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Physician Referrals: A Marketer's Goldmine

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media, April 20, 2011

One of the most popular HealthLeaders marketing webcasts each year continues to be physician referrals. As fluid and amorphous as healthcare continues to be, marketers continue to crave the knowhow for building, tracking, and measuring physician referrals.

This year, while discussing the topic with webcast speakers I noticed a common obstacle: difficulty getting passed the gatekeepers and collecting referrals from hard to reach practices. The HealthLeaders Rachet Up Physician Referrals: Proven Methods & Measures webcast on May 18 will address this issue among others.

Breaking the barriers into hard-to-reach practices does not come easy, experts say. Scott & White Healthcare, consisting of 12 hospital sites and 60+ clinics, had 22,331 baseline referrals in FY 2007 and boosted the number to 41,885 in FY 2010. The organization's target for FY 2011 is 51,144.

One way Scott & White is able to keep the referrals pouring in is by facilitating regular physician network events such as dinners for cross-introductions. Brian Borchardt, director of physician relations at Scott & White Healthcare, advises that successful physician relations include building a connection with senior leadership such as VPs of the organization they are referring.

Communication is a hot topic in the field of physician referrals. Though face-to-face interaction can help the numbers stack up, other, less-personal means can help too.

A common obstacle for practices has been measurement of primary care physicians (PCP) referrals.  Specialists should send a note back with the patient's PCP saying what occurred and what care is necessary improves both patient satisfaction and the continuum of care, advises Kriss Barlow in her book A Marketer's Guide to Physician Relations.

Other communication techniques include sending out an electronic newsletter sent out to external physicians and staff members.

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