In competitive healthcare environments, building a new practice may feel like an uphill battle. Whether you are a provider starting out solo, or you are joining a group practice, it is not likely that patients will just show up knocking at the door. The reality is that in competitive marketplaces, patients today have a lot of options. Even with the support of a group or hospital practice, building a strong patient referral base can take an enormous amount of time and effort, and success rarely happens overnight.
Each practice is different, every market unique, and each specialty has its various challenges. There is not a “one size fits all” approach for how to successfully market a new physician practice. However, there are some basic strategies that, when implemented correctly, have proven effective.
Gone are the days when a provider could simply buy an ad in the local yellow pages and expect results. Today, approximately 77% of patients search online before booking an appointment, which is why a strong web presence is essential for almost any practice. An effective website is not only crucial for marketing purposes, but it can also provide patients with added value, information, and convenience while reducing much of the administrative burden on your staff. Consider utilizing a patient portal to assist with online registration, appointment scheduling, prescription refills, and accessing test results. Other ways to attract traffic to your website is through a bi-weekly or monthly blog discussing important health-related topics. Always keep your site fresh with helpful information regarding your practice, locations, or any recent changes. Consider including a personal video message with an introduction of yourself, highlighting your educational background, specialties, strengths, and interests.
Make the Rounds
Studies suggest that physicians receive up to 45 percent of new patients through referrals. With nearly half of new patient referrals coming from other referring physicians, there is great significance in getting out and meeting other providers in the local area. In fact, today many hospitals and large medical groups have marketing liaisons to help facilitate these types of meetings. A few best practices to consider when making these visits to other providers:
- Always remember the staff – Treat them kindly and include them in introductions and conversations regarding your practice, specialty, and expertise. Often, it is the referral coordinator sending those referrals and the more familiar they are with your practice, the more likely they will remember you when they have a patient in need of a referral.
- Bring your office manager – When possible, it may be beneficial to bring your office manager to meet staff members and discuss administrative information such as referral processes.
- Always bring plenty of business cards – Make sure to bring a sufficient amount of business cards, referral sheets, and brochures.
- When possible, bring something to eat – Remember to stay within stark guidelines; however, when possible bring something to eat. It is true that providers and staff members rarely have time to stop, but when they do, they need to eat! So, if you want a warm reception, you might consider bringing something delicious.
- Factors of importance when meeting with a referral source -One study suggests that primary care physicians serving the adult population consider these factors to be important when choosing a specialist: 1) Patient convenience 2) Previous experience with the specialist 3) Specialist board certification 4) Insurance coverage accepted by the specialist
Having a better understanding of factors important to the referring provider will help improve the referral process. This may be the first question posed when starting the conversation: “What factors are most important to you and your practice when making a referral to a specialist?” This one question will often provide a wealth of information.
Once a new physician has established a strong foundation of physician referral sources, it is crucial to cultivate and maintain those relationships.
Request medical staff privileges at every hospital in your area. This will enable your practice to be listed on the hospital’s website which can be another source for potential patient referrals.
Whether you are in a solo practice, hospital group practice, or private group practice, there are many ways to go about networking. If you are part of a hospital environment or have privileges at the local hospital, you can meet other physicians in the doctor’s lounge. Although conversations may be short due to limited time, it can be a great way to make an introduction and set up a time to meet outside of work. Other recommendations include: attending hospital meetings and sponsored events, galas, fundraisers, lectures, school events, etc.
Get Out in the Community
Another way to help increase patient referrals is to get out in the community. While this can be time-consuming in the beginning, it can also be extremely rewarding. One effective strategy is to provide patient lectures at a hospital event or non-profit connected to your interest. These organizations often seek out physician leaders for speaking engagements.
Another suggestion may be to partner with local assisted living communities or the public-school system. These ideas typically do not require a huge time commitment but can speak volumes to the community.
Ask Your Patients
Your current patient base can be one of the best referral sources. Ask your patients if they are happy with their experience to refer their family and friends. It may be surprising how this one simple question can help significantly increase your business.