Medical referrals from doctors and patients – 6 reasons why they are drying up

How to combat this trend

Medical referrals – A good practice may receive around 65% of new business from referrals – Source: New York Times.

Two of the most telling indicators of your medical practices potential success and growth are:

1. The propensity of your patients to refer your services to their friends and family
2. A well developed referral network from other medical professionals

Medical referrls

Medical referrals – Why are they so important to your practice

1) What a patient really wants is:
To learn about your medical practice from a trustworthy doctor, friend or acquaintance that can vouch for your practice themselves – It’s all about trust!

2) 92% of people prefer recommendations from people they know and trustNielsen Study 2012

3) From a financial perspective:
It costs 6 to 7 times more to attract a new customer/patient than to retain a current one – Spoken Research 2010

4) The chance of converting a referral into a patient can be as high as 80%.
Higher if it is from a referring medical professional. Other forms of marketing convert at between 1 to 30 per cent – Huffington post.

The 6 trends that hit home the importance of your referral network

Trend 1 – Increases in the costs to deliver healthcare. Rising complexity and increase in practice staff, rent and legal costs.

Implications – The challenge is to run your practice more efficiently and reduce costs. In order to do this you need to ensure your referral systems are running at their optimum potential to minimise marketing costs and maximise patients and income.

If your professional and patient referral network systems are working effectively your:

  • Patients are retained for longer
  • Patient acquisition costs are minimised
  • Patients leaving your practice are kept to a minimum

Referral trends

Trend 2 – Increases in the number of healthcare providers. More local service healthcare providers are available for potential patients to choose from.

Implications – With more providers to choose from means more competition, so how does your practice stand out from the crowd?

General Practitioners in capital cities with high numbers of specialists are now finding themselves the targets of professional campaigns encouraging them to change their referral patterns – Medical Journal Australia.

Trend 3 – Small practices and being bought out by larger health organisations.

Implications – This can lead to a referral source for your practice disappearing overnight.

Trend 4 – Large practices referring to their in-house health services.

Implications – Fewer referral sources available for your practice.

Trend 5 – Increase in promotion of health services.

Implications – With more advertising about services, how do you make a compelling case for patients to use your services?

Caroline Ucherek specialist medical marketer CJU states “Five years ago it was unheard of for marketing groups to be involved in the introduction of new specialists to the local General Practitioner community. Today it is becoming the norm.” – Medical Journal Australia.

Trend 6 – Rise in patients shopping around for their healthcare.

Implications – The increase in price, competition and easy access to information via websites means potential patients are searching for the best practitioners, healthcare information and solution that best suits them.

Research from Towers Watson and Forbes

Overall implications for your medical practice

The medical landscape is changing and your referrals sources are drying up.

Most medical practices we speak to indicate their number one goal is to gain more referrals.

If referrals are not a focus at your practice, then they should be.

Question – If your medical practice has a focus on referrals how much time, effort and money do you spend on nurturing and cultivating your professional and patient referral network?

 Medical practice marketing melbourne

So what can your practice do to maximise your medical referrals

Most practices I consult with all start out with a similar thought process – We have/offer great service and competitive pricing so people will refer our services!

Most likely – That’s exactly what the practice down the road is saying.

It’s good policy to have great service and vital to the health of your practice but it’s not the core of maximising your referrals and income.

People today expect and demand good patient service!

For maximum effect you must cultivate referrals

Cultivate referrals

For years referrals were looked upon as a dirty word. Business has been conducted like this from the dawn of time – Consider:

1. People are twice as likely to tell someone about a poor service experience than they are to talk about a good one2012 Global Customer Service Barometer.

2. Sometimes it’s as simple as making it known you are happy to receive referrals from patients and professionals – It goes a long way to keeping your practice front of mind.

3. Keep in mind what’s important to the referral source – Quality and value of your services.

If you do a poor job their reputation may be hurt. If you let your patients or professional referral network down it could come back to haunt you. The loss of faith may not only affect the patient, but you may lose more patients in the future.

Where do most practices fall short when seeking medical referrals

Most practices do not work on developing relationships with other medical professionals or their current patients for referrals. To cultivate referrals for your medical practice you need to address these 3 areas:

  1. Current patients referring new patients
  2. Medical professionals referring new patients
  3. Medical professionals who stop referring patients


1. Current patients referring new patients

This happens more today than you think. Through internet searches, social media and word of mouth people are talking about your medical practice’s services.

Don’t believe me – Then do a Google search on your practice and look down the page. You will find websites with comments about your practice’s services.

Here is some more information about online reviews:

Your current patients are potential gold mines to help your practice attract more patients.

Here’s a few steps you can use to measure patient referral likely-hood

Set up a blind survey for patients to fill out at the end of their appointment – Ask them kindly to fill out the survey them place it in a box beside reception. Ask your current patients key questions such as:

How would you rate our overall service in relation to your appointment today?

Very poor   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   Excellent

What could we do to improve? ……………………………………………………………………………………………

How easy did you find your doctor to talk to about your health problems?

Very difficult   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   Very easy

Would you recommend <> to your friends or family?

Not likely   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   Definitely

Why or why would you not recommend our services? …………………………………………………………………

What could we do to improve? ………………………………………………………………………………………………….


