Every clinic owner that I talk to always talks about getting more doctor referrals. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do today - talk about the ins and outs of doctor marketing.
With my first new startup in Vancouver, I built a 2500 SF clinic next to a super busy medical practice, spending over $300,000 to build my clinic!
At my clinic, I had physiotherapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists.
The medical practice next door had 8 doctors and were seeing an average 400 patients per day. Within 6 months, my brand new clinic was getting 25 new patient referrals per week from their practice - and it only grew from there!
As you read what I am about to share, keep in mind that I am NOT a physiotherapist but I was still able to get the doctors to trust my clinic with their patients.
Today I’ll be sharing my secrets on doctor referrals that can help you.
- The mindset of a doctor and how they think when it comes to referrals
- How many MSK referrals you potentially can get from a busy doctor
- And 19 step-by-step secrets to gain a never ending stream of patient referrals from doctors
Inside the mindset of a doctor
A doctor's mindset is not rocket science. It’s as simple as this...
Why doctors won’t refer to you:
- You can damage their reputation
- They may lose patients
- They already have referral partners
- They don't know what you do
- They don’t know what patients to send
- You are not unique enough
If they have been referring and stop:
- They got a bad compliant from a patient
- They left the office
- They forgot about you and now send their referrals elsewhere
By the time you finish reading all the tactics below, you won’t come across these issues because you will be inside the mindset of the doctor.
The #1 Reason You Need To Get In Front Of Doctors
There is one major reason you really need to bother with doctor marketing: because approximately 30% of all visits to family physicians are related to musculoskeletal (MSK) complaints, 30%!!
Now I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a very high number.
Let’s just do a bit of math on that and see the high return on investment you can get if you go about it the right way:
If the average doctor sees 30 patients per day and works 4 days a week, that's 120 patients in a week. If 30% of their patients are MSK related, that's 36 potential MSK patients per week from ONE DOCTOR.
These could potentially be 36 new patients coming into your clinic every week.
And here’s the thing.
Apart from prescribing medications, doctors can do very little about MSK related conditions - and medications aren’t really a solution. As a physiotherapist, you know that what these patients really need is treatment. And if you’re not doing doctor marketing, you’re doing these patients a great disservice by not getting them coming through your doors.
Because while an anti-inflammatory or pain killer may solve their problem momentarily, they are left suffering with their problem for weeks, months, or sometimes even years.
The thing is, patients themselves don’t know what they need, after all, that’s why they are visiting the doctor for a solution. Unfortunately that is a problem because most doctors are uneducated about more effective solutions for MSK related conditions.
That means it’s up to you as a clinic owner to sell your services and educate doctors about how you can help them and their patients.
So let’s talk about the practicalities of how to do that.
1) Doctor marketing is a numbers game.
When it comes to doctors, the reality is that you’re not going to win every heart over.
Basically, you are looking for doctors who are looking for you, which sounds simple enough. But, the hard part is: who and where are these doctors? Right?
Well, you only have to Google “doctor [your town/ city]" and you will get a long list of them.
Once you do that, your next task is to contact and visit the doctor’s office. Yes, this task is time consuming but is well worth the effort for a few great connections.
For my clients, I tell them to contact and visit 5 doctors in 90 days.
And here’s the thing: it must be you, the clinic owner contacting and visiting the doctor directly. Never send a clinician or front desk staff. You only have to imagine if the clinician or front desk had the relationship and they left to work elsewhere… that doesn’t end well for you.
When doing doctor marketing, you have to expect that you will get a lot of rejections. But never take rejection personally. For every 10 doctors you contact/visit, maybe 1 doctor may like you.
2) Focus on doctors who already refer to you.
Your first line of action is to foster the relationships that you already have with doctors. Make this routine.
One of the key reasons doctors will stop referring you is: you took that doctor for granted and they found a better replacement who paid more attention!
Doctors typically refer to the last person that visited them so if you’re not doing it regularly, they forgot about you.
The second reason is they get bad feedback from a patient, which is why you have to make sure your patient experience is impeccable.
I would recommend you visit the doctors every 90 days at a minimum. Schedule each visit into your calendar and make a point of it. It’s really protecting your turf and re-engaging with your doctors.
Always keep in mind that warm doctors are way easier than trying to start up relationships with cold ones.
