Getting patients is hard for most medical practices. It requires the patient to have a degree of trust in you, and this trust is not easy to come by: especially when dealing with a patient’s health!
Referrals are the second easiest way to increase patient volumes, next to making sure that you retain existing patients. People are more likely to trust their primary care physician’s opinion over a Google search, after all.
So what makes them worth their weight in gold, and why is their importance evidence of a growing problem in healthcare?
Types of Referrals
Doctor to Patient Referrals
Most often, patients get referrals to see a specialist from their primary care physician or from a doctor at a hospital. Doctors refer patients based on what they feel is necessary for them, and this is how many specialists get the bulk of their patient base.
There’s evidence to show that this system is inefficient at best, and disastrous for both patients and specialists at worst. 46% of faxed referrals don’t result in a scheduled appointment, 50% of physicians don’t know whether the referral was acted upon, and 55% of specialist visits are completely unnecessary!
Clearly something is wrong here, yet many practices still rely on referrals from PCPs and hospital physicians.
Patient to Patient Referrals
These types of referrals are much less common, although they should still be discussed. Patients with certain health issues may talk to a friend or family member that is also experiencing a similar issue. As a result, they might recommend you to their friend or family member.
If your existing patients are able to be an ambassador for your practice, then you have a much better shot at getting more patients who trust you.
Why Referrals Are So Important
Despite alarming statistics regarding referrals, they’re still one of the most important ways that practices increase their patient volumes.
Many specialists rely entirely on referrals from other physicians because they’re unable to take more patients otherwise. This situation isn’t a good one, because it implies that a specialist has more demand than they’re able to supply. If your practice is in this position, you may want to look at scaling your operations and making sure you can take on an increased patient load.
Because many referrals don’t result in an appointment, it’s important for specialists to optimize their systems to make sure that no referrals get missed. At the same time, specialists need to make sure that the referrals they get are actually relevant to them and, if possible, pass that referral onto another specialist. Unnecessary specialist visits make it even harder for patients who actually need help.