Healthcare Referral Growth: My Part, Your Part

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA | kbarlow@barlowmccarthy.com

I just heard it from a Vice President this morning, “The pressure is on to make sure physician relations is delivering the right results.” Teams are fine-tuning their analytics, field skills, and metrics and really ratcheting up the talent. The result? We’re ready for success- or are we? Maximum field effort gets business to the door. But, have you ever crossed your fingers or said a little prayer that someone answers and tends to their referral needs when your prospect calls? We all have. Granted, physician relations staff can’t over-promise, yet internal obligations can make or break the difference. Here are a few of the tried and true internal alignment needs that support long-term success.

Leader Commitment. Top-down commitment is not just a program blessing, it is visible support. The leader understands that referral growth requires more than a field team. Culture, implementation and enhanced communication impact repeat business. While physician relations can call attention to external expectations, with multitudes of priorities facing departments, even the well-intended often struggle. We end up with workarounds that result in inconsistencies. Or, one department is great, but others are not. The right tone and message from leadership puts the right level of attention on the physician relations need. When the prospective physician’s eyes are on the organization, efforts to recognize the needs of the referring physician make a difference.

By the way, if the internal stakeholders step up, the field team has to demonstrate results. It’s a stab in the heart of the program if the field team continues to throw up roadblocks. Swallow a few, if it were perfect inside, they probably would not need field sales!

What’s your plan to earn the right level of leader commitment? Where do you start and with whom?  Are you really ready to do your part if they do theirs? What if you don’t get the buy-in of leadership?

Are We Ready? Today our country is filled with different physician relations needs. For some, it’s about leakage. Others’ need referral growth in a very specific market or a specific clinical area. Still, others are working on alignment. The customized physician business strategy necessitates analytics, systems, process, and functions to support the expectations of the organization and the referring physician. If you have not recently done this, evaluate:

  • Goals vs. targets. Have you refined your targeting to ensure you are reaching the right audience for the desired, specific goal?
    • Is there a desire for a selective type of growth? Some organizations are at capacity in a clinical area or for a type of payor. However, they still need selective growth. Make sure you prioritize the relationships with those you value/need most.
    • Is your organization actively moving toward value-based payment? The type of referral relationship and field knowledge will be very different for this audience.
    • Leader expectations are important. Do you know what they expect? We have some clients that will say straight up, “I need volume,” some say that they need better intelligence from the private practices. Make sure that you are set up to deliver what they expect.
  • Put the best foot forward
    • Understand how challenging it is for a referring physician to get a patient to your facility. We don’t get to decide if we are “easy enough,” the customer does.
    • Specialists buy-in and commitment is a critical link in the system. This starts with their field support, communication, ability to “work in a referral” and extends to advocacy for the program and the needs of the referring audience.
    • Once accepted, do our internal systems work? This includes communication back to the referral source, patient experience, scheduling processes, etc.  Stops and starts are really hard on the program and morale.
  • Measurement – what’s valued
    • The quickest way to a CFO’s heart is to show impact in the language they speak. Their support bolsters your value internally. Assuming you know the program is adding real value, then show it.
    • Some organizations are all about contribution margin, others want to see total volume of a specific procedure, while others might like to see shifts in payor mix. What’s the “big number” at your place and how do you show your impact on growing that number?

Internal trust. Beyond operations and your internal specialists, can other departments like IT and planning be counted on for support? A physician relations program is reminiscent of an old saying, “No man is an island.” The most effective programs are collaborative efforts with many departments lending their expertise to create an environment that recognizes the role of the physician as a valued customer.

If you don’t have all the elements moving in the right direction, there are choices to be made. Can you educate and gain commitment from senior leadership? What elements of readiness need attention? Can you target areas where you believe you can get some quick wins so you are allowed to develop the program with a long-term focus?

Get creative. If you need help, get it. If the barriers are too large, continue to work with the internal team and position the value of the relationship program. Start measuring your success and encourage feedback from physicians. Soon, you’ll be positioned for success inside and out.

Looking for more Physician Relations insight? Check out my recently completed Physician Relations Leader’s Guide. It is a complete workbook that walks you through the process of improving your physician relations skills. Valuable for both liaisons and leadership. Learn more here: Physician Relations Leader’s Guide.

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