When you contact them, book a meeting to catch up and use one of these two reasons:
- We have added some new services that you need to know about
- I’d love to discuss important issues about some specific patients and their progress
When you meet up with them, ask the following questions:
- Are you happy with the services we are providing?
- Can you make any suggestions on what we can do better?
- Is there any feedback from your patients you feel I should know?
- What can we do to make your life easier?
Really focus on what you can do for the doctor and for the patients.
3) Focus on the NEW doctors in your neighborhood.
The next step is to focus on the doctors that are closest to you. It makes sense to both them and the patients if a clinic is located nearby. And you want to get in the door before everybody else.
In particular, stay on the lookout for any new doctor offices opening in your area. Or, new doctors moving into doctor offices.
What do you think is the biggest pain point for a new doctor?
They are not well connected and they are looking to build a busy caseload. They are also looking for you so they can refer to you (especially if you are good with patients) because it makes them look good in front of their patient.
But, they don’t want to have to go looking for you, so it’s up to you to make it easy for them by reaching out and making the connection.
Next time ask the office manager: "Any new doctors joining the practice?" Or you can also look for medical offices in the new real estate developments.
Even better, send a few patients from your practice over to the new doctor and get them busy.
The only time this will be a big waste of time is if they have a really good referral source already. For instance, their wife is a physiotherapist, their best friend is a chiropractor or they own a rehab clinic next door.
If that’s the case, move on to another doctor.
4) Focus on doctors who are retiring or who have recently passed away.
This may sound strange but someone has to take over a doctors caseload when they retire or pass, so ask the office manager who will be taking over their caseload.
I’d recommend you make a list of doctor offices and their contacts and from time to time schedule a ‘ring around’ to see what’s happening in their clinic.
When you call you can just say:
“Hi, this is Ben from ABC Physiotherapy. I was just doing a quick call to see if you have any new doctors joining the practice soon? (Yes, No)
I was just wondering because I have some patients I would like to refer, and a new doctor seems like the perfect candidate as I can help them build their caseload faster.”
This can really help you build a connection with the front desk, too. And these people are often the gatekeeper of the practice.
5) Ask your patients who their doctor is and send them letters.
First you need to get permission from your patients to send an introductory letter. And once you have that, reach out to the doctors to communicate with them about the patient’s progress.
Write something like this:
Hi Dr. Bradley,
I have been seeing a number of your patients lately and would like to meet personally so I can find out more about you and your practice. I am always looking for a great doctor we can send patients to for x rays and medical issues.
Can we arrange a time to meet up?
Please contact me:
I look forward to your reply.
At the bottom of the letter include a PS that provides an explanation of who they should refer patients to in future.
6) Create a mock up medical journal.
Before you meet up for your scheduled visit with the doctor, send them a letter that looks like a medical journal, that looks like your clinic. We know all doctors love reading this stuff so if you make it look like a medical journal, they will pay attention and know of you before they actually meet you.
For instance, at the top, have a letterhead with a big banner that says [Your business name] “Physicians Update” and then choose a subject to educate them on.
For instance: "Cheat Sheet for Dealing with Lower Back Pain Patients"
In it you should:
- Provide a list of symptoms
- Include a brief synopsis of recent research
- Discuss how to apply/ discuss the research clinically
- Provide a patient testimonial from someone you have treated successfully using these techniques - to demonstrate results
- Make a suggestion about how they can refer patients to you for treatment
Put the letter in a first class mail so it looks like it’s important and a priority read.
You can purchase these envelopes online and they can make all the difference.
7) Get the doctor to like you.
Doctors shop like consumers.
The truth is they buy emotionally and rationalize logically.
Once they refer to you, you are extension of them and their reputation relies on it. Your job is to make it comfortable and to reduce their risk. And ideally, you want to build relationships.
In most companies, they call this roll ‘business development.’ You have to treat this doctor marketing job the same way.
Here’s a couple of ways I’ve got doctors to like me in the past.
I found out that one of the doctors I was visiting loved golf so I invited him to go golfing on the weekend. When we golfed, I never talked about business. But as our relationship grew, he started to ask me whether I was getting enough referrals from their practice.
Another doctor was a super techie guy and we used to meet for coffee and have our geek talk about how he would wire his new house with all the new tech stuff. He also loved food and I would sometimes take him to cool restaurants or food trucks.
