Before we start, here’s some food for thought:
- 84% of consumers trust the referrals and recommendations of their family and friends over other forms of marketing. (Source: Nielsen)
- The lifetime value of a referral customer is 16% higher. (Source: Wharton School of Business)
- 83% of customers are comfortable making a referral after a positive experience. (Source: Texas Tech University)
- A referral customer spends 13.2% more than a non-referred customer. (Source: Journal of Marketing)
When it comes to medical practice marketing and increasing patient volume, nothing beats referral marketing.
While you can use popular and effective marketing strategies, a significant part of attracting new patients includes acquiring them through referrals. Getting patient referrals from existing patients is one of the most successful medical practice promotion activities that you can put in place. This is primarily because new patients referred by existing patients are more likely to be happy and compliant than patients who find you on their own. Patient referrals are a much easier (and cost-effective) way to gain new patients rather than finding new patients through traditional or digital marketing strategies.
Why Are Patient Referrals More Important Now Than Ever Before?
Healthcare providers are no longer the gatekeepers of medical referrals that they once were. Traditional marketing strategies used to leave physicians with little control once their work was complete. Patients received treatment and shared their experience with the world. If the patient chose to share a positive experience with others, the practice would benefit from positive word-of-mouth. However, if the patient decided not to share his or her positive experience with others, the marketing opportunity would fizzle.
The key to building a successful medical practice through word-of-mouth is to combine social networks with word-of-mouth marketing. Patients are more vocal now about their experiences because social networks motivate them to speak their minds. In the past, patients shared their experience with fewer than a dozen friends. Now they can post their reviews online and reach thousands of potential patients. They are also looking for healthcare providers on various websites, checking out online reviews and asking their friends and family before scheduling an appointment.
The best way to encourage happy patients to share positive experiences is to provide them with as many opportunities as possible. Establish a strong online presence and use as many different platforms as possible. If you feel a particular social network or platform is not a good fit considering your target audience, find innovative ways to get involved. You can use websites such as Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook to establish a strong online presence. These websites will help drive traffic to your practice website and get potential patients to talk about your practice.
Here are some recommendations to help you encourage more patient referrals to your practice:
Take the first step to protect your online reputation and request your Online Reputation Assessment.
- Answer phone calls: Answering phone calls should be your priority, especially when you are looking for strategic ways to generate them. The calls should be responded to in a friendly yet professional manner. Keep a reference sheet handy with answers to common questions, including office location, insurance lists and general information about services.
- Value patients’ time: After the first phone call, the patient’s first appointment is the next challenge. Reversing the first impression is hard. Make sure patients have an easy time finding your office location and parking. Once the patient arrives, simplify the registration process by limiting the paperwork or offering a simple online registration process. Patients should know in advance what paperwork will be required, and insurance should be confirmed beforehand. Most of this information should be available on your website. People notice and appreciate your efforts when you value their time.
- Make patients feel comfortable: Do not make your patients feel like they could get the same or a better experience elsewhere. Instead, your staff must make an effort to treat patients as part of your practice family. When a patient comes to the reception desk to check in, greet him or her with a smile and call him or her by name. The way you treat your patients during their time in your office is what will help them decide whether to return.
- Spruce up your waiting area: While you should aim to minimize the time patients spend in the waiting area, make those few minutes comfortable and soothing. Make sure patients have ample and comfortable seating and have something pleasant to look at, such as a painting or a photograph. Marketing materials are okay as long as they are useful and not overly promotional.
Create a ‘New Patient Guide’ for your staff. Implement and maintain a certain standard of excellence when it comes to patient care. Make appointment scheduling easy. Set up automated appointment reminders. Provide relevant and regular training to your staff on key aspects of patient care and crisis management.
During the Patient’s Visit
- Make eye contact and introduce yourself: Nothing relaxes a patient better than a warm smile and a friendly gesture. When combined with eye contact, you demonstrate a sincere welcome and a willingness to resolve the patient’s problem.
- Pay attention to non-verbal signs: Never make your patients feel that you are disgusted by anything they tell you. Never express your personal feelings about their ailment through your body language or facial expressions. If you give the impression that you are not interested, that patient may shut down on you and may never come back. Be careful about how you act and react toward your patients.
- Make sure your presence adds value: While it takes the entire team to care for a patient, many patients see their time with the doctor as the biggest factor in whether they are getting their money’s worth. Be sure to take a moment to converse before jumping into the exam room. Ask questions, listen carefully, and be confident about your chairside manner. Never give patients the impression that you are rushing to get to the next waiting patient.
