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7 Tips to Help Physicians Get More Patients

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How do you maintain a steady stream of new patients who can benefit from your services?

This is particularly important if you are:

  • Beginning a practice
  • Developing a focus in your current practice
  • Seeing shifting referral patterns as your current sources of referrals retire or sell their practices.

Here are 7 tips to help you accelerate your practice growth by generating more patient referrals.

1. Position Yourself for Success

Create a compelling, memorable and repeatable answer to the question, “What do you do?”  A great positioning statement helps your conversation partner visualize specific patients whom they can refer to you.

You may currently position yourself by medical specialty.  This can be risky.  A young girl once asked me, “What do you do?”  I said, “I’m a general surgeon.”  Her eyes got big as saucers as she said, “Oh, you’re the person who puts the warning labels on the cigarette packs.”

Your best positioning states the problem your best-fit clients face, and a patient-centered description of the outcomes you help them achieve. Here are a few:

  • “I help people with knee pain return to the sports they love.” 
  • “We help people with diabetes live full and complete lives.”
  • “Have you ever met anyone who always mentions how tired they are?  We help people get a good night’s sleep so they perform better at work and at home and at play.”

Great positioning statements are deceptively simple.  You know you have one when a patient calls your office and says it word-for-word.  Once you have it, make sure that all staff members know and repeat it. Include it in your web site, your email signature file and social media profiles.

2. Narrow Your Focus 

Some physicians fear that a focus will slow referrals.  While counterintuitive, experience demonstrates that focus accelerates practice growth.   Here are few reasons why:

  • You will be seen as the expert.  Most patients would prefer to see a physician who works with people just like them every day.
  • You will get better medical outcomes.  Study after study demonstrates this.
  • You will pick up tips, tools and resources that improve patients’ quality of life, accelerate recovery and deliver patient-centered care.

Focus may require that you cast your net over a wider territory; however, if you offer an extraordinary result or an extraordinary patient experience, patients will travel to see you.

3. Create Your Referral Map 

Identify the paths by which your patients find their way to you.  Consider three sources:

  1. Medical professionals, whether referring physicians, through the ER or via other health care providers.
  2. Family, friends and fans who know you, like you and trust you.  This might include your patients, their family members and your social networks. This might also include your college buddies, your cleaning lady or the parents at your kids’ soccer games.
  3. Information-seekers who go online, read publications or attend courses to find  solutions to pressing medical problems.

Each doctor has a unique mix of referral sources based on their practice setting,  medical specialty and temperament.

Here’s what I learned when I informally surveyed physicians at a surgical meeting:

  • Academic surgeons tend to get most of their new patients from referring physicians.  They rely heavily on their institution’s brand strength to generate referrals.
  • Community surgeons performing bread-and-butter cases leverage their personal and professional relationships.
  • Several surgeons with focussed practices (breast surgery, bariatric procedures and plastic surgeons) generate almost 100% of their patient referrals by connecting directly with them.

Campaigns to generate referrals from the three sources will be different.

4. Market Courageously

When I left my clinical practice and launched my career as an entrepreneur, I had complete trust in my ability to improve my clients’ condition.  I also had complete terror at the thought of “marketing” or “selling.”   Visions of snake oil salesmen flashed before me.

I had to build courage and find a way to reach out in a way that worked for me.  You can, too.

Think of marketing as a series of conversations that deliver value, build curiosity and lead to the next level of engagement. The most effective marketing conversation speaks to the interests, wants and needs of your specific conversation partner.

5. Educate

The word doctor comes form the Latin root for teacher. Marketing campaigns that deliver educational content align with your core mission.

How do you create the content?  Maybe you interpret breaking medical studies, offer practical tips and tools or answer frequently asked questions.

Simply listen to questions that patients and referring physicians ask.  Pay attention when  someone says, “I never thought of that  before!”  You have just delivered a pearl of wisdom others may want to learn, too.

Consider blogging, conducting seminars or creating videos. Publishing a book positions you as the expert.  Remember to gear the content to your audience:

Generate more referrals from physicians and nurses by offer practical patient care tips.  If you’re a pain specialist for example, offer ideas about how to manage chronic pain conditions in the primary care setting.

Create videos that answer patients’ frequently asked questions.

Create educational materials for the friends and relatives of your patients.   Imagine an oncologist creating a video with this script:

“How do you make a positive difference when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer? Hi, I’m Dr. Welby.  For the past 20 years I’ve helped my patients put their colon cancer diagnosis in the rear view mirror.  We physicians offer the therapeutic interventions that eliminate cancer cells; however, your love and support promotes healing. It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they have cancer.  Here are 5 quick tips.”

6. Think Like a Patient

Understand the patient’s experience living with the medical problem you treat.

Explore patients’ trigger for action.  Gain insight into what propels patients to pick up the phone and call your office. Then think creatively about how you can put yourself in front of these patients.

If you are trying to grow a breast imaging center, for example, you know that often the diagnosis of breast cancer in a friend, or the illness of a family member inspires patients to schedule the overdue mammogram.

A breast center could launch a campaign to encourage their patients to spread the word about the importance of screening mammograms. Maybe you distribute buttons that say, “Friends don’t let friends skip mammograms.” Maybe you print up postcards your patients can give to their friends inviting their friends to get mammograms.  Maybe you offer a 5% discount for friends of your patients.

Tap into patients’ network.  Let’s say you have a special interest in preventing head injuries in children.  You could reach out to coaches, pediatricians and stores that sell helmets. You could participate in social media conversations about head injuries in kids.

Stay in touch. Build lists and assure that you have a way to stay in regular contact with the people who send you referrals.  Consider repackaging the same content for referring physicians, patients and family caregivers.

7. Remember that Practice-Building is Relationship-Building 

Invest in relationships with the people who send you patients.  Educate them.  Offer them value.  Make it easy for them to identify patients you treat and the circumstances that would trigger a referral.

To generate more referrals and build your practice, serve the people who send you patients.

© 2014. Vicki Rackner MD. All rights reserved.

You may reproduce this post with the following by-line:

Vicki Rackner MD, President of Medical Bridges,  works with physicians who want to thrive in the era of Obamacare. This author, speaker and consultant offers a bridge between the world of medicine and the world of business. Contact her at (425) 451-3777. Click here to get a tips about how to achieve the personal, professional and financial rewards of a career in medicine.


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