I spent a lot of years in physicians’ offices developing relationships with the physicians and staff in a pharmaceutical company sales role. I have spent the years since in sales and marketing roles in the human resources technology and consulting and medical practice marketing industries. No matter what I was marketing, be it a product, service or a company, there was always one common thread. Relationships are hands down the most important thing to consider when building a business or practice.
Relationship marketing differs from other forms of marketing in that it recognizes the long-term value of customer relationships and what they mean to the long term success of a business (or practice). When strong ties are created between physicians and those physicians and their staff that are referral sources, referral networks are built, patient pipelines are filled and medical practices grow.
Internal marketing is crucial to building your referral network and growing your practice. Realizing that your staff – everyone from the receptionist to the nurse to the midlevel providers – affects how your brand is built and how your reputation is cultivated. Anyone that has contact with other doctors, referring nurses, patients, potential patients – they ALL influence your reputation and referrals. So before taking your marketing efforts for referrals external, make sure you are buttoned up internally.
Building relationships with referring physicians is essential. However, very frequently, it’s the nurse or Referral Specialist that is actually making the referral. Marketing to them is essential, and your staff building relationships with them is essential. Your receptionist, your nurse, your medical assistant – they should be trained to treat staff from referring offices with the same care and concern that they treat your patients. Your staff must make it as easy and pleasant as possible for a referral to be made to you. Referring practices want to know that you can see their patient quickly, that your office is going to take care of their patient and that your office will provide good and prompt follow-up communication. Fulfilling the expectations of the referring physicians’ office before, during and after a referral is extremely important.
The “Total Office Call/Strategy” – that is, building relationships with not only referring physicians but also their staff – can influence the development of long term relationships in offices that refer to your practice. Whether you’re just starting practice or you’ve been practicing for 30 years, the key to getting patient referrals from other physicians is to gain the trust of referring physicians and their staff. Focusing all your attention on the physician can result in missed opportunities to meet others in referring offices who influence the referral process and may be responsible for sending future patients your way. Make it a goal – through the implementation of a liaison or practice representative – to develop a strong partnership with the entire practice!