The art of referrals: How to secure and nurture them

November 1, 2008

This article shows you how to make the most of referral sources that often get little attention: friends, family, and community connections.

Key Points

Most urologists (and their staff) tell me they do a pretty good job of monitoring physician referrals and nurturing the relationship, but building and maintaining a strong referral base extends beyond your colleagues. It's important to monitor and honor other referral sources that often get little attention: friends, family, and community connections. This article shows you how to make the most of these important sources.

Examine tracking methods

How does this happen? It begins with how staff is trained to collect, validate, and input the referral source into the practice management system. Pay attention to the varying referral sources that bring patients to your office and why those patients happen to pick you. It might be location, it might be reputation or the results of a solid marketing campaign, or it just might be the support of both the medical community and the patients you have already served.

Your staff members understand that tracking the referral source for each new patient is essential. It's part of completing the patient registration. But too often they assume that what you really want recorded is the patient's primary care physician. As a result, they might simply ask for the name of the patient's family physician, whereas a better, more specific question would be, "How did you happen to choose our practice?" This makes a big difference in the patient's response and the data you are tracking.

There are three different types of patient decision-making models: active, collaborative, and passive. Active patients take control, doing their own research and making their own decisions. Collaborative patients work with the physician to determine the best course of action, including specialty care. Passive patients trust their doctor to make the best decision on whom and when he should seek specialty care.

You have all three types of patients coming into your practice. So even though Mr. Pain knows he needs to see a urologist, the path he takes to get to your office might be quite different than Mrs. Needy's, and it's your staff's job to probe and document precisely how the patient made the decision to come to your practice. It is only by obtaining accurate referral information that you can honor loyal referring sources, make the most effective decisions to expand your practice, and know where to direct your marketing efforts.

Recognizing other sources

Finding your place in the medical community is important and is a strong source for building a solid practice. Just the same, it's important to recognize other sources of referrals, whether it's pharmacies, the hospital's referral service, your visibility through community service, the support of family and friends, or the satisfaction of your patients. Understanding referrals, identifying shifts in referral patterns, and knowing whether patients are happy with the care they receive and are conveying this to their physicians, friends, and family will impact future referrals.

By the way, when a new patient comes into the office, thank him for choosing your practice. It will make a great impression.

Be sure you and the patient are on the same team, communicate well, value the patient relationship, and provide good service. If patients like you, they are bound to spread the word. Today, that has a tremendous amount of value. When patients feel important and believe you care about them, they will play an important role in helping you grow the practice faster than you could have imagined.

Regardless of the specialty care provided, physicians must take heed and look beyond the value of referrals from the medical community. Nurturing all referral sources and building strong alliances are important factors in keeping your practice growing.

Judy Capko is a health care consultant and the author of Secrets of the Best Run Practices. She can be reached at 805-499-9203 or judy@capko.com
.