Attracting referrals is unique to every medical practice and there is no “one size fits all” strategy when it comes to increasing your patient base through referrals. Most likely, you have a few cherished sources whom you rely on to send new patients your way. However, every practice can follow a few fundamental steps to generate new referrals. Real results don’t magically happen on their own, but there is an effective cycle you can implement to turn the wheels of your marketing in a positive direction.
Gather & Analyze Data
Getting started begins with analysis and an honest look at how new patients are arriving at your door. First and foremost, a tracking process is essential. Most practices can identify their referral sources through the patient intake form. In a perfect world, there would be two questions a new patient answers, “Where did you hear about us?” and “Where did you get our contact information?” While these appear to be similar questions, the difference is who and how. The goal is to determine the people that are sending referrals your way, but it is also important to identify how they are finding your contact information. For instance, are prospects going to Google, Facebook, your website, the phonebook, or some other directory? Understanding where patients are searching for information will aid you in determining where to focus your marketing efforts.
Oftentimes, there is a discrepancy between the perception of where patients are coming from and the actual raw data. One might perceive a referral source is generating several patients a week, when it may only turn out to be one or two new patients per month. It is crucial for a physician’s staff to be proactive and accurately document referral sources. As the first spoke in your wheel, accurate data lays the foundation for you to build upon. Once referral data is gathered, you can then analyze the demographics of your patients by identifying characteristics such as gender, age, insurance plans, where they live, where they work, and other similarities. This insight is essential in order to begin to target new opportunities for attracting referrals.
Create a Targeted List
Now that you have established where your current patients are coming from and the demographics of your current patient base, it is time to think creatively about how you can generate new referral sources. The following questions can assist you as you develop new targets:
- Is there a certain type of physician, specialty or group from whom you’d like to attract more referrals?
- Do you have a particular insurance plan that provides better reimbursement to your practice than others?
- How about a new procedure or treatment you need to promote?
- Are there new physicians or providers who have joined your practice?
- Would you benefit from building relationships with primary care offices?
- What sets your practice apart from the competition?
- To whom can you best promote your competitive advantages?
- Are there non-medical groups or community events your practice can partner with?
Create & Execute Your Plan
Your staff knows you and your patients best! Review the data and potential new targets internally with your staff and create a plan. Roughly 7-11% of your gross revenue should be budgeted for marketing. This should include public relations, marketing, SEO, Google Ads, community relations, printing, promotional items, sponsorships and other miscellaneous spending. Assess how you have budgeted your marketing dollars in the past and identify what has worked and what hasn’t.
The execution of your plan is where the rubber meets the road. Determine who will be responsible for the execution and fieldwork of your new plan. Simply adding more responsibility on top of your employees’ other tasks is not likely to elicit maximum results. You may find that it is necessary to hire a physician liaison, a marketing firm, or create a marketing team to ensure the optimal return on your marketing dollars. While the action steps will be unique to each plan, the key is action! The best formed plan is useless without execution.
An effective marketing plan must remain flexible and be monitored constantly. Knowing your numbers and using them to modify your marketing efforts brings you full circle through the cycle that will continue to feed and fuel your marketing efforts. Use your patient intake form to continue to track where your new patients are coming from on a weekly basis. As you gather this data, begin to compare and analyze growth (or lack thereof) from different referral sources to determine what is working and where you need to tweak your marketing efforts. Tracking all potential referral sources can include:
- Established Patients
- Internet: Google, Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals, Facebook & Others
- Hospitals, Urgent Care Centers, General Practitioners, Specialists
- Health Fairs or Community Events
- Seminars & Speaking Events
- Directories – Phone book, Angie’s List or other online forums
- Advertising Campaigns – direct mail, newspaper, billboard, etc.
Be diligent in tracking all referral sources and keeping the cycle moving to maximize your marketing efforts!
Have you “Googled” yourself or your practice lately? With pandemic fears and social distancing mandates in place, more people than ever are utilizing the internet for information. Many new patients will “Google” a physician or medical group before deciding to become a patient. Are your reviews positive or negative? Have you responded within HIPAA guidelines to your reviewers? The vast majority of patient complaints are not related to actual medical care, but customer service. When patients are frustrated with rudeness, inattention, or long waiting times, today’s response is to vent frustrations online with the click of a mouse.
Even with the best intentions and actions by the best staff, a bad review of your practice is inevitable. Responding to those reviews in a timely and courteous manner will demonstrate that your practice is making every attempt to rectify the situation. Most people will recognize that no one is perfect. The best way to overcome the repercussions of a less-than-stellar review is to respond promptly and politely. Acknowledge the review and offer a number they can call to speak with someone in the office about the matter. Oftentimes, frustrated and angry patients just want to be heard, and responding to all online reviews (good and bad) demonstrates that you are engaged and active, rather than uncaring and aloof.
Your online presence must be constantly monitored by yourself or someone within your practice. Always ensure the online responses to reviews are HIPAA compliant. While Google is the most often used platform for those actively seeking reviews, do not neglect to monitor other sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Healthgrades, Vitals and other online review sites.
Happy patients are referring patients and your practice likely has numerous referrals from established patients. Capitalize on these great relationships! Ensure that your staff has a procedure in place to encourage patients to leave online reviews. For this to be most effective, your practice must also maintain an active online presence. Be sure that your website content is up-to-date with engaging content that is easy to navigate. Maintain an active presence on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and/or Linkedin. Be sure that you are regularly updating content on both your website and social media accounts. Posting educational content, informational blogs, and pertinent, up-to-date office information will all work together to set your practice apart from the others.
Partner with Experts
If this all seems a bit overwhelming, don’t go it alone! Full Circle PR is the nation’s leading medical marketing and public relations agency specializing solely in the healthcare profession. Our team offers an array of services to meet a variety of marketing needs and budgets. If you need help getting your marketing on track, we have a proven record of successful partnerships with a wide range of practices – from solo practitioners to large medical groups. Contact us for a complimentary consultation today!