoint how and where they ‘shop’.  

LinkedIn, for example, is an effective way to engage with the allied health professional community who will be able to refer patients your way if your content is relevant and informative

Subspecialise to differentiate. This will help make you stand out from your competitors, and referrers will be more likely to send their patients to the ‘expert’ for specific conditions.  

Don’t…

Try to do this yourself. Not only does this take an inordinate amount of time, but navigating the various elements of online marketing can be frustrating and having a third party view this through the eyes of the patient will have a greater impact.  

The above form the basis of just some of the essential initiatives that underpin private practice success in a climate that is continuing to evolve. 

But one thing remains throughout and that is that maintaining a positive and professional image in private practice will always be crucial for both referrer and patient satisfaction, retention and growth.

Sue O’Gorman (right) of Medici Healthcare Consultancy provides services to help healthcare professionals think and act commercially. For further information, Sue can be reached at www.medicihealthcareconsultancy.co.uk or by phone on 07985 456487