How to build your practice from the inside out

June 1, 2008

The first rule to implementing effective practice-building strategies is to carefully examine different approaches and do what you believe in and feel confident about doing. Most urology practices find their greatest success in building from the inside out. That means looking at what is working and taking it to the next level.

Here's how to build your practice the correct way: from the inside out.

The first rule to implementing effective practice-building strategies is to carefully examine different approaches and do what you believe in and feel confident about doing. That being said, most urology practices find their greatest success in building from the inside out. That means looking at what is working and taking it to the next level.

I recently consulted with a group urology practice whose urologists were amazed to discover that their referral sources had changed dramatically with the addition of two new physicians during the previous 18 months. They brought in their first female physician, who had a subspecialty in urodynamics. The other new physician was born and raised in the community, and his physician father was a pillar in the medical community. Yes, this practice was rapidly growing from the inside out, but it was by happenstance instead of design. They were lucky.

Whatever your strengths are, use them to your advantage. But don't rely on guesswork. Most urology practices do a pretty good job of monitoring physician referrals, but they fail miserably at defining and tracking referrals that come from other sources. Develop a program to track referrals by a variety of sources and train staff to discreetly probe to accurately determine how the patient chose your urology practice.

Once you accurately track the referrals, you can determine where you should focus your efforts. One practice I was working with was surprised to discover that having the manager join a local professional group and the chamber of commerce gave them more visibility and referrals than they could have possibly imagined.

Happy patients give referrals

Perhaps the most reliable source of referrals is your existing patients. Yes, a fair number of patients are referred by their physicians, but often, the patient will tell his primary care physician which urologist he wants to see, based on a perception or a family member or friend's personal experience.

To keep your current patients happy, develop a formal customer service orientation program for new employees. This should include sharing the practice's customer service philosophy and goals. Of course, this must be backed up with employee training and the proper tools to serve patients effectively. Also, you can add a lot of punch to your customer service program if employees' performance reviews include a customer service standard. For example, require the operator to answer before the third ring and give her name.

Keep in mind that the physicians and management set the example for staff. If you tell staff members they must respond promptly to the patient, it will fall on deaf ears if the physicians come in late, do not return phone calls, or the manager makes a derogatory statement about a patient or an employee. Actions speak louder than words.

Make your office customer friendly with special touches, such as fresh flowers in the exam room and cloth sheets instead of paper. The staff members responsible for showing patients to exam rooms need to tell patients realistically how long it will be before the physician comes in. Then they should do something very important: Ask patients if there is anything they can do to make the wait more comfortable. You can't begin to imagine how important this is to patients.