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Surprised? The Increasing Importance of Physician-to-Physician Referrals

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Smart Money logoAt first glance, this looks like another one of those instances of a “surprising secret” article where the subject material is neither too surprising nor too secret.

It turns out that the recent WSJ/SmartMoney article about the work of physician liaisons and practice representatives is good info for patients, but it isn’t startling news to many others. Not to Healthcare marketing professionals, practitioners and hospital executives who are struggling with competition and are increasingly diligent about marketing to referring primary care physicians.

Missy Sullivan’s SmartMoney article—The Surprising Secret Behind Doctor Referrals—is a well-written, in-depth look at professional referrals. But in one reader’s posted comment: “I don’t get what’s the surprising secret.” We agree.

Regular readers know that Healthcare Success has endorsed physician liaison marketing for many years. (We’re something of a pioneer in this.) In fact, we often help doctors find qualified representatives, and design effective liaison programs. Establishing and maintaining referral relationships among professionals is not new. Utilizing experienced marketing representatives is not surprising; it’s a sound business decision.

Informing patients.

On one level the article speaks to patients and prospective patients. As a group, patients are often informed, actively involved with their healthcare decisions, and aware of their referral system. For patients who are just learning about the value of practice reps, the SmartMoney report has educational value. (An infographic sidebar, illustrates the many steps the consumer may not fully appreciate.)

Healthcare providers and medical facilities understand the process steps. But it’s a useful reminder for marketing professionals about the continuing need to educate and inform patients about a dynamic system.

Informing physicians.

There are variations in every system, ranging from the traditional to a still-evolving pattern. “In the past,” says SmartMoney, “referrals were handled through a fairly simple professional network, with specialists meeting internists and family doctors at hospitals, conferences and, yes, occasionally in the golf clubhouse.

“Today, a lot of that pipeline has evaporated. Many educational events where doctors used to mingle have moved online. Doctors struggling with shrinking reimbursements and rising costs say they have no time for recreational bonding. And the world of big-box medicine is making it tougher for independent doctors to develop referral-worthy relationships.”

By any scenario, physicians are guided in referrals to colleagues that they trust by reputation, credentials and patient outcomes. But winning that recognition has long been a challenge for specialists and subspecialists. And, not surprisingly, representatives are increasingly important in carrying this marketing message on behalf of providers to professional peers.

SmartMoney quotes us: “‘I tell doctors how to sell their business without looking needy, cheesy, greedy or sleazy,’ says Stewart Gandolf, founding partner of Healthcare Success, a Southern California medical marketing firm, which says it helped double referrals for one Midwest ophthalmologist in a six-month period.”

Competition is increasing and healthcare delivery systems are changing. As a result, medical practitioners, hospitals and providers are adjusting and expanding their marketing tools and techniques.

But establishing and maintaining professional referral networks is neither new nor surprising. And the fundamental message is unchanged. Physician or practice representatives still carry an important marketing message of excellence in patient care, outcomes and patient experience.

Read the SmartMoney article and let us know what you think.

Lonnie Hirsch and Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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