Maintaining and nurturing your referral sources by Marc H. Sencer, MD

Chiro Biz Quiz: Maintaining and nurturing your referral sources

By Marc H. Sencer, MD
When you think of patient retention, you think of efforts made toward individual patients, such as recall letters and calls.

There is another aspect to retention, however. The recruitment and maintenance of strong referral sources is at least as important, if not more so, for some practices.

Referral sources are extremely valuable for a number of reasons.

1. Referrals keep your visit numbers up during down times; and

2. During the startup of a new location or when adding new services to your practice, referrals can provide a cost-effective way to bring new patients into your practice.

Since one referral source can bring in many patients, it can be more effective to spend marketing dollars on potential referral sources rather than on individual patients.

Because of their importance, it is vital to track all of your referrer relationships. Some of the important parameters that go into the tracking protocol are:

• The number of patients referred to you;

• The number of patients you referred to them, and the dates for these stats;

• The average number of visits and utilization of specific services per case;

• The average dollar amount collected per case;

• The last personal contact you had with the referral source; and

• A short personal profile of the referrer.

Developing referral sources

You can target potential referrers and initiate a relationship by contacting them and meeting, then follow up by making one or several referrals to them. Or, reverse it and begin referring to someone and then attempt to meet after you have established yourself with them as a strong referrer.

Either way, whenever you make a referral, make sure you follow up with a call to thank the doctor for his report and let him know you and the patient are pleased.

When you get a referral from someone, you also want to remember to send a thank-you note as well as a detailed report, and let them know you’re always available for questions.

If you can, send small, relatively inexpensive gifts periodically to show your appreciation, such as a fruit basket for the office or something that will be useful such as an office desk set or a leather case or bag.

Making friends through social networking is also one of the best ways to develop business contacts as it is human nature to want to do business with those we like and socialize with. However, if you are introverted, the best thing to do is delegate the networking to someone more outgoing.

A marketing representative who personally visits and attempts to develop referral sources can also be helpful and are particularly helpful in the personal injury field in establishing attorney relationships.

Target niche referrers

If you cater to a particular niche you will want to develop relationships in that area.

For example: If you offer a weight loss program, you can target family MDs and cardiologists who might want to see your patients with cardiac complications and who will send you patients for weight reduction.

Another great strategy is to develop new referral sources and create your own referral network. Instead of trying to break into a long-standing referral network, target aggressive new practitioners and help them grow along with your practice.

You can accomplish this by having regular meetings, sharing advertising costs (where legal), and slowly expanding the network to include different referrers.

Remember to do everything possible to make it easy for others to refer to you. Have an open discussion about their payment policies and yours, so patients don’t have any surprises or misunderstandings.

Make up a list of the services you provide and give it to all potential referrers and be sure to include the plans you participate in.

Although it is important to keep referral sources happy, never let yourself get into a position where your entire practice depends on one or two referral sources.

If you find yourself in this position and are unable to develop new referrers, you should consider developing ancillary services that don’t depend on referrers — that way you will have a fallback if those referral sources dry up.

Finally, when making a referral, never lose sight of your role as a professional. Although referrals are the backbone of every successful practice, refer only to professionals that you would send your own family to.

Poor quality will come back to haunt you as a doctor and as a businessman.

Marc H. Sencer, MD, is the president of MDs for DCs, which provides intensive one-on-one training, medical staffing, and ongoing practice management support to chiropractic integrated practices. He can be reached at 800-916-1462 or through www.mdsfordcs.com

Test Yourself

Test your knowledge about what you need to know when making and keeping referrals with this true and false quiz.

[ ] 1. It makes sense to form a relationship with large successful practices in your community, but you should not waste time with new practitioners.

[ ] 2. If one or two good referral sources keep your practice flooded with new patients, you don’t need to do anything further to develop new referral sources.

[ ] 3. You should send a list to all current and potential referrers to make it easy for them to refer.

[ ] 4. The best way to develop referral sources is by hiring a marketing representative.

Answers: No. 3 is the only true answer.

No. 1, 2, and 4 are false. If you can’t develop relationships with the big players, you should target new aggressive practitioners that will grow with you. You should never be in a position where your practice depends on one or two referrers.

Look for new sources or create ancillary services that don’t depend on the same one or two referrers. While a marketing representative can be helpful, one of the best ways to develop referral sources is through social networking.