3 Steps to Building Referral-Boosting Relationships With Physicians

Healthcare, like all businesses, is about relationships. In addition to building high-quality relationships with patients, caregivers and employees, it is vitally important for modern healthcare practices, service lines and centers of excellence to actively pursue and nurture ongoing relationships with physicians, nurse practitioners and other healthcare professionals, who are in a position to refer patients. Of course, building healthy relationships requires time, thought and regular attention in order to create a connection that is satisfying for all parties involved. In today’s blog, we’ll cover three steps you can take now to develop long-lasting relationships with healthcare professionals whose referrals you covet.

Step 1: Preparation

Perhaps more than any other industry, reputation is paramount to a healthcare provider’s success. Most doctors care deeply about their reputations, and how they are impacted by the people and practices they are associated with through referrals. Before you create a list of doctors from whom you would like to generate referrals, it’s important to examine your brand’s presence and appearance. A few items to consider include:

  • Website – Is your current site easy to find? Has it been optimized according to how people search (SEO)? Does it make your practice appear innovative and successful, or is it woefully out of date? Is it easy for both patients and referring doctors to navigate your site? Is it mobile friendly? According to research, 60 percent of Internet searches are performed on mobile devices, and 53 percent of mobile visits are abandoned if pages take longer than three seconds to load. In short, you want your website to reflect the success of your practice. It needs to welcome visitors, including referring physicians, with a message and appearance that builds confidence in their decision to choose you.
  • Marketing Materials — In addition to examining your online presence, take a hard look at your current marketing materials, including your logo. The life of a logo is typically seven to 10 years before an update is needed. However, printed pieces have a much shorter lifespan. If it has been more than a couple of years since your brochures and direct mail pieces have been updated, it’s time for a refresh. Ads, whether print or digital have the shortest lifespan of all, with print ads (newspapers, trade publications, magazines, etc.) enjoying approximately three months and digital (social, web, SMS, MMS, etc.) maxing out at just two to three weeks, according to a study by Fast Company.
  • Online Reviews — A recent survey found that 70 percent of people say online ratings and review sites influence their choice of physician. More importantly, 41 percent of people still check a doctor out online, even if they were referred to them by another physician. Whether or not you agree with what’s being said about your practice, service line or center of excellence, your healthcare practice needs to address patient complaints like a well-trained diplomat. If carefully crafted communications and responses to online reviews are outside your staff’s time and capabilities, consider contracting with an online reputation management company.

Step 2: Communication

Once you have completed a good internal review of your brand and prepared it to take on the referring physician world, you are ready for step two. Of the many variables that impact the life and health of a relationship, none are as important as communication. In fact, poor communication, be it infrequent, misleading or slapdash, has the power to kill what might otherwise be a great relationship.

  • Listen First — When it comes to building a relationship through ongoing communications with referring physicians, it’s critical to be a good listener. Before you even think of putting a campaign together, find out what’s important to them with regards to methods and frequency of communications. As you build your marketing lists, pay attention to data such as “preferred method of contact,” and honor whatever it is. In addition, don’t be shy about asking them directly how they want to be apprised of the status of referred patients, if at all. Would they like a monthly update on a patient’s progress, a quarterly email featuring a select number of patient success stories pertinent to their referrals, or is a simple thank-you note for the referral all that is required.
  • Hit Their Highlights — When creating campaigns for referring physicians and healthcare professionals, be respectful of their time and energy by keeping content focused on what’s most important to their feeling confident in referring your practice, service line or center of excellence. A few things to consider include: advanced technology your practice uses, statistics on results achieved with patients, current clinical trials, specialists on your team, breakthroughs, innovative approaches, proven methods, etc. Your campaigns need to give them full permission to believe they are wise in referring patients to your practice.
  • Connect Your Campaigns — While the audience for patient campaigns and physician-focused campaigns are different, their messages have your brand in common and should look and feel related. Your patient-centric campaign should drive patients to inquire about the services you offer. However, your physician-focused campaign should equip referring healthcare professionals with the right answers to give inquisitive patients. It should tell them about you, your practice, and the services offered, but from the perspective of a fellow healthcare professional.

Step 3: Appreciation

Research has proven that gratitude has a dramatic impact on the happiness and satisfaction people feel when in a relationship, regardless of whether it is professional or personal. However, in the professional realm, the numbers are quite compelling:

  • 81% of people would work harder if their boss were more grateful
  • 53% of people would stay at their company longer if they felt more appreciation from their boss
  • Lack of gratitude is a major factor in job dissatisfaction, turnover, absenteeism, and burnout

While these stats may refer to an employee/employer relationship, it is easy to see how a fellow healthcare peer would feel more motivated to “work harder” and “stay in a relationship longer” if they felt appreciated by your practice, service line or center of excellence.

Depending on your budget, there are a myriad of ways to regularly demonstrate gratitude to those who are actively advocating for your brand by sending patients to your door. A few to consider include:

  • Office Lunches — Often there are many gatekeepers involved in the referral process besides physicians and so it’s a wise practice to regularly thank a physician’s entire office by providing breakfast, lunch or a gift basket overflowing with snacks. Several popular restaurants, like Panera or Jason’s Deli, offer free delivery of boxed lunches that meet a broad spectrum of dietary needs (vegan, diabetic, gluten-free, etc.).
  • Marketing Spotlight — Sometimes the best way to thank a fellow healthcare provider is to highlight their practice, contribution or capabilities in your monthly newsletter or eblast.
  • Thank You Notes — The power of a good old fashioned handwritten note should never be underestimated because it shows that you are intentional about making your gratitude known. If you find yourself at a loss for words, there are companies, like Handwrytten, that specialize in writing and mailing business-focused thank you notes.

We Empower Healthcare Brands to Reach Growth Goals

At Nichols Brand Stories, we believe great healthcare brands are built step-by-step as practices follow a proven approach that ties marketing performance to organizational goals. Let us put our experience in creating compelling physician-focused marketing campaigns and referral rewards programs to work for you. To get started, or simply to have a conversation about how to grow your brand, please reach out to me at MKlein@WeTellYourStory.com.