Relationship building is indispensable in today’s competitive healthcare industry and a vital key to the success of medical practices and facilities. While relationship marketing via a Physician Liaison has been a practice of hospitals for eons, referral building for medical practices and smaller healthcare organizations is not as headline-grabbing as other marketing imperatives, yet it is a critical part of growth. Relationship marketing is a proven way to add value to a practice, build brand equity, and position against competition and healthy and strong referral relationships ensure a continuous stream of new patients. Here are some relationship marketing strategies that will help you create trust-based relationships with your referral sources/potential referral sources:

1.  Know your referral sources well and give them what they want.

Who is on your target list and what can you do to make them send their patients to you?

Make it easy for providers to refer to you. Make it a priority to see referred patients in a timely manner. Consider leaving a few appointments open for same-day referrals. Be prompt in sending reports back to the referring physician. Be available to answer questions from the referring physician.

Accept their insurance. Primary care physicians will refer their patients to other providers who accept their insurance.

Make their patients happy! The referring physician doesn’t want their patients to come back complaining about the specialist. Treat their patients with respect. Take time to talk to them and make sure to follow up with them after their visit. By doing these things, you’re showing the referring physicians you care.

2. Build trust and strengthen relationships.

In an extremely competitive market, clinical expertise will only get you so far when it comes to getting referrals. People refer to those they know and like. Competence is certainly important, but there are other factors to consider. Awareness and trust are essential. Referrals happen when a referring provider KNOWS about you and WANTS to do business with you or your practice, and this involves far more than competence. You must initiate and cultivate relationships with referring physicians and their staff in order to build trust with them.

3. Listen.

What is important to your potential referral sources? Use a Physician Liaison to get to know referrers and their staff and ask about their challenges and how you can meet their needs.  After you’ve listened to their answers, tell them about your practice and how you can deliver the patient care and customer service they value. Reaching out to identify the needs and concerns of your referral sources gives you a competitive advantage, especially if you are willing and able to offer sincere solutions. Over time, this will result in stronger relationships with referrers.

4. Communicate frequently.

Practices must make referrers want to send patients to them. Again, this means being more than just competent. It means not only delivering high quality care, but also communicating frequently and knowing what they think and feel about your practice. By encouraging open communication, you can build a positive relationship with your referral sources, which in turn will help you understand how they feel about your practice or facility. The winning combination for standing out against your competition and remaining top of mind with referring providers is face to face, social media, physician-review websites and of course the good ole telephone, when appropriate.

Identify potential referral sources and cultivate those relationships with frequent communication. Inform them about updates at your practice, such as extended office hours, new providers or new diagnostic equipment. Also identify your existing referral sources. Tell them how much you appreciate them and send written thank-you notes. Deliver thank-you or holiday gifts to new referrers and top referrers.

5. Enhance your relationship marketing strategy by maintaining an engaging social media presence.

Being active on various social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and Twitter helps physicians, practices and medical facilities to connect with both patients as well as referral sources and their staff. You may provide thought leadership and share knowledge and expertise with patients and referrers, as well as provide valuable information about your practice and your providers. If you are sending a representative into the community to connect with your referral sources, you want to make sure your online presence is polished BEFORE the relationship marketing campaign begins. As the representative is speaking to providers and their staff about you and your practice, there will most certainly be an uptick in traffic to your social media sites as people seek to learn more about you.

6. Get some help.

Physicians are trained to take care of patients, not business, and it can be challenging to find time to build relationships with referring providers. Utilizing a Physician Liaison as a representative of your practice allows you to continue to care for your patients and administrators to manage the practice. It is, however, important to consider who you have representing you in referring providers’ offices. A well-spoken, sales-oriented individual that understands relationship building and is able to speak to both physicians and staff is essential.

Ultimately, referrals can play a valuable role in fortifying and growing a healthcare organization. Those that have invested in strong, strategic relationships and growing rapport with referring physicians will see profound payoffs for years to come.