How to Increase Doctor Referrals through Physician Outreach
By: Amanda Kanaan – WhiteCoat
As a physician, you can’t be everywhere at once. From a clinical perspective you help ease this burden by hiring nurse practitioners or physician assistants as an extension of your care. From a marketing perspective, hiring a physician liaison helps expand your outreach in the community by building and maintaining relationships with referring doctors on your behalf.
From private practices to major hospital systems, health care providers have long relied on the assistance of a physician liaison to strengthen their practice’s reputation, uncover opportunities, collect valuable feedback, and ultimately increase new patient referrals.
For smaller practices, this concept may seem daunting considering the costs involved with hiring another full-time employee. However, many medical marketing agencies now offer physician liaison services on a contract basis, making it feasible and much more affordable for specialists to pursue this marketing strategy.
In medical marketing, if you’re not saying it then you’re not doing it. That means that if you are not out communicating the benefits of your practice to the referring community then it’s safe to assume no one knows. I work with many physicians who think because their practice has been in existence for more than 15 years that their reputation speaks for itself. While reputation is important, doctors are often astonished when liaisons report back that many referring physicians are not only unfamiliar with their services, but don’t even know they exist.
As a physician, you can relate to the fact that referring doctors prefer to send patients to practices they have relationships with. In some ways when you refer a patient to another doctor, you are putting your own reputation at stake by endorsing that doctor’s skills and services. Patients will either thank you or complain to you for doing so. By referring to practices you already have an established relationship with, you reduce the chances that these patients will come back in the form of a complaint.
Hiring a physician liaison isn’t for everyone. It primarily benefits specialists and sub-specialists who heavily rely on referrals to feed their practice. It is also an ongoing commitment that takes time to achieve results. Much like dating, you won’t be in a relationship with someone after just 1 or 2 dates. It may take multiple visits to convince a practice to try your services and when they do it has to be a good experience in order for the referrals to continue. Physician liaisons not only help build new referring relationships but also are essential in maintaining those relationships by ensuring the referring office has a smooth experience and by rectifying any negative feedback on behalf of either the referring office and/or the patient.
The key to a successful physician outreach strategy is to bring value to your relationship with referring physicians. No, that doesn’t mean handing out cookie baskets. You may be able to temporarily win over offices with cookies and muffins but it certainly will not build a strong, long-lasting relationship by any means. Ways to legitimately add value include offering a monthly or quarterly newsletter containing ongoing education about your specialty, creating tools that make referral coordinators’ lives easier (such as referral script pads that can be faxed in for scheduling), and using your liaison to uncover and fix internal issues.
It all comes down to listening. Liaisons shouldn’t just walk into offices, tell the staff about your practice, drop off some brochures and walk out. Their role is to listen, find opportunities to strengthen relationships and then nurture those relationships into consistent referral patterns.
Although many doctors hesitate in hiring a liaison because they feel the concept of sales has no place in their practice, the truth is that liaisons act more as customer service representatives and when utilized effectively, liaisons are the furthest thing from a traditional sales rep. Overall, physician liaisons are often an affordable and valuable tool in winning over your peers and gaining valuable new patient referrals to feed your practice.
Amanda Kanaan is a medical marketing specialist whose company, WhiteCoat, provides physician liaison services, medical website design, and online marketing along with print design, branding, and messaging services to local private practices and health care organizations. Contact us for pricing.