It seems to me that the dynamic of a specialist obtaining referrals has changed. As we have all noted, private solo practice in the specialties has greatly decreased. I have heard estimates of less than 7%. As a retired Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, I have personally noted the change in referral patterns and, I think, understand what must be done to encourage referrals. This wisdom comes from fifty years of practice. No longer is it enough to take a generalist to lunch, or to have an annual Christmas party. I think that the whole picture has to be viewed and rearranged.
Firstly, the specialist has to be extremely well trained. He has to be able to get the “word out” about how well trained he is. I would suggest a curriculum vitae be sent with the announcement of the opening of his practice. This is important and should be of the highest standards befitting the degree of their excellent training. While it is important to let folks know where you are located, phone, email etc…, it is paramount to let them understand your qualifications. This should be updated periodically as new honors and leadership positions occur. Obviously, with social networking as keen as it is, it is imperative to have the correct team to help in this initial matter. I have discussed the team concept in one of my previous articles (The Team of Retirement). This is the first impact that you will have on your referring base.
It is to be assumed that most specialists will be joining an existing practice. I would still recommend that this initial information (CV and other marketing) get out there so that the new “person” is not relying on the reputation of the existing practice. Obviously, if the doctor is solo, then it speaks for itself.
Incidentally, most of these ideas would apply to a generalist starting practice with the obvious difference being that his target marketing prospects would be different.
In the beginning of the practice, personal visits to the referral base is mandatory. Now the doctor can place the name with the face. I would also suggest that care be taken to find a convenient time to visit the doctor—-check with his front desk and get to know them well. Lunch is always good if it is possible but a coffee break at an off-time can usually be arranged. You might want to stop in unannounced just to meet the front office, introduce yourself and make the appointment with them in person. These first months will require a great deal of leg work and it is wise to plan this out so that you still have proper time to cover your new office and schedule (keep in mind the new IRS standard mileage rates as well – note all of your travel in a journal regularly). It will be also mandatory that your new staff be well versed in what you are doing so that things run smoothly while you are out and about. Again, the proper team will be helpful in putting that staff together. Nobody said it would be easy.
As time progresses, I would suggest a series of “Munch and Learn” sessions in your office. This now completes the circle of announcement, face to face, and seeing your office location. There should be a wall that displays your credentials—–do not make it obnoxiously obvious, but it is a must. These sessions should be an hour or less and eventually may lead to further interactions (study clubs, etc…) which I will discuss in another article. Keep them low-key with simple refreshments. You might want to invite a speaker, present yourself, or even have one of the detail persons from a company at these gatherings. It does not always have to be about your specialty per se, but could be a practice management tidbit, accounting novelty, equipment demonstration etc.
I invented a little item that was a big hit and I will share it with you. After a patient was seen, treated and eventually discharged, I sent them a thank-you note. What?!? A thank-you note from a surgeon to a patient. At the same time, a reminder note went to the generalist so that his patient could be kept in his system for recall and follow-up. Too often, these patients were late in there general check-up because the referring office thought the patient was still under treatment. Just a little tidbit but it was effective for me. The marketing angle is to engage the patients to refer to you directly. Obviously, you then have an opportunity to reciprocate with your referral base if the patient is not “attached” to a GP. Always, always, always, try to market with your patients.
I think that the specialist should take a look at the reports that he sends to the referring doctor so that they are sent in good time and are relevant. I had a personal, handwritten quick note that went out the same day the patient was treated so that the doctor knew that treatment was on-going and active. If it was a major case, this was followed by a complete operative note etc. so that it could be filed in the patient’s permanent chart. This is just another means to get your name in front of the generalist and to establish good lines of communication. This obviously can be done by email, fax etc. The important thing is to document the treatment clearly and always ask for his feedback if necessary.
These are just a few ideas about getting started and I hope they are of help. Please do not hesitate to send me you thoughts or questions. It would be my honor to be of help.
More Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned next time.