Orthopaedic surgeons: want to grow your practice? Practice growth can be stimulated in a huge way by increasing patient referrals to your orthopaedic practice.
At Physician Referral Marketing, we focus on several channels to drive the growth of a practice, including digital marketing, local online visibility/SEO, outreach efforts to stimulate brand awareness & referrals from other physicians, as well as reputation management & patient recall/referral. Of all of these channels, if you can only focus on one to drive growth, make it your patient referral channel. There is no greater marketing force than a strong recommendation from a trusted source, and studies show that referrals from friends and family and trusted, and, by virtue of this, acted on much sooner. A new survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research titled Finding Quality Doctors: How Americans Evaluate Provider Quality in the United States shines a great deal of light on reasons behind the sentiment of patients, both potential and current.
In the study, they identified that much of the provider quality information individuals are accessing doesn’t come from sources that might provide official data on health care delivery and outcomes- rather, it comes from subjective sources like family, friends, media, other/referring physicians, insurance providers and ratings websites. We’ve seen a huge surge in recommendations on social media, an example of which we shared on our post about online review management for physicians. The most eye opening piece of the study was the fact that those people who had seen information concerning the quality of several physicians predominantly reported that their family and friends were the source of the information. Two-thirds of those who have seen or heard information comparing the quality of health care providers say they saw or heard it from their friends or family. About half have seen or heard comparative information in a newspaper or magazine (51 percent), directly from a doctor or other health care provider (50 percent), or provided by a health insurance company (46 percent).
Patient referral growth in at any specialty practice is influenced by several variables including, density and brand awareness of competitors, online reputation, payer networks, and health system arrangements. Although these external forces are influential, critical choices in the management of the patient experience through personnel, management, physician commitment, and adaptability determine whether or not the practice effectively communicates leadership, brand superiority, and market preference.
Keep in mind, patients and referral sources rarely need more choices:rather, they need help choosing. To provide your practice a competitive advantage in the marketplace, you need to focus on the patient experience, which can be broken down into nine milestones, or triggers, that influence patient choice.
These 5 major touch points in the patient experience are critical moments in the acquisition, treatment, and discharge process that, when handled properly, can make all the difference between a patient who will sing your praises and a patient who sees this as just another medical experience.
The Patient Experience: 5 Moments Critical to Increasing Patient Referrals
The Tipping Point: Making the Decision to Seek Care
Several triggers influence the patient with an injury to either hold off or seek care. The increased availability of insurance is stimulating some patient decisions to seek care, particularly in the case of painful injuries. These patients, who are often unable to enjoy activities they’re passionate about and may have suffered for an extended period of time, are the ones who are looking carefully into providers to find the best possible choice. You have a golden opportunity to attract patients who are beginning the search for the best provider by focusing on the channels identified above: improving your rating on review websites, improving relationships with referring physicians, getting involved with online communities & advocacy groups, and working on overall visibility through public relations & social media.
So why are we including this in an article on building patient-to-patient referrals? Because those people who have never once stepped in your practice may still consider you an authority if you’re visible and credible. Likewise, seniors are becoming more heavily influenced by their children, who take the role of advocate and often do the ‘investigation’ for them to find the best specialist for their condition.
On average, practices get 40 percent of their referrals from primary care providers and an additional 40 percent from previous patients. As health care becomes more consumer-driven, this breakdown will shift toward previous patients and self-referral, presenting challenges to practices as the number of target audiences grows and what prospective patients are looking for changes. Today’s patients are not looking for an orthopaedic surgeon, but a hand surgeon, spine specialist, or knee expert. Through the Internet, patients have access to ever more information to help them determine what they need and who is an appropriate provider.
As recently as 10 years ago, an orthopaedist would have a loyal source of primary care physicians and a percentage of patients who influenced referrals. Today, those discussions are being conducted online through social networks and are influencing decisions about where “the best care” can be had.
Availability & Ease of Making an Appointment
In a 2012 Harris survey, they found that 42% of patients considered ease of making an appointment a very important factor in their overall patient satisfaction. Once a prospective patient has already made a conscious choice of a practice, the utmost care should be taken to be accessible, affable, and responsive. This is their first impression of your practice, and a leap of faith for the person calling- yet many practices fail to assess and monitor this most fundamental part of the patient experience. We recommend implementing a patient satisfaction survey question about this, if it’s not already active- and then taking to heart the answers, and making personnel & procedure changes if necessary.
Patient First Visit
Some previous patients may refer more patients to the practice than some primary care referral sources, even through these “raving fans” are the least clinically qualified to do so. Their referrals probably aren’t based on clinical expertise, but on their overall experience with the practice—the staff and you as their orthopaedist.
Patients can experience more than 15 different touch points as part of an orthopaedic visit. Each of these touch points either adds to or detracts from their overall experience. And that experience is not being compared to similar experiences with other orthopaedic providers. Instead, it’s being compared to the service experience they had at the restaurant they visited or the store where they shopped. Practices should have a plan to soften any sharp edges and create an experience that will make a patient’s visit the best part of his or her day instead of the most frustrating. Focus on creating rapport and a sense of respect for the patients issues and time. When paired with exemplary staff, educational materials or a welcome bag go a long way toward building a sense of trust and admiration for the practice.
Last Nonsurgical Visit & Followup Appointments
As much as the first impression is vital, it’s equally important to maintain a service-centered focus after the surgery is over. Every patient should have one key message by this point: that he or she came to the right place for treatment of his or her condition, and that the provider cares more about the person and their outcome than they do about making money. High volume practices often fail to provide that sense of care & concern that makes a patient feel like they’ve hit the provider jackpot- if you’re rushing through your post-surgery appointment, you can be sure that if that patient feels pain or experiences a complication, they will call into question your credibility and the thoroughness of your practice.
Follow-up appointments provide a practice an opportunity to reinforce a patient’s choice of care provider, and to ask for referrals and reviews. Postoperative patients are an orthopaedic practice’s most credible referral source. These patients have been engaged with the practice at a unique level, and can provide those at “the tipping point” valuable & credible insight. Don’t underestimate how important followup appointments are to your practice- make sure that you have a plan in place to reach out to those who have missed or cancelled their followup appointment, stressing the reasons that it’s vitally important for them to come in. It’s at this juncture that you can assess the overall patient sentiment, and provide them with avenues to help you- by referring or reviewing your practice.
Post Followup Appointment & Ongoing
A good patient experience does’t end at the last appointment. A patient experience can and should continue- you should strive to remain top-of-mind as a preferred provider.
The sky is the limit in ongoing communication with former patients. We recommend a strong email campaign, a focus on engaging patients through social media, and the occasional success story of happy patients to provide evidence to those at “the tipping point”. By working with a healthcare marketing agency like PRM, you can create custom strategies that focus on your practice & patients as a whole, identifying unique strategies that can differentiate your group from the myriad of others.
In closing, the 5 milestones identified in this article provide orthopaedic practices numerous opportunities to communicate something more to what should be the practice’s best referral source—its patients. These patients are looking to reinforce their reasons for choosing a specific practice, and are often looking for even better reasons to refer the practice to their friends, family, and coworkers. Being a good provider of musculoskeletal care is rarely enough; focusing on the entire patient experience is necessary for increasing patient referrals.