Yet another doctor loved his sports cars. He was also a blogger who appeared on TV quite a lot. We talked lots about his blog and his appearances on TV. I actually got him to come in and talk to our staff about topics he loved to talk about, too. For christmas, I think I got him a car wash.
Doctor marketing is NOT a quick fix solution. As you can see, it's all about friendship and building long-term relationships. And once those relationships stick, they are usually long lasting.
8) Always speak highly of doctors.
In front of patients or colleagues, always speak positivity of the doctor. You even want to go so far as to say exceptional or notable things about them or their office, because you want the patient to say good things back to the doctors.
For example, you could say:
"Dr. Bradley’s office is always so friendly and helpful. We refer lots of patients there and they really like him. He’s really understanding and best of all he cares about his patients"
9) Get past the gatekeeper.
As I mentioned earlier, the front desk staff is the gatekeeper, so it pays to warm them up as well.
Give them a call and say:
"Hi, I'm Ben from ABC physiotherapy. I wanted to find out more about your clinic because we have lots of patients that we need to send for x ray requests and medical issues. Is it okay if I ask you a few questions so I can gather a bit more info about your office?"
Here are some the things you want to know:
- Doctors names
- Are they busy? How many patients do they see in a day?
- What type of patient do they typically see
- Does the doctor/s have any special interest (sports, wcb etc)
- Do they refer to physiotherapy and if so how often
- Are there any new doctors coming onboard soon
Then ask them:
"It may be hard for us to coordinate a set time to meet the doctor. Would it be okay for me to squeeze in to meet him between patients and you could introduce us?"
You can also find more detail on how to get past the gatekeeper here.
10) Be confident when you meet the doctor.
When you finally meet the doctor, make eye contact, speak clearly, be confident and give a firm handshake so they know you are a confident business person.
Don't be timid. And don't ramble on about your clinic!!
Your focus should be on them and the patients.
Start by thanking them personally by saying:
"Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me today. I’ve heard a lot about you and your office from my current patients. I always try to meet and develop a personal connection with doctors I am referring my patients to - I am sure you feel the same regarding your providers."
Try to listen carefully and find areas of commonality such as hobbies, interests, family and so forth.
And remember, focus the conversation on them — meaning, ask about them first.
Here are some questions you could ask:
- What inspired you to get into medicine or to own this practice?
- What is your medical background?
- What sort of patients do you typically see here?
Developing a relationship with the doctor is a lot like dating. It takes time and effort to get them to marry you.
Think about it. You can't ask somebody to marry you on your first day so don't rush the relationship. Spend some time on courtship.
If they know things about you and you know things about them, this will help establish the connection.
This may require that you do some research first to know what they are interested in. And thankfully, with social media (Linkedin, Facebook or Instagram) you can learn a lot about the doctor just by looking over their profiles and descriptions.
And as I already suggested above, you can always ask the office manager about what the doctor likes and what their interests are.
The major point here is: be in it for the long haul to develop real relationships.
11) Key questions to ask the doctor.
One of your main goals is to find out what the doctors frustrations are so you can help solve it for them.
For instance, if they have a lot of back pain patients who keep coming in again and again but aren’t getting better, they may be looking for a better solution other than just constantly prescribing medications.
You could ask them things like:
- Do you get a lot of patients with musculoskeletal problems?
- Do you currently refer these patients to physiotherapy? If so - how many and for what specific conditions or problems?
- Who do you use mostly for your physiotherapy referrals?
- Why do you use them?
- What's your biggest challenge with your current physiotherpaist?
- What else is important for you?
12) Know why the doctor should refer to you.
What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) above the competition?
If you don’t know how to work your USP out, find more info over here.
This is the message you need to convey to those doctors so they understand exactly why you are the best person to refer to.
Do you specialize in a niche that nobody else can do?
Maybe offer free phone consults or offer group sessions to help lower costs (ie $20 for Rotator Cuff Sessions)
Some examples include:
- You can solve their #1 challenge with physiotherapy
- Years of experience
- Your location is convenient to patients
- See the same therapist
- The doctors or surgeons you work with are experts
- You direct bill to patients so its makes it really easy for them
- You can solve a particular patient problem
13) Don't assume doctors know what you do.
You know what you do but don’t just assume doctors do. The thing is, they are in their own world and may have never have considered physio before.
And just like any other people, doctors can be insecure, too. Don't make them look stupid or feel bad by downloading all your physio jargon on them.
