No matter what healthcare field you practice in, having a healthy referral network is essential to practice growth. Fortunately, much like word-of-mouth marketing, establishing a robust and loyal referral network is one of the most cost-effective ways to attract new patients. But, more importantly, if people are not referring to you, they are referring to your competitors, and you are losing potential revenue.

Building your referral network is a crucial growth channel worthy of your time and investment.

It doesn’t matter if you own your practice or are part of a larger private group or hospital system; cultivating your referral network should be at the top of your priorities. It’s human nature to recommend our favorite products and services to friends and family. This is no different in healthcare. Providers like to refer their patients to other providers they know and trust.

Trust: The secret sauce to building a loyal referral network

An essential element of building a loyal referral network is establishing trust between you and referring providers. Before recommending a patient to your practice, a referring provider needs to trust that you will deliver the highest quality of care to their patient. Because ultimately, if a patient has a negative experience with you as their provider, this will reflect poorly on the provider who referred them to you. Referral sources ultimately need to protect their reputation and will only refer to a handful of providers they consider to be the best in treating their patients.

For instance, if you complain to your primary care physician about experiencing a lot of headaches during your annual physical, she will most likely suggest you have your eyes tested. So you ask, “Do you have any recommendations for an ophthalmologist?” Of course, as a local ophthalmologist, you would like to be on the top of this provider’s referral list.

This same scenario of a patient asking their trusted healthcare provider for a recommendation can play out in various instances, depending on the patient’s ailment. As a healthcare provider, you want to be at the top of the list for referrals for your given specialty. You can reach the top of the referral list by concentrating your efforts on growing these crucial relationships.

The fastest and most effective way to gain the trust of a referring provider is to take excellent care of the person they referred to you. It also helps to make the referral process as simple as possible for the referring provider. Don’t create too many qualifying conditions preventing the referral source from sending you a new patient.

  • I only treat X, Y, and Z, and not A, B, or C, or
  • I only see insured patients, or I only see patients with ABC insurance
  • I only see self-pay patients.

Presenting all these conditional sets becomes onerous for the referring provider. Therefore, when choosing where to refer a patient, the referring provider will often send their patient to the provider who consistently is the most accommodating in seeing all their patient types.

Start to Build your Referral Network by Tracking Referral Sources

Data is knowledge, especially when you are building your practice. Ask every patient you see how they came to see you for care. Track that information in a spreadsheet or database, and evaluate the data every quarter. Look for trends:

  • How do your numbers look per referral source quarter over quarter? 
    • Trending up means you are doing an excellent job of maintaining a solid relationship with that referral source.
    • Trending down could mean the referral source is feeling neglected or unrecognized. What steps can you take to re-engage with that referral?
  • Are new referral sources popping up? If so, make sure to cultivate them, so the relationship continues to blossom.

Identify Your Top Referrals & Relationships You Want to Grow

Build a list of your top referrals. Depending on your specialty, this could be another healthcare provider, a patient, or a local business. First, identify your top referral sources and up-and-coming sources you want to grow. Once this information is identified, you can cultivate these relationships through the practiceGRO Method.

By utilizing the practiceGRO Method, you can build a robust and loyal referral network.

Phase 1: Generate your brand

Get active in your local healthcare community by generating your brand. Start by reaching out to your top referral sources, followed by the ones you want to grow. Referral sources are more likely to refer to providers they know and trust.

Build personal connections by offering to stop by their office to introduce yourself and learn more about their practice/business and growth objectives. See if there are any opportunities to build a mutual referral network. In-person meetings are an excellent opportunity to connect with office staff and educate them on your specialty and treatment philosophy. Before leaving, ensure they have your personal contact information and that of your scheduler (if applicable) so they have a quick and easy way to refer patients to you. When they refer a new patient to you, try to fit that patient into your schedule as soon as possible.

If one of your top referral sources is another patient, acknowledge that person’s efforts to help you grow your practice. Then, consider thoughtful ways to thank them and build that connection.

Phase 2: Reach Referral Sources

Once initial introductions have been made, nurturing these relationships is critical. One way to do this is by sending a quick thank you text anytime a referral sends a new patient your way. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Text to acknowledge how much you appreciate them trusting you to care for this person. Where appropriate, keep them in the loop on the patient’s progress. And, if you went out of your way to fit the new patient into your schedule, let your referral know that too. Doing this will make your referral feel like a VIP, further building your connection. Also, shoot your referral a text to let them know whenever you send a client their way.

Like building a genuine friendship, staying in regular contact helps stay top of mind and reminds the person how much you value your relationship.

Phase 3: Optimize marketing ROI

At least once a year, it’s essential to recognize and thank your referral sources in a more meaningful way. Get creative! This could include a gift and a handwritten thank-you note, an invite to have dinner at your home, or tickets to a fun event. Your referral network is a vital component of your overall marketing mix. Consider how much new patient revenue your referral network has delivered to your practice and budget accordingly. Much like any other marketing channel, you need to invest in it to achieve year or year return.

Want to learn more cost-effective ways to grow your practice exponentially?

Become a practiceGRO Insider, where we share exclusive content and free training that we don’t share anywhere else. Our mission is to educate healthcare providers on proven growth strategies to attract more of their ideal patients to their practice. If you found this article helpful and would like specific, detailed information on how to build your referral network rapidly, consider taking the practiceGRO Marketing 101 course.