Obtaining Referrals as a New Private Practice Physician

January 10, 2015

Here are three strategies private medical practices can use to obtain and maintain a strong referral base.

For many new medical practices, the difference between success and failure can be attributed to how quickly they build a referral base. But this is no easy task. 

While there are three main sources of referrals for practices - word-of-mouth, marketing campaigns, and physician colleagues - only one of these sources is likely to be successful and practical for most new practices.

The first source of referrals, word-of-mouth, is generally considered the gold standard for new patient acquisition. It is relatively easy for established private practices to experience word-of-mouth referrals, but new private practice physicians may not have the patient base to generate these types of referrals.  The second source of referrals, marketing campaigns, presents another challenge, as marketing is often a financial drain for new physicians who have a smaller budget than their more-established counterparts.

Therefore, new physicians must rely mainly on referrals from physician colleagues to establish a referral base.

Obtaining referrals from other physicians may at first seem like a daunting task.  Fortunately, there are a few fundamentals to keep in mind that will make the process much easier.   As a physician just starting out in private practice, proper execution of these fundamentals is paramount.  However, even well-established physicians should not rest on their laurels when it comes to each of these key components. 

Make it easy
More than likely, a physician already sends referrals to another doctor.  If you’re looking to compete with these other doctors for referrals, one of the best ways is to simplify the referral process.  Good communication is essential in this endeavor.  Be direct, clear, and concise about what specific services and procedures you specialize in and what type of referrals you are seeking.  Furthermore, be very clear about what services or procedures distinguish your practice from the potential referrer's existing referral patterns. In other words, you must know your unique selling proposition and be able to communicate this well.  Also, make yourself available; let the physician know that he can call you personally at any time for any reason. 

Provide materials
Put together clear and concise information to give to other physicians.  This information can be presented in the form of a rack card, bullet-point list of services and specialties, or small informational packet or brochure.   However, don’t overwhelm a physician with too many materials.  Make sure any information you distribute to other doctors is completely necessary.  Be sure the materials have a clear delineation for referrals.  Also, provide enough materials for the physician to hand out to patients; this makes patient communication easier while allowing you to keep your voice and image intact. 

Communicate regularly
Avoid becoming complacent once you obtain your referral sources.  Make sure to maintain regular contact and provide follow-up information to referring physicians on any patients they refer.  Let them know your plans for the patient and how long you intend to follow them.  Just as a good physician wouldn’t send a patient away without post-operative instructions, a good consultant would always remember to communicate the assessment, plan, and disposition to the referring physician.  Also, know what types of patient referrals the referring physicians are seeking and refer other patients to them as necessary.  Finally, be sure to say “thank you” to your referral sources, send cards, and let them know they are appreciated. 

In summary, obtaining and maintaining a strong referral base is imperative to developing a successful private practice. Like any good relationship, it is integral to start with a solid foundation.  Keeping these fundamentals in mind just might make the difference between a successful practice and one that is not.