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Six key components of a digital marketing strategy to drive physician referrals


Digital marketing offers a less expensive means of physician referral marketing—one that will be beneficial both now, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, and in the future.

Physician referral marketing plays a key part in driving revenue for hospitals and other health organizations. Like most other aspects of healthcare, this type of marketing was forced to evolve during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past, business development executives relied heavily on in-person interactions and multiple touchpoints with physicians and other decision-makers. During the pandemic, however, those interactions were largely curtailed, and in many cases are only just now beginning to resume.

So, what were health practices to do in the meantime? They had to pivot to new ways to capture attention and drive physician referrals, particularly to medical specialties heavily reliant on those referrals. And what’s one meaningful, cost-effective way to do that? Digital marketing.

During the time that in-person touchpoints weren’t feasible, it was important to establish new touchpoints. That’s where digital marketing tactics come into play. Digital marketing offers a less expensive means of physician referral marketing—one that will be beneficial both now, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, and in the future.

Wondering where to begin? There are six components you should consider as part of your digital physician referral marketing strategy:

1. Compelling Content

For any type of marketing strategy, high-quality content is essential. Physician referral marketing is no exception.

The first step in creating effective content is to thoughtfully identify who you’re targeting. Creating content without your audience in mind is a fairly common mistake, but one that’s easily avoided.

If your team has already identified a prospect list for in-person visits or direct mail, that list can still be useful for digital marketing, since it typically defines the types of medical practices that commonly refer to your hospital, health system, or service line.

Once you’ve defined your audience, your next step is to identify common questions physicians typically have, including information related to:

  • Ease of referral
  • Expertise
  • Insurance and cost
  • Patient outcomes and testimonials
  • Procedures and services
  • Process for referral


The ultimate purpose of your content is to answer those questions in an easily understandable, engaging, and compelling way.

2. Local Listings

You probably know the value of keeping your local listings updated from a consumer standpoint. Current and potential patients need to be able to quickly gather information during a Google search or similar online query.

That’s also true for physicians. Physicians and their office administrators may look to online outlets to find information about how and where to refer. From that perspective, it’s important to ensure that listings such as Google Maps, Bing Maps, and healthcare-specific websites such as Healthgrades and Zocdoc are reviewed regularly and updated consistently.

When you review these listings, ensure all the contact details are correct and that you’ve optimized the listings with positive patient reviews and other information.

3. Social Advertising

For years, Americans have spent a good deal of time online. During the pandemic, though, the amount of time online hit unprecedented levels.

Physicians aren’t an exception to this rule. They’re spending time on social media, too, which means you can capture their attention there with thoughtful social media ads.

Social advertising provides business development executives with a host of options for audience targeting on ads. As it pertains to physicians, you can often target medical providers based on the specialty they practice in, which allows you to create a hyper-targeted audience for your ads.

To use social media ads most effectively, refer back to your defined audience of common referrers. Narrow your audience to match, then narrow it further to target a geographical area that makes sense for your referral network.

It’s also important to create meaningful social media ads that are geared toward physicians—look for videos or image-laden ads that highlight your organization’s awards, distinctions, outcomes, and expertise.

4. Display Ads

You may not realize it, but display advertising is one of the most inexpensive means of physician referral marketing. While display ads are sometimes thought of as simply a way to broadly promote your brand, they can actually be a potent way of sharing messaging with potential referrers.

In fact, we consistently see Google Display ads offering the lowest CPM (cost per thousand impressions) of all advertising methods, including social media, online or streaming radio, and digital TV.

To get the most out of this marketing method, it’s important to take full advantage of targeting options. Build a custom geotarget that incorporates the common or ideal referrers in the area surrounding your hospital or practice.

5. Paid Search

People are searching for health information online—in fact, it’s the third most common action taken on the internet. That makes paid search a key way of reaching potential patients, who are looking for providers that treat a specific condition or offer a certain test.

In the same way, though, you can also get in front of referring physicians. These clinicians are more likely to look for specialized offerings, such as “treatment for an atrial septal defect” or “proton beam therapy.”

To capture that audience, you can create content and run ads that are targeted for those niche search terms. This allows you to get in front of physicians who are actively searching for the specialty care or services their patients need.

6. Lead Tracking

While this isn’t a tactic in the same vein as the ones listed above, it’s every bit as important. Even if you create meaningful content and put targeted ads in front of your audience, you’ll still miss the mark if you don’t follow through.

That’s why it’s essential to carefully track the progress of potential referrers—you need to know whether they move forward. That means tracking not only how many impressions and clicks your content drives, but also how many phone calls, emails, or online scheduling requests you receive as a result. From there, you also want to gauge whether prospective referrers eventually make a referral.

If you’re getting a good deal of traction when it comes to clicks but not ultimately ending up with more patients, your strategy and content likely need to be tweaked.

About the Author

Rachael Sauceman is the Head of Strategic Initiatives for Full Media, a Chattanooga, TN-based digital marketing agency specializing in health care. Full Media offers a full spectrum of HIPAA-compliant digital marketing capabilities within the healthcare space, including website design, online advertising, SEO, patient experience optimization, and analytics.
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