Determining if a physician visit is worth the time and effort is important. After all, you were away from your practice so you could visit other physician offices and that is valuable time you could have been seeing your patients. So it makes perfect sense that you want to be certain you utilized your time and effort wisely. We believe simply tracking referrals is the best way to know if they are worth it. Additionally, feedback from providers and staff that attended the visits are helpful and may add context to the data.
Before you start making visits, ensure your referral data is up to date and being tracked. This data will serve as your baseline and comparison point after you do your visits.
Somewhere in your EMR, we suggest a field for “referred by.” This may be a friend, a doctor, Google, an urgent care center, and more. We like exhaustive and specific lists. You’ll need to weigh this with usability for your staff, but the more detail, the better for referral tracking. Drop-downs are better for data consistency and watch for duplicates and variations in physician names. We also like a field for “primary care physician.” When we pull referral data, we like to look at both to get a full picture. These fields are only useful if they are filled with accurate data, so train your team on the importance of these fields. We suggest asking for both who referred you and the PCP on new patient paperwork and when taking the appointment over the phone. This gives two chances to capture and validate the data. And, of course, if you receive referral paperwork from another office, but sure to list them as the “referred by.”
If you don’t have the option of tracking referrals in your EMR, you can still track where your patients are coming from. If you aren’t getting referral “paperwork”, you should ask your patients “How did you hear about us?” You can also ask for this info on your patient intake forms. You want to know how your patients found you. Then, track it on a spreadsheet or another record-keeping system that anyone taking referrals or new patient appointments has access to. We’ve found Salesforce as a good tool for tracking referrals dynamically, especially for markets where physicians change practices often.
Go ahead and pull an initial report for the last year or whatever time frame you have available before you visit offices. This is your baseline. From this point, you should keep careful records of your visits. Those dates could be the triggers for referrals from those physicians from that point forward.
We have witnessed situations where visits pay off immediately and referrals start happening right away where a physician sends a patient over that same day. More often than not, it can take a few months for referrals to start rolling in so patience is key.
About a month after the visit, take a look at your referrals. Has there been a bump? Review your referral data again at the three-month mark and six-month mark. Most often we have seen the impact on referrals take 3-6 months post-visit. And, then look at them at one year. Eventually, we suggest reviewing quarterly. It is a fantastic way to see if the providers you are visiting are increasing in referrals. And, keep an eye out for negative changes too. Occasionally, we’ve been able to use this system as an early alert that there was an issue. For instance, the belief that a practice had gone out of network for a specific insurance. Upon further investigation, a single provider in a practice was out of network. We got it fixed and got the relationship back in place. But, we would have never known if we weren’t tracking referrals.
We have seen physician visits reap positive results for those who invest time, energy, and excitement while patiently waiting for impact. Data is the best way to objectively measure the results, but feedback is helpful too.
We also like to include feedback from staff and providers that went on the visits to build a full picture. They are often able to give contextual details that can help us gauge if a visit is worth it. For instance, learning that a physician is moving their practice and being able to maintain that connection is worth it. Learning of something positive or negative that affects the referral patterns is a big worth it. Getting unsolicited scoop on competitors – good and bad – is totally worth it. Deepening a connection or expanding the knowledge of services is also worth it, although these eventually do show up in the data.
While we wish we could say that every visit will reap benefits, honestly, we cannot. By making the visits, you have increased the likelihood and at the least, met a colleague that your patients may need in the future. Predicting which physicians will make referrals is not an exact science, but definitely worth the effort. We suggest a proactive outreach strategy for any new practices, new physicians, or practices wanting to grow. Stick with it for at least one year!