Employed physicians now outnumber self-employed physicians practicing in the United States, according to a recently updated study on physician practice patterns from the American Medical Association. In fact, employed physicians now represent 47.4 percent of physicians providing patient care, compared with 45.9 percent of self-employed physicians.
The AMA points out that, for now, most physicians do still work in small practices. The percentage has been dropping since 2012, although the decline has slowed somewhat in the last few years, according to research from the Physicians Advocacy Institute.
In this evolving climate, it’s more important than ever for independent physicians to have strong referral networks. That means reaching out to other physicians, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and healthcare providers.
Independent physicians might not think they have enough time to spend on outreach to build those strong networks. Or they might assume they don’t need to spend time nurturing those relationships and networks that they’ve already built.
But they need to make the time. And if they’re creative and persistent, it might not be as onerous as they might think.
Make it personal
Nothing beats the personal touch when it comes to cultivating a referral network. Physicians who reach out to other physicians with a personal call, visit, or email will reap the benefits.
Norman Wall, DO, a general medicine physician in Temecula, California, began building his referral network by picking up the phone. He’d call a physician and ask them to lunch so they could get to know each other. He concentrated on making a good impression on them and showing how the relationship could benefit both of them.
“You have to build up that rapport with people,” he says.
To continually strengthen her own referral network, Houston breast oncology surgeon Darlene Miltenburg, MD, seeks out new gynecologists who’ve recently finished residency. She tells them about herself, her practice, and all the specialty services that she can offer to their patients. Then, when they need to refer a patient to a breast surgeon, they think of her and she becomes part of their referral network.
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Debra Phairas, a member of the National Society of Healthcare Business Consultants (NSCHBC), has a whole list of strategies that she recommends to independent practices who want to make personal connections. If you’re new in town or new to a practice, hold an open house and send invitations to other physicians. Join your local medical society or professional association and network at meetings or even at after-hours events with other physicians in person. Send gift baskets to other practices with a personalized note saying that you appreciate their referrals.
“And don’t forget all the people who keep the practice running. If you’re sending a ‘thank you’ gift basket to a referring physician, send a gift to the office staff too, says Phairas, president of Practice & Liability Consultants.”
Commit to good communication
Earlier this year, the Eye and Laser Center in Lancaster, SC, created a new position to streamline the back-and-forth of the referral process.
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