Brand loyalty is tough to break. If you’ve been buying Brand A for years, it’s hard to reach for Brand B instead.
It’s the same for doctors. A general practitioner who has referred to a particular specialist or lab hundreds of times will find it difficult to change that habit.
But as trusted advisors, doctors are the best brand ambassadors for your health systems. You need them to refer patients to your key service lines and affiliated labs and clinics.
That’s why it’s essential for health systems to communicate directly with doctors. Frequent, open communication lets you understand the reasons doctors refer out and provide the information they need to refer in-network instead.
Understand What Causes Referral Leakage
Before you can address an out-migration problem, you need to know why it’s happening.
There are many reasons doctors refer out:
- Habit. A GP who has been in practice for twenty years has undoubtedly built a personal network of doctors and diagnostic centers she feels confident referring patients to.
- Convenience. Why refer patients across town if there’s an MRI center in the doctor’s building?
- Personal relationships. If a friend from medical school operates an independent orthopedics practice, referring in-system may be a tough sell.
- Perceived shortcomings. Maybe it takes too long to get patients scheduled or an out-of-network lab presents results in a more useable format.
- Lack of knowledge about available services. Keeping up with changes in vast, geographically dispersed health systems is a challenge.
- Established impressions. If doctors and patients in the community know that Hospital A has had an excellent cardiology department for decades, they’re likely to continue referring there.
Any combination of these may be affecting out-migration rates in one or more of your service lines or remote facilities. The only way to know for sure is to ask the doctors themselves.
Use Email Surveys To Ask Doctors Directly
An in-system email survey is an efficient way to uncover the causes behind your specific referral challenge. For example, you could develop:
- An open-ended survey asking physicians to identify the most important factor in their referral decisions.
- A brief questionnaire asking when physicians are most and least likely to refer in-network.
- A 10-question survey asking physicians why they don’t refer to a specific service line.
Help Doctors Form New Referral Habits
Once you’ve determined why doctors aren’t referring to a specific service line or facility, you can address the problem. Some situations, like long wait times or unfriendly staff, may require an on-site improvement plan. Others will simply need better communication:
- To alter referral behavior based on habit, convenience, or personal relationships, provide opportunities for doctors to get familiar with your facilities and build relationships with other in-network doctors.
- If doctors lack knowledge about your services, try sending frequent updates about your service line strengths, including new hires and patient success stories.
- When you need to change established impressions, change the prevailing message by providing concrete details about your system. For instance, explain that while hospital A specializes in interventional cardiology, your hospital has recently hired a structural heart disease (SHD) expert and opened a new hybrid OR interventional suite.
In today’s vast healthcare networks, every point along the care continuum represents an opportunity for a patient to leak out of the system. Regular, direct communication with physicians reduces this risk.