As a physician, you can relate to the fact that referring doctors prefer to send patients to practices they know. In some ways when you refer a patient to another doctor, you are putting your own reputation at stake by endorsing a peer’s skills and services. This is why it’s important to use the time you have with others to build confidence in you professionally while connecting with them personally. In this article, you’ll find tips collected from specialists who actively us physician referral outreach to develop and nurture a strong practice.
Unlock Your EMR Data
Taking time away from your practice can have an impact on your practice stats. It’s important to do your homework and spend your time visiting referral partners that have the strongest impact on your practice’s success. Begin by reviewing the referral data being captured within your electronic medical records (EMR) or scheduling tool to identify key referral partners. My providers and I often survey the data to spot three types of providers/encounters:
- Top referral partners
- Partners who have significantly increased/decreased their support (as compared to average quarterly referral patterns) over the last 100 days
- Those who have referred for the first time within the last 100 days
If we have access to external data sources, we also like to understand which referral partners are also actively sharing patients with the competition and the strength of those relationships as compared to ours. Knowing this can help ensure you are having focused discussions with a target list of physicians to support the growth of your practice.
Work | Life Balance
Another thing my physicians do well is finding at least one personal and professional connection they can use going in the door to “break the ice.” Many like to use the internet or peer reports to research new targets in advance, don’t forget that (in pre-COVID times) your car ride with liaisons is a great way to leverage the relationships we have built over time to fill in any gaps. If you are asked to wait until the doctor is available, you can also use your time wisely to study your surroundings in case that provides additional clues you can use in relating to your new contact. I always encourage my providers to capture notes on business cards or in the contact card they create on their phone so that they can review these when preparing for future follow-up visits.
Clarify (& Practice) Your “Selling Points”
Before scheduling a road show, I like to ask the provider I am partnering with 3-5 things that I can share that would make someone interested in learning more about them and their practice. Consider what makes you different from others in your specialty. Make a list of the types of patients you like to treat most and why. Identify a positive patient outcome that you are proud of that might give someone else background and insight into why you do what you do. Once you have picked your favorite bullet points, rehearse them on your own, with your physician liaison or a trusted mentor to make sure you are ready to share these in a succinct but impactful way.
Let Your Confidence Shine
Confidence doesn’t always come naturally when delivering key messages – especially with unfamiliar situations or people. This is even more true if you happen to be more introverted or reserved. Research shows that 60% of how your message is received ties back to not just what you say, but how you say it. It helps to practice standing tall, using controlled hand gestures, making consistent eye contact & smiling.
While physician referral outreach can feel very much like a ‘dog and pony’ show sometimes, I encourage my physicians to lead the conversation with a question. This demonstrates that you have a genuine interest in learning more about your target. Whether your question is about something interesting you have learned about them, a hobby you have in common or their practice, prioritize asking about them before telling them about you. This allows you to listen for how you can be a potential resource which can generate a more natural segue into how the two of you can collaborate on specific patients.
Welcome Your Wingman
While some of my physicians are born for outreach, there are others who are not as comfortable when it comes to self promotion. This is where a physician liaison can step in as a resource and partner in crime. If you haven’t made physician referral outreach visits before or feel like you could use support, rely on this role to help facilitate an introduction to those on your target list. They are well trained to spot lulls in the conversation or to jump in and boast on your behalf.
Craft Your Close in Advance
Physicians are in the business of healing and not the business of sales.However, building a new practice takes a bit of salesmanship. This includes knowing how and when to ask for someone’s business. This is especially key if the physician has established referrals patterns with other providers that you are attempting to redirect. Consider using a soft conversation close like “I hope you will consider referring your patients to my practice.” For conversations where you are feeling a stronger connection, you might want to try out a more assumptive close like “I promise that when you send your patients to me, I will take great care of them.”
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Just like it’s rare for someone to get married after the first date, a committed referral relationship doesn’t happen after your first visit. It may take multiple visits to convince a provider to give your practice a try. Moreover, the others on their care team need to have a good experience with those playing a supporting role on your team for the referrals to continue. Some of the top reasons our referring providers stick with preferred partners include:
- Hassle-free interactions when scheduling a new patient consult
- Dedicated placeholders to work in a referral partner’s ‘urgent’ new patients
- Access via cell phone for in the moment | ’refer or not to refer’ consults
- Credentialed with key payers
- Strong patient experience
- Prompt, digestible reports within 24-48 hours of the consult.
Consider how your team is partnering with others to care for patients today. What improvements can you make to create stickier referral patterns? I’d love to hear your thoughts – share your best tips for physician referral outreach in the comments below or connect with me on Linkedin to continue the conversation.