Email marketing opportunity


Opportunity to improve!

The great plus about a quick survey like the above is it gives you the opportunity to quickly find out your practice’s strengths and find out the areas you needs to improve.

If they score you an 8, 9 or a 10 then you are in a great position to remind your patients you are open to referrals. Don’t be afraid to share the results with your patients and importantly what you are doing to improve your services. Post your efforts on your website, in your newsletter and share it on your social media accounts.

The next step is as simple as letting your patients know your practice is open to receiving recommendations of new patients.

Note – Every country has a different laws legislating what medical professionals may and may not do in this area. As this blog has international appeal and reach – Please consult the relevant guidelines in your country and state for further information.

Australia – You may not offer inducements or use direct testimonials about your medical care, but you can let your patients know they tell their friends or colleagues about your services.

You can also have direct testimonials as long as they don’t mention the quality of medical care. So you can talk about about the friendly service etc.   

United Kingdom – Similar laws apply in the UK.

United States of America – The Federal Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits the soliciting, offering, giving or receiving of remuneration in exchange for referrals for items or services covered by federal healthcare programs (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) unless the arrangement fits within a regulatory exception.

Ask for referrals

The next step

It’s as simple as letting your current patients know that you are happy to for them to recommend your services. A great way to do this is to mention it on:

  • Your website
  • Newsletter
  • Email
  • Reception area
  • Business card
  • Appointment reminders –

Put a plan in place to do this on a monthly basis.

2. Medical professionals referring new patients – 6 steps

The key is – Trust! Trust is build overtime. Don’t leave your referral process to chance or pure goodwill. Put a measurable program in place – Follow these 6 key steps:

1. Set your goals and objectives:
Begin with a clear idea of the results you want to achieve. For example – X-amount of referrals in x-period of time.


2. Identify and document:
Create a database of local practitioners that you would like to explore for the possibility of professional referrals. You’ll need contact details, activity tracking and schedule follow-ups and feedback mechanisms and reports to map your progress. It’s simple to start, just use a word or excel document.


3. Develop and outline your practice’s services and experience
Always start by contacting the list of practices you want to approach first to see if:

a) They are open to giving professional referrals and;
b) See if they have any criteria you need to meet in the process.

Find the key decision maker involved and organise a breakfast meeting with an agenda of items you wish to cover. From this process develop a quick outline of your practice’s and doctors:

  • Qualifications
  • Experience
  • Other referring practices
  • General feedback
  • Willingness to adopt an approach that is win/win for both parties and meet requirements


4. Regular contact and updates:
Establish a regular pattern and frequency of communications – Weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Look to build rapport, grow the relationship and discuss any relevant issues.


5. Communication:
Communication is a two way street.  Being able to reciprocate or grow the trust in the relationship is very important. Contacting someone in person is very powerful. It’s difficult to do with referring practitioners but scheduling a regular catch up either in person, over the phone or email will keep the relationship growing.


6. Develop the working requirements:
Relationships grow overtime and require the needs of both parties to be understood and met.

Map the requirements of your referrers needs and agree to the best way for both of you to work together. It’s also great to map out how you will both recognize and resolve problems. Doing this upfront can head off potential problems before they become larger issues. This approach will also open up communication channels.


7. Reporting:
You need to know what’s working and what’s not. What are the results of your efforts and where can you improve. Track your results against your goals and adjust your activities as required.



3. What if Professional colleagues stop referring

Medical referrals are central to the success of your practice. Taking the process for granted may lead to unfavourable outcomes.

You may not recognise when a professional colleague stops referring. Your practice may not be aware that a once-reliable referral source has disappeared. This sort of change could be for any number of reasons – here are a few things that you can do when a professional colleague stops referring.

Helpful tips

1. Work on the relationship – This is about the doctors getting together to discuss the situation and having an open conversation.

2. Ask – A break in the referral process signals a problem. Find out what it is. Get a clear understanding of the circumstances and root causes.

3. They may be unaware – The referring doctor may be unaware that something has changed. That’s easily fixed.

4. They may not communicate – A professional colleague may be unable or unwilling to elaborate about why they have stopped referring. Here it becomes more challenging to implement a cure. Making the referring doctor aware of your concern, and your willingness to serve their patients’ needs can be a step toward restoring the relationship.

5. Back up the fix – If a fix is needed and possible to the problem make it a permanent one. Trust is essential in a referral relationship. An issue might be able to be overcome one time, but the referral system needs built-in safeguards against a future problems. Think long term. A continuing stream of professional referrals requires a:

  • Well-considered system
  • Regular attention to the process and
  • Being responsive to the expectations of the referring practice
  • Find out what’s most important to the referral source (and deliver it);
  • Implement a measurable system to grow new and protect existing referral sources and;
  • Regularly inform key players and decision-makers about what you do and how that is of value to them and the patients they refer.

I hope you enjoyed this blog – Medical referrals from doctors and patients – 6 reasons why they are drying up?

David Douglas

“These strategic tips have proven very useful for the majority of the practices we help.
If you have any questions please feel free to call me.”
David Douglas – Medical Website Solutions

If you have any questions please comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.