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INCREASING PROFITS

Patient referrals: an untapped source of new revenue

Medical practices sometimes mistakenly believe that patient referrals don’t matter. However, like customer referrals, patient referrals are an important—and often untapped—source of new business.

There are multiple ways to make sure your practice is encouraging referrals. Here are several areas where you should focus.

Family members and their friends

Perhaps the most obvious source of referrals is patient family members and their friends. Still, as logical as it sounds, it can be difficult to broach the subject, at least directly.

Instead, why not let brochures and other printed material do the talking? A professional marketing brochure that details the services of the practice should be available in the waiting room and/or at the check-in window.

This brochure should “speak” to patients and their family members and friends in a way that alleviates concerns and encourages trust. The brochure should be designed as a “pass along” item, something that patients will share with others. A simple statement, such as “now accepting new patients,” which is clearly visible on the printed piece, will help generate referrals.

This same brochure should be designed so that it fits in the envelope that accompanies the patient billing statement. Mailing it will serve as a reminder of practice services that might be of interest to other members of the patient’s household. Attention to paper weight when designing the brochure will ensure that additional postage isn’t required.

Needless to say, the patient experience also plays a critical role in the referral process. All the little details, including ease of check-in, on-time appointments, and friendliness of staff, will make it more likely that a patient refers the practice. Similarly, a pleasant waiting room makes for a more pleasant office visit. Assessing your practice from a patient’s point of view and making any necessary improvements will earn you more referrals.

Social media

Don’t overlook social media as a source of referrals. Statistics now show that there are 3.5 degrees of separation on Facebook. This makes it more likely that someone will refer Kevin Bacon to your practice.

All joking aside, social media has become a common way—some would argue the most common way—to share and obtain information. It’s not unusual for people to ask their Facebook friends for referrals, including physician referrals. And since everyone is now connected to everyone else, opportunity abounds.

With this in mind, creating and maintaining a practice website that provides prospective patients with pertinent details—a website that, if possible, differentiates the practice from others—goes a long way toward facilitating referrals. When referring your practice on social media, a person can include a link to your website.

At the same time, you’ll want to have a social media presence, such as a practice Facebook page, so you can participate in the online community. Your Facebook page is also the place where you can provide additional and timely information.

Physician rating sites, other rating sites

Technology has taken the referral process to a new level. With this in mind, you want to recognize that physician rating sites, like RateMDs, Vitals, and Healthgrades, as well as general rating sites, such as Yelp, are tools for patient referrals.

Prospective patients frequently consult these sites for feedback from current or former patients prior to scheduling an appointment. In fact, surveys from Software Advice, a Gartner company, find that 77 percent of patients consult these sites before selecting a doctor.

While you typically can’t remove or change a less-than-favorable review, especially if it’s based on a legitimate experience, you can usually respond to the person who posted it. As important, you can address the situation that resulted in a bad experience in order to prevent similar reviews.

You can also encourage patients to review their experiences, which have hopefully been positive, and post reviews at rating sites. This is typically done by sending an email that asks a patient to rate his or her recent visit, with a link to the rating site. These reviews should help balance any negative or mediocre reviews your practice may have received.

Physicians and other medical professionals

Referrals come from within the medical community as well; patients often ask their primary care doctors for referrals to other physicians.

Getting to know other physicians in your community, and the services their practices provide, will allow you to work together to provide complementary care to patients. This will result in patient referrals.

Admittedly, making connections is easier in a small town. Nevertheless, it is possible to develop community in a major city.

Physicians and other medical professionals, as well as medical office managers, often belong to membership organizations that hold live events where networking occurs. At the very least, membership organizations typically publish member directories which include physician specialty and practice information.

If your practice and another in the area provide complementary services, why not contact your fellow medical office manager about a mutually beneficial patient referral program? You might start by exchanging printed brochures that you can each pass along to patients.

In an age where technology is a primary vehicle for communication, although certainly not the only vehicle, you don’t want to lose sight of what patient referrals are all about: expanding your reach in order to provide health care to more people. The fact that you will increase revenue in the process is a side benefit.


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