Just like you talk to a patient on a level they understand, don’t just assume doctors speak jargon - keep it simple!
14) Train your doctors on the type of referrals to send.
It’s up to you to make things crystal clear by educating the doctor on the types of patients that are perfect for referral. Again, you simply can’t assume they know. And if they don’t feel confident in their decision to refer patients, they simply won’t do it.
And there’s only one person to blame for this failure and that’s YOU. It's your fault.
It can be confusing for the doctor if you offer every type of help for physical pain, so I would suggest you niche to one or two particular areas.
For instance, be the knee expert. Or the lower back pain expert.
The worst thing you can do is tell them you do everything!!!
This is the mistake that every clinic makes and it always ends in disaster. Your goal is to get a micro commitment from the doctor so you can get him to trust you, and then once they know you better over time, you can educate them on the next service so they can send more than knees later on.
Paul Wright (a good friend of mine), from Health Business Profits, even suggests creating a referral training manual for the doctors.
This would include:
- When to send patients (conditions and their symptoms)
- This is what we do for them (the treatment you provide for each condition)
- What happens when the patient contacts you
- How the doctor can easily refer the patient ( a 1,2,3 process)
15) Ask for the business.
Ask and you shall receive!
There’s no use you being timid and beating around the bush, so you have to directly ask for the business.
Say something like this:
"I know it’s risky to try a new physiotherapy provider as each referral is a direct reflection of you and your office. However, you have quite a few patients that would benefit from our style of therapy. All I ask is for you to send us 5 referrals in the next month and give us an opportunity to show you how good we are. The results will speak for themselves. How does that sound?"
You’ll find a percentage of people will be happy to accept this invitation. And then you make it easy for them to send you the referrals by educating them about who to send.
Also suggest that if they are unsure, they can ring or get the front desk to ring anytime and you’d be happy to help.
16) Set the next appointment.
Once you start developing those doctor relationships, you want to keep nurturing them. So before you leave one of your meetings, tell the doctor you will drop back next month to make sure they are happy.
"Thanks again for meeting with me today. Can we make a brief appointment to catch up again next month? I want to make sure you’re happy with things and it would also be a good opportunity to discuss patients you have referred, and their progress."
In the initial few months, it can be of great benefit to do this every month. Then once you have things well established, drop in every 3 months as a courtesy — as mentioned above, you don’t want to fade into the background and risk the competition coming in and stealing those referrals.
17) Give the doctor your cell phone.
What's super frustrating for a doctor is they try to call you and can't get a hold of you or they are put on hold when called. This is just going to rub them up the wrong way.
So give the doctor your cell phone and make them feel important — like a friend.
In most cases the doctor will have questions and you want to be there to answer them as quickly as possible
You also want to be directly available to deal with any patient complains, should they arise.
To help reassure them that you care about their reputation, just say something like this:
"If you have any questions feel free to contact me. And not that I expect it but if you hear anything negative from a patient, please call me immediately at my mobile number. I will fix it for you and make it right."
18) Send reports to doctors.
Keep doctors involved in the entire patient journey by sending patient reports.
Ask them whether they want the reports hand written, typed or emailed to their EMR.
When sending reports to doctors, always under report, so when the patient shows up and is doing exceptionally better, they will think very highly of you.
Most people send initial letters BUT don't send discharge letters. Start sending the doctors discharge letters because it shows patients has graduated. If they self discharged, write a letter to the doctor let them know why they are self discharging ie money or motivation.
Keep your letter short and to the point with goals. Show your multi modal approach including a holistic approach (sleep, food, general health) because this will give the doctor an update to save them time.
19) Do direct business with doctors.
Other than patient referrals it’s in your best interest to partner with doctors when it’s a good fit.
Just like you and any other business owner, many doctors worry about profit. And I have done alot of business with doctors (across all provinces)!
Depending in which provinces you live in, you may own clinics together, pay for advertisements together, send massage rewards together, pay parking fees if they are your landlord, or hire them as a consultant to teach your clinicians on a topic.
There are many ways to foster the relationship into a shared partnership.
But of course, before you can even have discussions such as these, you have to get the doctor to like you first, trust your clinic and your services, and grow and nurture the relationship over the long term.
Once they trust you, they will be open to talk more openly about shared opportunities that may be beneficial to both of you.
Your overall goal is to develop a ”mutually beneficial” friendship where the discussions can focus more on money and business vs talking just about quality of care.