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Scary Secret #4: What Doctors Don’t Know About Professional Referrals

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
"Lori Waltz"

Lori Waltz

by Senior Consultant Lori Waltz

I’d like share a brief marketing story that’s straight from the real-life medical world. It’s a little scary to think that this just might be happening in your own practice, but even worse, you might not know it. See if you can relate…

The setting is a metropolitan suburb in the Northeast. I was doing training work with the office manager of a healthcare specialty group that depends on a steady stream of inbound physician referrals. As part of their marketing plan, we compiled a list of current and potential referring offices for their representative and I to visit.

But before hitting the streets, the doctor—the principal of the practice we represented—reviewed our call list. (Here’s where the plot begins to thicken.) Our doc quickly to point out a particular practice and said, “There’s no need to visit them. They refer everyone to me. In fact, they often talk us up to prospective referral patients.”

It turns out that these doctors are personal friends. They spend time together playing golf and occasional hunting and fishing trips. “We appreciate their regular referrals.”

“Interesting,” I think to myself, knowing from practical field experience that it’s never a good idea to take referrals for granted. I took a private moment to phone that practice and ask for a referral. The answer was an eye-opener.

While I was holding briefly, I thought one of the physicians might come on the line to “talk up” the referral to our practice. Instead, the front office staff member came back on the line with a list of five offices. Unfortunately my client was last on the list.

Needless to say, this was surprising (and upsetting) to my client. I needed to remind him that not all doctors—few, actually—provide the referrals themselves. More often, they say: “See 'Betty' at the front desk for a referral.”

So, some of the take-home lessons from this story are:

  • Never take your referral sources for granted;
  • Know who actually handles the referral process; and
  • Doctor-friends or not, identify and thank the real gatekeepers.

In one form or another, this story happens often in real-life. So frequently in fact, that we have included this idea in our free White Paper: 11 Secrets to Doubling Referrals.

Secret #4: In the Real World, the Staff Often Drives Referrals

Regrettably, the significance of an office staff can be overlooked or underestimated. Professional credentials and reputation are important, and doctor-to-doctor rapport is great. But staff members almost always handle the steps in the actual referral process—even with an “approved providers” list. They have considerable influence in what actually happens in “the real world.” Clearly, everyone in your practice needs to communicate with dignity and respect in all dealings across professional lines with staff members of other practices.

For more about this concept, and the other Secrets to Doubling Referrals, take a moment to download your free copy of this helpful White Paper from Healthcare Success.

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