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Is Your Health System Leaking Physician Referrals?

These 5 tactics can help you win them back

“Leakage” of referral cases to other organizations costs health systems millions of dollars every year – and bad referrals often inconvenience or endanger patients. In today’s challenging economy, it’s more urgent than ever to make sure you’re doing everything you can to promote and facilitate referral patterns that result in happy patients and a healthy bottom line.

Lost referrals add up!

In 2021, Managed Healthcare Executive reported that if a primary care physician refers only 10 patients per month outside of their healthcare system or preferred network, the health system risks losing $600,000 per year—and that is just one referring physician!

According to the 2021-22 Patient Leakage & Keepage Report conducted by About Health, 65% of the 138 health system executives surveyed said patient leakage blocks them from reaching their financial goals. They also estimated that reducing patient leakage could increase revenue for their systems by an average of 17%.

Those are big numbers, but this issue isn’t only about lost revenue.

When patients are kept inside one system, data connectivity is easier to maintain. That means it’s easier for both patients and providers to connect the dots on potentially important information about their health. Patients who are referred elsewhere may lose that thread. They may even be less likely to follow up and schedule an appointment with an outside provider at all, putting their health in danger.

Leakage of referrals remains a problem for which there are no simple solutions. But there are some things you can do – including making good use of targeted marketing and communications.

Guided by psychology, data, and insights, professional marketers have had some success engaging providers and building referrals. By pinpointing obstacles and understanding motivating factors we can help primary care providers understand the value of referring to specialists within their own systems, when appropriate for patient outcomes of course, and we can increase external and specialist-to-specialist referrals as well.

Here’s what you need to know.

First, you must start by positioning your brand and your organization in a way that reinforces the wisdom of referring internally – for both providers and patients. That way, your people feel good about making those referrals and their patients trust the recommendation.

  • Position your organization as an innovator and leader in the region for a variety of specialties
  • Demonstrate your reputation and tout leading programs by celebrating awards and recognition publicly
  • Promote your skilled providers, exclusive treatments and technology, key cutting-edge research and clinical trials leading to life-changing treatments
  • Highlight exceptional patient experiences and excellent outcomes

Once those fundamentals are covered, use these 5 specific tactics to reach and motivate providers to generate more referrals:

    1. LinkedIn Campaigns We leverage LinkedIn conversation ads to communicate with providers and specialists by specialty. Display ads, both static and video, are often also used to reinforce key messages or brand positions with these busy professionals. Even though open rates for these messages are sometimes fairly low, the mere presence of them serves as a steady reminder. This “top-of-mind” awareness might be the spark that’s needed to connect your providers when the time comes to make a specific referral.

      INSIGHT: Create your messaging ahead of time in batches to maximize efficiency and maintain consistency.
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    3. Email Marketing Email marketing is a cost effective and efficient way to reach providers. We suggest personalized drip campaigns that communicate quick bits of meaningful information about your organization. The messages must be timed correctly and sent on a predictable but not overwhelming schedule, and they should always include something your provider audience will find useful. Blatantly self-promotional or overly corporate emails will quickly get ignored. Instead, think about current topics of interest like openings of new services, introductions of new staff, and trending medical topics. Make your emails something your recipients look forward to!

      FUN FACT: Technology can be used to send emails to individuals at times they most often engage – based on past behavior – significantly increasing open rates!
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    5. Hypertargeting Geoframing and geofencing of owned and unaffiliated practices can be used to enhance your internal database so you can effectively reach more providers and office staff with messages about your specialists to whom they might then refer patients. We also often reverse-attribute that data into residential mailing addresses associated with those individuals – allowing you to communicate directly to them about the value you bring without having to get through their “gatekeeper” within their practice. Targeted advertising in publications and on websites of local or regional medical publications and organizations are also a useful tactic for delivering targeted messaging.

      TIP: Adding QR codes to direct mail pieces significantly increases engagement. Use them to make it easy for your provider audience to make a referral by linking it directly to your referral platform or website. Then, suggest they keep the mailer handy for quick access when needed.
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    7. Thought Leadership Establishing your specialists (in addition to your system) as thought leaders can be a catalyst for your referral-generating efforts. Content marketing is crucial to this positioning. We suggest using owned channels such as your own website, blog, and social media pages as the repository of content featuring your providers. Video can be especially powerful so remember YouTube as an outlet. Consider creating a set of brief but professional pieces featuring your specialists explaining specific procedures or conditions. Then, leverage that content for earned and paid exposure to a wider audience – including directly to consumers. In the same way, pharmaceutical companies encourage an individual to “ask your doctor about” their drugs, you can empower patients to request a referral to your providers.
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    9. Influencer Marketing Social media influencers, properly chosen and directed, can promote referrals. Consumers value the opinions of these influencers, who they often see as their peers, and seek them out when evaluating health decisions. Professional platforms such as LinkedIn and Doximity also provide opportunities for generating awareness of your specialists which can result in increased referrals. By giving your providers a way to market themselves to their peers, and working with them to create compelling content, you can help them build their networks while simultaneously increasing their referral base.

      DID YOU KNOW: TikTok now has more than 1 billion daily users? Don’t ignore it as a potential addition to your current social media effort!

Maximizing internal referrals, reducing leakage, and generating external referrals can be done, and it must be done to ensure the viability of your organization in this turbulent time. Ready to get started? Contact us today to schedule a consultation.