Physician referrals. They are essential if you want to grow your practice. Most specialty healthcare providers, surgery centers and hospitals would agree that referral marketing is the most important marketing strategy. With strong referral networks, providers can rely on a continuous stream of new patients for their practice.

The reality is, most physicians don’t want to think about marketing. They want to focus on their patients and being the best clinician they can be, despite the fact that expertise will only get them so far when it comes to physician referrals. No matter what your opinion on the effectiveness and value of marketing, it is a fact that businesses do not grow without it. In order to grow your medical practice, you have to market to some degree to get patients to walk through your door.

Cultivating and maintaining strong referral relationships requires planning, resources and effort. Whether you have an internal person doing your referral marketing or you’ve hired a physician liaison to help build positive referral relationships for you, here are 5 common mistakes to avoid:

1. Forgetting to cultivate existing referral relationships

Those physicians that have been sending you patients for years – they’d never think of sending patients to another specialist of your type, right? Wrong. They have options on where to refer and there are new specialists coming to your town all the time. Take the time to develop and nurture these existing referral relationships.

2. Ignoring physicians that don’t refer

Things change. Doctors retire. Relationships waver. Referring physicians may not even know you’re there. Put these physicians on your radar screen. Make stops into their office a few times to remind them of you, your practice and the patients that you can help with.

3. Failing to communicate with referring providers and their staff

Report back to the referring physician about their patient quickly. Basically, never let the referred patient get back to the referring physician before you do. Also, when possible, refer back to the referring physician. Remember, it is in giving that you receive.

4. Ignoring relationships with office staff of referring physician

Relationships with staff – specifically the individuals that often times are left to make the final decision about where the patients are referred to – are important. In fact, asking to speak to a nurse, a practice manager or a Referral Coordinator is a request that is granted far more often than a request to speak to the doctor. Building rapport with the gatekeeper – ie. the receptionist – can also be very beneficial. They see you, know your commitment and your consistency, and are more likely to pass on your message to the doctor, which in turn can positively affect referrals to your office.

5. Make referring to your office easy

Everyone in your practice – well beyond the marketing department or marketing contractor – affects your marketing. Those people that talk to staff from referring providers’ offices have an effect on the referral relationship between the two physicians. The referral process must be easy and the individual in your office must be personable, patient and prompt. This process influences your reputation and referrals.

Building a strong referral network takes some effort and maintaining it should be an integrated, ongoing part of running your medical practice, not something you do only when your patient volume starts to dwindle. Avoiding these pitfalls will help you keep your referrers and expand your referral base.