Setting up a new practice, whether you’re fresh out of med school or are settling in a new location, comes with it’s own set of unique challenges. After securing a space and a qualified support staff, you need to build up your patient list quickly to avoid closing your doors.
Speaking strictly in business terms, referrals are one of the single best ways to grow your practice: Nielsen’s statistics show that 84% of people trust their friends’ referrals, and trust recommendations seven times more than they trust what they see in traditional ads.
When Harvard Business Review studied bank accounts in Germany, they found that customers who opened accounts based on a referral were 18% more likely to stay with their new bank, and that they generated about 16% more profits for the bank than customers who were not referred.
As a doctor with a new practice, getting your foot in the door on a money-making referral network can really boost your clinic’s business and set you up in an established, respected place in the community as a go-to medical professional.
By networking with your peers and doing what you can to help them out in terms of referrals from your office, you’ll notice that the reciprocity nature that’s prevalent in all of us as human beings will bolster them to help you in return.
1. Start Giving Referrals Immediately
Before you officially begin your practice, make a list of the types of clinics that could generate the types of referrals you’ll need to grow your clinic into a thriving medical business and find doctors in your area that fit that criteria.
Meet these doctors in person either by attending a local networking event or conference for medical professionals, or set up a one-on-one short meeting with their secretary.
When you meet, introduce yourself as a new doctor in town who’s trying to build your practice—which means finding the right places to send your patients to when they need referrals for an issue that’s beyond your area of expertise.
Ask them if they’re open to receiving new referrals, and if so, if there’s any particular types of patients they would prefer. For example, a gynecologist might be booked with pregnant patients and not accepting any new patients for the next few months, but he or she may be able to squeeze in a few patients on occasion for yearly checkups.
If they give you the green light to send them referrals, start doing so right away (as long as it’s relevant and necessary, of course).
They’ll appreciate the help you’re giving them and look for ways to help you in return—whether it’s sending you referrals from their office or letting others in their referral network know that you’re a trustworthy doctor.
2. Hand Out Discount Vouchers for New Patients
After you’ve talked to another doctor two or three times (whether it’s about a patient you’re referring or in a social setting), ask them if you can place vouchers for new patients to your clinic in their office.
If they have a patient that comes through and could benefit from your expertise, they can present your office as an option to the patient, along with your voucher for a free consultation appointment, or a waived or discounted co-pay for the first appointment. By handing these out, they’ll grow their own patient loyalty by helping them save a little bit with the constant rise in medical costs.
The great thing about these vouchers, especially for a waived or discounted co-pay, is that they actually work for getting patients into your office.
Brand-name pharmaceutical companies regularly hand out coupons to patients to cover their prescription co-pays in exchange for taking their specific prescription medication they’re advertising for, and for the industry as a whole, these coupons are expected to cause a $32 billion increase in money spent on prescription drugs over a ten-year period. Though some people question the morality behind these companies’ motives, as a doctor trying to create a vying clinic for your community, you know there isn’t anything questionable behind your motives or behavior in presenting local patients with another option for extended care.
An example of a dental voucher used by LWSS Family Dentistry
Once these doctors see their patients getting excellent care from you, they’ll be more likely to refer new patients back to you more often—with our without a discount voucher.
Handing out discount vouchers creates a win-win situation: you get a new patient into your clinic, and the referring doctor boosts his patient loyalty and satisfaction.
3. Focus on One Mutual Referral Partnership at a Time – Particularly in the Beginning
Until you achieve your dream of getting accepted into your area’s medical clinic A List referral network, don’t spread yourself too thin.
Ambition is key, but having too many goals and working with too many doctors can lead to a downturn in the quality of patient service and attention—which is not something to compromise on when you’re trying to get in on a money-making referral network based on merit.
When one doctor agrees to start taking referrals from you or agrees to hand out your discount vouchers to patients who could use your care, give them all your attention to make sure everything goes smoothly—see recommendations #4 and #5.
4. Become a Master of Patient Management & File Transfers: Have a Protocol
Ideally, both clinics will work together on patient management to make sure all needs are fully taken care of, but one doctor does need to spearhead it.
If the doctor you’re working with is already a part of an established referral network—especially if it’s the money-making network you want to get in on—you can suggest working the way she’s accustomed to. It’ll make the process easier on her, and it will ease your transition to working with other doctors in that network down the line.
You’ll need to get your staff on board, especially when it comes to transferring and collecting patient data.
Using a high-performing software that specializes in medical and dental patient referrals is one of the easiest ways to get an office protocol going for patient information exchange. As soon as a referral is made, everything that needs to be done is taken care of quickly and efficiently: improving your outcomes. The best part is you do not have to remember all your
The important thing is to never underestimate the value of a well-functioning process to exchange full patient records between doctors to improve care.
For example, under New Zealand’s National Health Shared Care Plan pilot run, all of a patient’s medical record information was put in a centralized place to ensure the best care, even as they visited different doctors for separate issues. Among other benefits, they found that patients under this plan who had to check into the hospital generally had shorter stays because it empowered the medical staff to better manage their conditions. This shared information structure was so successful, it expanded so all New Zealanders would be covered under it by 2014. When you carefully and methodically transfer patient information to a new clinic, the quality of their care increases dramatically, and the doctors you’re working with will really appreciate it.
5. Woo Your Patients: Tell Them Everything
You don’t need gimmicky tricks—you just need to provide stellar service and full-on attention to the patients that walk in your door—whether they’ve been referred or not.
Woo your patients by taking care of their emotions, this can be accomplished by talking them through their symptoms, what they mean, and your treatment plan. Encourage them to ask questions and answer them fully. Never rush them in and out of the treatment room. Information is comforting, and a quality experience where they actually learn something about their own health will get them raving about your clinic.
If they’ve been referred, they’ll report back to their doctor that they were pleased with your care, boosting that doctor’s confidence in referring more patients to you or referring you to other doctors in his referral network.
6. Say No When You Need To
In a perfect world, every doctor with some kind of openings in his clinic for patient appointments would be willing to work with you and attempt to reciprocate your efforts to refer new patients to each other.
While the principle of reciprocity certainly applies to most people, some people are selfish or too busy to see beyond their own agendas…even doctors.
If you start referring patients to a doctor and find out this is the case, it may be better to take your business elsewhere. If you need to spend an hour per month talking to a doctor to facilitate quality referrals back and forth, those referrals should be motivation to him to make that hour happen.
But if a doctor doesn’t take time to give back to you, even if you’re giving to him, he’s not going to act on the principle of reciprocity. And with time, that means he won’t be introducing you to new doctors that are a part of a high-performing, money-making referral network, like another doctor might.
7. Join an Online Referral Network
If getting a seat in a local money-making referral network doesn’t happen quickly, you can still get quality referrals into your office from non-traditional referral networks hosted online.
For example, referralMD focuses on helping patients find quality doctors online and helps referring doctors find higher quality healthcare organizations for their patients. And because it’s hosted online, any doctor from anywhere within the country can join.
Since it sends you patients based on where you’re located and where they live, this can be a good way to get patients in the door and build your name as a reputable doctor in your area by wooing your patients with incredible care.
According to the definition of reciprocity in social psychology, every time you perform a positive action that benefits others in some way, they’ll reciprocate back to you with another positive action. That can mean a referral in exchange for a referral, or hints to help you grow your practice when they see your professionalism in handling patient exchanges.
Working through these eight recommendations will help you grow referrals back to your clinic, and establish you as a professional, reliable doctor to work with in less time than it would take by growing your clinic’s business completely on your own.
Image courtesy of: davidpapp.com