- Encourage online patient reviews: Asking patients for online reviews and thanking them for their suggestions go a long way to ensuring patient goodwill. It is critical to maintaining transparency within your practice in order to win your patients’ trust. Encouraging your patients to review your practice online is another way of showing that you value their opinion and are open to taking suggestions. Allowing patients’ reviews and testimonials on your website or patient portal are immensely beneficial for your online reputation.
- Ensure checkout is quick and easy: Checkout is the last touch point in a visit, so make sure the patient leaves your practice feeling positive and taken care of. Guide them to the checkout area and tell them what will happen so there is no confusion. Provide patients with information that will be useful after they get home. You can consider printouts with proposed treatment plans, pre- or post-treatment instructions, etc. Do not forget to express thanks as they leave your office and tell them you look forward to seeing them again.
After the Patient’s Visit
- Follow up with patients: Most doctors ask patients to follow up with them after their visit. Most patients either forget about following through, or they do not realize that the follow-up visit is a part of their healthcare plan. Having an automated system that allows you to book follow-up appointments and send reminders to patients can make this process a lot easier. A follow-up visit will ensure patients are on the right path to recovery and that they are satisfied with your care.
- Get suggestions and feedback: Most medical practices have a suggestion box for patients to drop in any feedback regarding their experience at your practice. You can take this process a step further by engaging with your patients via email or text messages using an automated system. You can also send a small survey after the appointment and give your patients an opportunity to provide feedback about your practice.
- Provide free health monitoring: Chronic illness will require you to monitor patients continually. You can do this by setting up remote monitoring plans for chronically ill patients. Remote monitoring will help patients track their progress for your review. This will also minimize the number of visits and save patients’ time, and they will greatly appreciate the convenience.
- Ensure a positive patient experience: When you do your best to make sure that patients have a satisfying experience with your practice, you are not only increasing the chances that they will return but you are also increasing the likelihood that they will refer your practice to their friends and family. When it comes to patient referrals, the difference is in the way you pamper your current patients.
- Keep patients educated about their illness and treatment: Most patients look up information about their illness online, even after being diagnosed by a doctor. Rather than depending on unreliable sources of information, you should be their first choice for asking any illness-related questions. You should aim to educate your patients about their illness by using the patient portal or sharing information through mobile health apps. This will also give them another reason to recommend your practice to their friends and family.
Optimize Your Practice
- Physician outreach: In addition to recommendations from family and friends, patients take into consideration referrals made by their physicians. It is all about referral networking. Physician referrals are an important way of gaining traffic to your practice. According to studies, six out of ten patients choose health providers based on their location. Maintaining a healthy relationship with physicians in and around your practice can ensure better referrals.
- Get your staff involved: Even if you have the most modern website or an active online presence, it is essential to train your staff to listen to the needs of your patients. Front-office, nursing and support staff must empathize with patients to ensure they have the finest experience when they visit your practice. Reducing long waiting periods, automating appointment-booking and reminders, simplifying billing, supporting reimbursements and improving access to health records are some of the important aspects of medical practice management that can improve patient satisfaction and increase referrals.
- Honor your commitments: It is normal for medical practitioners to have unexpected changes in their schedules, be it an emergency procedure, personal reasons or a scheduling error. Always try to adhere to your schedule, but if you cannot, it is important to notify your patients in advance in order to avoid any dispute. Your patients will understand and appreciate these gestures.
- Provide excellent service: What will really make your patients want to refer your practice to everyone they know? Excellent service. Each new patient provides your staff with the opportunity to make a great impression. You may have great skills or graduated from a top-notch university, but if you treat your patients poorly, your referral volume will take a nose dive.
- Thank referring patients and doctors: If applicable, during patients’ first visit to your practice, ask whom they were referred by. Then, be sure to thank the patient or the physician who gave that referral. Whether through an email, phone call or a handwritten personal thank-you note, it will surely make a difference.
The world of medical marketing is constantly evolving, and it is normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what the future looks like. Tried-and-tested methods of traditional marketing may not produce the same results, but that does not mean we can ignore them completely. Word-of-mouth referrals are just as valuable today as they were a decade ago. However, today word-of-mouth referrals are being used in a way that can spread information faster. You can use them to generate new patients for your practice and build a thriving practice in this age of medical marketing.
For a free healthcare marketing consultation to make sure your practice is taking the right steps to attract more referrals, contact us today.