Are you referring to me?

5 things to remember when growing a healthcare provider referral network

Almost 30% of primary care visits will result in a referral, making provider referral programs a critical component of any healthcare delivery system’s marketing effort.

But referrals are complicated, with several very important things at stake.

One is the patient’s health, specifically the speed of diagnosis and the development of a care plan. A second is the solidarity of the doctor-patient relationship.

A third factor is the doctor’s reputation with colleagues, peers, and the specialists to whom the physician refers patients. Other things at stake include the economic health of the physician’s practice and the network in which they participate. Plus the administrative, legal, and ethical issues that surround all medical decision making.

It’s a lot of factors to factor in, which is why building and growing a referral network requires structure and strategy. Here’s how to approach it.

5 features of a good physician marketing program

1. Be understanding and persistent with General Practitioners

There’s some good qualitative research on how GPs view referrals.

To sum it up: “[Referrals are] a sensitive topic for general practitioners, involving emotionally charged interactions and relationships with patients, colleagues, specialists and supervisors.” So your outreach should acknowledge these truths and build trust.

Also according to research, it’s worth recognizing that GPs often view referrals in 2 varieties: 1. “Clear-cut situations” in which the decision to refer is obvious because of an immediate biomedical need, and 2. “Complex cases” in which they are uncertain about diagnostic pathways or patient perceptions, and hesitate to refer or not. “Watchful waiting” sometimes happens as a result. Be persistent and regular in your outreach, consistently emphasizing the ability to provide a fast response.

2. Empower referral sources with information

The BMC study mentioned above claims that “many GPs are competitive do-it-yourselfers who take complex or new medical conditions as a challenge,” saying to themselves, “I’ll read up on this over the weekend.” They want to avoid appearing uncertain, indecisive, or under-resourced.

So consider a content marketing program that supplies the referral target with evidence-based materials which demonstrate an understanding of issues they face. Here’s an example of a referral-focused content marketing program we created for Humana.

3. Make the referral process easy

Providers don’t want to be “sorter physicians” who spend as much time on processing healthcare administration as they do on caring for patients. So consider Becker’s Hospital Review advice and plan an online referral process with these features:

  • Single sign on. Keep the referral source moving into the process without additional gates. Remember that enabling social media logins can improve registration conversion rates by up to 50%. Also, provide a process graphic that shows the steps needed for completion.
  • Track through multiple points. Enabling multiple points of entry into a referral process (website, social, email) means richer metrics to gauge referral source preferences.
  • Limit platforms. Sending someone off website to complete a registration or referral process is unsettling. When using referral software, try to be sure it can be white labeled for your brand.

4. Leverage Telehealth

Demonstrate fluency in making consultations with referral sources (and the patients they send you) available as Telemedicine appointments.

Years before the pandemic, there was good research on this, showing that especially for orthopedic, neurological and dermatological conditions, telemedicine-based access to a referred specialist can get the referring physician, patient, and specialist on the same page quickly. This also keeps the door open for late and last-minute referrals.

5. Close the loop

It’s important that the referral source be confident that you will follow-through on patient status and respect the original provider-patient relationship.

Referrals will always be needed

A 2020 consumer survey signaled the “death” of the referral, claiming that “patients’ use of referrals has declined by 44% in the past year, and they now use an average of three different online sources to find a doctor.”

To us, the “death” of the referral is greatly exaggerated. Primary care will always need to pivot to specialty care. As patients and doctors reunite in a post-pandemic world, referrals will continue to matter – and competitive healthcare delivery brands should seek to earn them.

Interested in a conversation? Contact us.