Referral Sources Part III: Community Referrals

As we continue our discussion of key referral channels, we would be remiss to neglect mentioning the patients that show up at your clinic sans referral. Particularly in this age of technology, many patients are taking matters into their own hands, doing their own research, and foregoing the traditional physician referral pattern. Of course, this is dependent on insurance - but many patients have health coverage that does not require a referral in order to see a specialist.

Reaching these patients requires a completely different approach. Generally speaking (and this depends on your market and your particular strategic plan), I advocate spending a larger portion of a practice budget on the aforementioned referral channels (Physician, Patient) for one big reason. If you "convert" a local primary care physician, he or she will refer to you for years to come. You've reached one physician, but hundreds of patients. When marketing directly to the community, you're trying to reach individual patients. It's the needle in a haystack phenomenon. That being said, improving your reputation in the community can have a great intangible impact on your practice, and can help fill those clinic appointments. Here's how.

-  Improve your online presence. Patients aren't calling a practice out of the blue. They are calling after having looked up "Memphis Spine Surgeon" on Google. They have checked out your website and find it to be professional and impressive. They have looked up your location on Google Maps and find it to be relatively convenient to their home or work. They have read reviews on Google, Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com or a related site. Even my parents do most of their research online, and they are smack in the middle of the target audience for many of you.  Make sure your online information is accurate and consistent with your practice's brand - in other words, does your website "say" what you want your patients to hear?

- Generate community awareness. That's a nice way of saying "advertise." Traditional advertising methods can improve name recognition and ensure that your practice is top of mind for many potential patients. If you don't have a marketing person on staff, enlist a consultant or agency to manage your advertising campaign which may include TV ads, newspaper ads, etc.. Also important (and cost-effective) is great PR. Make sure the local media knows about your cutting edge procedures and heart-warming patient success stories. Offer to serve as a medical expert on local news shows or be interviewed for articles. As with advertising, it is helpful to hire a Public Relations expert as they have media relationships that prove invaluable.

- Educate. If you know what types of patients you want to attract (a "must" prior to launching any marketing plan), you can provide related educational opportunities for the community. For example, partner with your hospital to host an educational presentation on hip replacement. Advertise the event to your "target market" and offer free screenings to attendees. Have a member of your office staff available to schedule appointments for indicated patients right there at the event. A great way to fill appointment slots with patients that can benefit from your therapies!

There are countless other ways to generate community awareness of your practice. I'd love to hear from you all - what has worked for your practice?