How Can Smart Online Doctor Referral Network  Improve my Practice’s Outcomes?

The Next Evolution of Physician Marketing

The Situation

You have worked hard to build a strong reputation in your community. Following the traditional advice received from medical school, you’ve bolstered your practice by focusing on your credentials and providing the best quality of care for your patients. While your patient referral management continues to receive a fair number of new patient referrals from word of mouth, over the past couple of years, you and your partners have seen stagnation in your practice’s growth. Given the competition from other practices in your area, your team decided to pivot your marketing strategy to include physical and online ads to target potential patients more directly.

You know that you need more patients, but you are sick of no-shows, insurance complications, and poor documentation.

To negate this stress, your partner pitches the idea of incorporating a smart online doctor referral network into your established practice. She notes how your current traditional marketing strategy has been costly, and that despite the significant new patient acquisition, the referral management process itself has been labor intensive for your front office which is still using limited technologies, like fax and phone.

Mentioning a recent article she read on referral leakage, your partner describes a smart online doctor referral program as a viable solution to “leaked” patients, marketing expenses, and the ever-increasing burdens of patient management. 

Continue reading to discover more about smart online doctor referral networks and understand how they can complement your current marketing practices while saving you money and improving the patient experience.

Medicine is a profession, but healthcare is a business. 

When you think of traditional physician marketing, what comes to mind? Likely dreaded and competitive direct-to-patient marketing tactics, along with traditional physician networking initiatives. 

For many years, the practice of marketing directly to patients was shunned—as it was generally believed that physical health services should be categorized separately from those commercial services commonly advertised to consumers. Physicians are ethically bound to make recommendations to patients solely for their care and continued health, not to sell their services for financial gain. 

“I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.”

However, over time the medical standard of marketing directly to patients has eroded to the pressure of medicine’s cultural position within the healthcare industry. Today, we see this, especially within certain medical specialties providing elective, non-health-related services, such as cosmetic surgery. Given the advent and proliferation of online and social media marketing, marketing directly to patients has become significantly more accepted.

Traditional in-person physician marketing—such as making phone calls, participating in open houses, and attending professional association conventions and meetings—will never become obsolete. But new marketing strategies, such as a physician connecting with potential patients virtually—via website content, social media presence, or online advertising—are powerful means to establish immediate trust. Now, placing queries over the internet and finding a doctor’s office near me,  automatically brings up thousands of results. Technology alone, no matter how advanced, cannot substitute for taking the initiative to build professional relationships by reaching out and getting to know your patients and colleagues. These initiatives, when paired with technology, become even more influential. Strong patient referral management is now a successful and powerful way to keep your patients noticing your presence.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

Limitations of Traditional Marketing for Physicians

Marketing directly to patients faces stiff competition from other providers and specialists. Physicians are now required to have unique brands and an associated online presence to meet the demands of the modern-day patient. Marketing local services have become increasingly more expensive, as physicians seek to get more impressions from potential patients. Many offices today hire marketing teams or marketing representatives to create and manage their strategies effectively. 

Today, it seems as if you are not regularly posting on social media, running advertisements, updating the content on your website and LinkedIn account, and engaging in reputation management, then you are not doing enough.

Traditional marketing has offered doctors amazing benefits, however, when you are only relying on these ventures to acquire new patients and promote patient follow-ups, widespread traditional marketing, even when facilitated online, falls short of providing you with quality patients. 

I am referring to quality patients who: 

  • Have insurance that your office accepts.
  • Can pay out-of-pocket without insurance.
  • Have healthy behaviors, such as scheduling and attending follow-up visits and annual visits.
  • Are open to building lasting relationships.
  • Are being referred by colleagues who will pre-screen them and provide their history.

Physicians Networking

In traditional referral network building, your biggest limitation is physical: you, yourself. You can only physically be in one place at one time. 

Even when you have time to attend a meeting where you meet and network with your peers or other professionals who can refer patients to you, how do you follow up on these new connections and nurture the professional relationships you just ignited? 

You might follow up with phone calls, schedule another visit or meeting, or perhaps you will pass off the connections to your marketing team to manage.

I have good news. I left out one lesser-known, but major marketing tactic from those mentioned above—one that will help you leverage something you already do daily: smart referral networking.

Introducing smart online doctor referral networking

Imagine if you could refer and schedule your patient to a specialist in your patient’s network within 15 seconds…and be able to track it!

Smart doctor referral networking is an online, cloud-based plug-in software that takes advantage of every means available, including artificial intelligence, to make quality referral connections. It integrates with your current EHR system and builds on something you are already doing: sending and receiving referrals. A well-designed online referral network connects you to thousands of relevant and pre-vetted colleagues and specialists and helps you track your patients’ journeys while enhancing your patient pool. 

Are you one of the 40% of primary care physicians without access to a referral provider directory through your healthcare system? 

