In this age of healthcare consumerism, patients look to Google, social media and physician-rating websites to find healthcare information and take control of their care options. Even so, word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations are still a key factor in patients discovering you. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), more than one-third of participants rated word-of-mouth referrals, from physicians as well as friends and family, as very important in choosing healthcare providers.
Specialists who offer elective treatments like Lasik eye surgery, Botox or teeth whitening cannot thrive on existing customers alone and must have a documented marketing strategy with goals and benchmarks to boost word-of-mouth referrals. Here are 5 ideas.
1. Make the patient experience exceptional
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality explains the patient experience as a range of interactions that patients have within a healthcare system, from people to processes. Your appointment scheduling might be a breeze, your wait times minimal and your bedside manner outstanding, but it will take an exceptional experience to get people to spread the word about you.
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You’ll need to pay attention to every touch point along the patient journey, which can include your website, scheduling, visits, follow-up, aftercare and even billing. Physicians Weekly notes that 91 percent of patients who are fully satisfied with their billing process would recommend their physician.
It’s also important to make sure you hire staff who provides the same high level of care as you. Train your staff to answer the phone politely, greet all patients with a smile, return phone calls in a timely manner and show compassion in the exam room.
2. Get patient feedback
It’s hard to tell if you are truly providing an exceptional experience unless you hear it directly from patients. By implementing a patient feedback system, you’ll be able to identify areas of your practice that need to be improved, manage your online reputation and boost engagement rates, ultimately making patients feel more compelled to pass along your name.
Try to get feedback from your patients within 24 to 48 hours of their visit so that any issues they have will still be top of mind. The faster you can get the feedback, the faster you can squash any lingering problems. If the experience was exceptional, you’ll be able to uncover why — and replicate those positive interactions moving forward.
3. Network online and in person
The data science team at the healthcare data company Amino found that doctors specializing in internal medicine made over 63 million referrals in 2016. These internist referrals can be your bread and butter if you establish yourself as an expert and a trustworthy provider with whom they’ll want to be associated.
Network with other physicians in your area at healthcare conferences and local business meet-ups, as well as on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. Frequent one-on-one chats with primary care physicians over coffee or drinks can also go a long way in building relationships and increase the likelihood of receiving referrals.
4. Ask for and acknowledge referrals
Patients sometimes consult their inner circle when they need to choose a specialist. The 2015 Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report found that 83 percent of 30,000 people surveyed in 60 different countries say they trust recommendations from friends and family members more than advertisements.
When patients tell you or your staff that they are satisfied, or even blown away, by your care and their patient experience, ask them to refer your practice to people they know who could benefit from your services. Likewise, when you onboard a new patient, ask them how they found you. If it was a referral from another patient, send a thank-you note to the source.
5. Incentivize patients
There are patients who will sing your praises to everyone and anyone they meet — but they’re an exception. Most patients, despite being extremely satisfied with their care, need an incentive to take action. While the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics says financial or valuable incentives should not be offered to patients in exchange for referrals, patient loyalty programs pass muster.
Per a 2016 JAMA study, “Participants in loyalty programs often provide positive referrals, encouraging others to frequent the company or experience the product, thus enhancing customer base and revenue.”
These programs benefit your patients, who are rewarded for their loyalty. And they benefit your practice by increasing your opportunity for word-of-mouth referrals without compromising patient trust.