The best ways for doctor to acquire new business are referrals, from other doctors and from happy patients. Today, we’re looking at how to best generate more referrals from fellow doctors.
What Referring Doctors Want
Doctors tell us that they want the following from those they refer to:
- Be someone they know. Less than 10% of physicians routinely refer to physicians they don’t know, and about 40% say they know something specific about the specialists’ outcomes or quality records.
- Treat their patients right. Primary care practitioners are adamant that they take seriously patient complaints about specialists they refer to, including the level of service offered.
- See the patients soon. PCPs are very aware of delays in getting their patients in to see consultants.
Report back fast.
How to Please Your Referring Doctor
This one is crucial: Get the results of the consult back to the referring physician fast. Fax and email are usually the most practical ways. Call if there will be any delay in the written report. If the severity of the patient’s problem (or other instruction from the referral source) warrants, make the phone call. But be careful not to waste your colleagues’ time. Leave a message with the nurse if it’s simple: “I’m admitting [your patient] today.”
The exception: Always call to acknowledge the first referral from a new source. One topic for the call: “Do you want me to call you like this? I don’t want to waste your time, but I do want to give you the service your expression of confidence in me deserves.” Usually, referral sources will tell you to call if it’s urgent, otherwise report in writing. Still, for the second referral from that same source, call again: “I know you told me to write and I will. But I want you to know how pleased I am to be able to help you with Mrs. Glotz. Thanks again for the opportunity.”
Be sure to copy the referring physician on all the tests, op notes, and discharge summaries. Offer to send the patient back for presurgical clearance, if necessary. And remember that the words consultation and referral are not synonyms. Even when the PCP is transferring the patient’s care to you, include him or her in the care process. If the patient does not need your continuing care, send him back to the PCP with recommendations for future needs and the invitation to work collaboratively again when necessary. This puts the specialist in direct contrast with those who don’t take pains to get patients back to their referral sources.
An otolaryngologist with an enviable practice went above and beyond to help his clients. Norman Harris, MD, of Fullerton, California, wrote a 74-page, self-published book for his referring colleagues, Streamlined Office Otolaryngology. It’s a humble 5 x 7 paperback covering common ear problems, nasal complaints, and otopharyngeal difficulties in 3 chapters. The appendices cover a list of how-to’s, from removing ear wax and foreign bodies to taking care of nosebleeds and reading audiograms. There’s an appendix, “What to Say About…,” which covers everything from fluid in the ear, ringing, stuffy and runny noses, and how to stop smoking.
Don’t most PCPs have training in these areas already? Sure, but their office personnel might really benefit from this handbook. That kind of thoughtfulness is what turns ordinary ENT practices into superstar ones. Our guess is that this started out as a training manual for Dr. Harris’s staff. Providing it to his referral sources was a logical extension.
Make Your Consult Report a Practice Builder
There is a marketing spin to every referral report. Instead of the usual, try these ideas to let your support base know that you are thinking of them. Try this organization next time you dictate:
1. Confirm that that the referral was made correctly.
“Just as you suspected . . .”
“You caught this early enough that I was able to . . .”
“You were right to send Mrs. Flammis for an evaluation. From her complaints, I would have expected poor estrogen effect, too. What a surprise, then, to discover that it is unrelated to her hormone replacement therapy.”
2. Go APE:
Assessment: Give your impression and working diagnosis.
Plan: What you intend to do and when and where you will do it.
Exam findings: Don’t go over the stuff your colleague already knows, like height and weight, but include the patient’s description of the problem and any new test information.
3. Send a card:
Say “thanks” and “ask for the order” again. One way to get referrals is to ask for them. Specialists can be dignified and still get the message across: “Keep sending me your cases.” They let the best referral sources know that there will always be room for their patients in the practice. Greeting cards aren’t just for holidays. Send a custom card to your PCP’s after each referral and at the relevant holidays.
Letting your doctors know you’re thinking of them is the best way to keep them thinking of you.