Smart referral networking does not have a single definition, and different healthcare providers implement it in different ways. However, the best software integrates the latest technology and simple communication with patients and network physicians. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements to see how they work.

Adopt the Latest Technology into Your Referral Network

Today’s patient referral networking demands security, efficiency, and interoperability to facilitate the cloud-based sharing of electronic patient health information.

  • Server-less cloud computing: With most electronic health records (EHR) moving to the cloud these days, the migration reduces the burden of having to maintain your local servers. Cloud computing facilitates integrations with many applications, such as smart referral systems, that enhance your EHR capabilities.  Smart referral systems eliminate the need for paper-based patient record transfers and outdated or non-existent tracking methods, reduce the risk of mistakes, and enable you to make and receive referrals with more confidence. and ultimately office efficiency and patient experience. 
  • Security: Many doctors stick with fax- and paper-based referrals because of security concerns. Your digital, smart doctor referral network must be fully HIPAA and HITECH Act compliant, giving you and your patients the best privacy for their EHRs and other sensitive health information.
  • Efficiency: Building technology into your online referrals means your staff members spend less time doing manual processes like faxing, follow-up phone calls, and patient follow-ups. 
  • Interoperability: Your online referral network needs to stay up with the latest federal requirements for medical software interoperability. The software APIs should be current with HL7 FHIR Release 4.0.1 and comply with all CMS and ONC interoperability rules.

Essentially, smart referrals eliminate the need to manually coordinate the secure physical transfer of patient records. This means that everyone in your organization can spend more time concentrating not only on serving more patients but serving them better.

Communicating Better with Patients and Referral Specialist Providers

Communication between providers and patients has historically been a weak point of referral networking. For example, about half of doctors surveyed say it is hard to know whether a referral doctor is in their network. Additionally, four-fifths of those surveyed admit to referring patients out of network. 

In a fax-and-paper world, patient referral processing and obtaining patient health records cause delays in the continuum of care. Slow analysis of patient data, based on the review of physical files or fragmented online data systems, causes patient delays. These delays lead to patient uncertainty, which can result in missed consults or other treatment opportunities.

Effective referral networking begins with a commitment to effective and reliable communication.

Smart online referral networks benefit: 

  • You
  • Current colleagues and network members
  • Ancillary service providers
  • Trusted network of providers that you can connect to
  • Patients with improved continuity of care

Smart digital referral systems are revolutionizing the healthcare industry, by helping physicians like you and me get back to clinically caring for patients.

A new patient-communication interface

Gone are the days of having to use traditional physician marketing to interact with current and prospective patients. Making better referrals means better patient referral experiences, better specialist care, genuine doctor reviews, and reduced risk of out-of-network referral leaks. By one estimate, leakage can decrease by up to 20% within six months of adopting a smart referral network

Sending patients personalized reminders about upcoming appointments encourages them to stick with their treatment plans. They also promote your primary care practice and attract new patients to you and your specialists of choice.

Physicians are paying more attention to what matters to their patients. Seamless access to one’s health data is important as well as understanding how doctors use that data to optimize assessments, specialty referrals, and treatment plans. You want your patients to be confident in your decisions about their care. Smart doctor referral networks allow you to enhance your doctor-to-patient communication and achieve best practices for their care.

A larger referral network supports targeted referrals, which ultimately will lead to greater patient satisfaction with the referral experience. Smart online doctor referral networks have three outstanding benefits: 

  1. The network encourages more referrals among more physicians, which means better care and less hassle.
  2. The relationship between the patient and referring physician is built on trust, due to the patient’s improved care quality and certitude in their physician’s decisions.
  3. Satisfied patients become “brand ambassadors” for your practice, referring their connections to you directly.

Physician communication done right

Improved communications among all parties involved in the referral—the referring doctor, the receiver of the referral, and the patient—offers multiple advantages:  

  • Reduce out-of-network referrals by up to one-third compared to traditional referral methods.
  • Enable more targeted referrals through access to a broad online network of physicians and specialists in multiple practice areas.
  • Provide doctors and specialists who receive referrals with real-time access to patient health information at the time of referral, and give the referring physicians faster access to the results of those specialist visits.
  • Reduce legal liability risks by encouraging patients to attend their referral appointments and provide feedback on their treatment, treatment costs, and MRI scan costs—or do they find it beneficial? 
  • Identify optimal referral partners. Smart online referral networks allow patients and physicians to give feedback and quality of care ratings, giving you and your patients more confidence in your referral choices.
  • Encourage more patients to make their referral appointments by sharing more information with them, automating patient appointment reminders, and enabling them to know what to expect from their referrals.

How to Get Started with Smart Online Doctor  Referral Networking

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Dr. Amos Dare

Dr. Amos Dare

Dr. Amos Dare is the Founder and CEO of MedMatch Network, Inc. Dr. Dare is a Yale school of Medicine trained, physician and neurosurgeon with over 22 years experience in the practice of private and academic medicine.