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Internal Referral Marketing: 101 Guide to Building an Effective Healthcare Referral Plan

Female doctor shaking hands with two patients

Referral marketing or internal referral marketing is the process of inspiring referral sources and/or loyal patients to refer your brand of services. Referral marketing happens through personal connections or marketing influence through a referral marketing program.

Some doctors may rely on organic referrals that occur naturally through patient satisfaction without tracking or strategy. Although this may work for a while, leaving your marketing up to organic results can prove disastrous when competition increases and areas develop. On the other hand, specialty medical professionals typically don't have recurring loyal patients and require a referral marketing program to ensure the highest level of referrals. 

We encourage all of our doctors and specialty doctors to establish an internal referral marketing program, often referred to as B2B referral marketing (business that is conducted between companies), to generate and track referrals. Building relationships with current patients or healthcare offices is an essential marketing strategy and is typically very effective. Below, we'll discuss the tips, tricks, and recommendations when deploying an effective referral marketing campaign. 

Internal Referral Marketing

Internal referral marketing includes all referrals generated through personal connections to the medical practice. Internal referrals can include referrals through patient friends and family, other medical professionals, and insurance companies. 

This type of marketing is often the bread and butter of every medical profession and accounts for 35%-65% of the practice's patient referrals source. In fact, some healthcare professionals may focus solely on internal referral strategies for their success. Avoid halfhearted attempts with internal referrals, as internal referrals may be your most vital marketing ally. 

Referral Marketing with Patients

It is essential to attract new patients continuously to grow and/or maintain a successful healthcare practice. For general dentists, primary care physicians, and doctors who support a patient base, developing a solid internal patient referral network is critical to ensuring the success of your medical practice. 

Employ a patient referral program in your medical office today. Financially, implementing a patient referral program in your practice is very affordable. Below are our suggestions for implementing a strong referral program in your healthcare office:

  • First, treat every patient with respect and care - go above and beyond if you can. Patients will not refer to you if you're just okay.
  • Let patients know you are looking for more patients.
  • Offer incentives to referring patients. This can include discounts, gift cards, and prizes.
  • *note: become aware of any board rules or local laws that may restrict incentives. Many guiding or supervisory boards, like the American Dental Association (ADA), have strict regulations regarding how your referring patients are thanked.
  • Create a plan. How will the request be sent? Who will handle the requests? What is handed out? Is there a follow-up system?
  • Make assignments for your staff and personalize strategies with team members by changing the program weekly or monthly.
  • Take action, track, and improve.

Your internal marketing strategies will depend on the personality of your practice, how you or your staff engage patients, and how aggressive you would like your plan to be. 

Referral Marketing with GPs and Physicians

The rate at which general doctors have referred patients to a specialist depends on numerous factors. The healthcare industry you find yourself in may have a cross-over where general doctors may practice specialty procedures. This is true as technology increases, allowing general doctors to perform more complex cases efficiently. 

Simply put, some areas will have more significant numbers of referring sources, while others retain patients for their own needs. Becoming aware of your referral sources will be your first step. Targeting referring healthcare offices is relatively straightforward. With some online research, you can create a target list of medical offices in your radius that may refer to you. 

Once you've collected the data of potential referring offices, it's time to set up scheduled meetings. Meetings should always be in person by the specialty doctor. Dropping off gifts, referral pads, or business cards is essential. Once the ice is broken, maintaining a good relationship is ideal. Within the first year, plan on meeting the referring office once a month for the first six months and then cut back to what feels comfortable. Once a referral channel is set up, sustaining it becomes a challenge. Maintain your referring channels by visiting each office periodically throughout the year or by sending gifts.

When meeting with referring offices, consider the following:

  • Offer Gifts or flowers, food, baskets, etc. Learn what interests your referring doctor and try to send something they like. 
  • Send gifts during special events like Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries. This is a great way to create a strong relationship.
  • Take them out to lunch. Your objective here isn't to sell but simply to have a relaxing meal (or coffee) with a referring office.
  • Follow their social profiles and befriend them.
  • Reward and thank your referrers.
  • Invite them to social events and parties.
  • Most importantly. Follow up with your patients and the referring doctor to ensure their procedures were done to the highest of standards. 

Referral Marketing with Insurance

Advertising and connecting with insurance agencies should be leveraged if you are in-network with insurance. This is relatively simple. Once you are correctly credentialed, you automatically gain access to the insurance provider lists. Nothing more needs to be done. 

What Is the Difference Between Referral Marketing and Bribery?

The primary difference between a gift or incentive and a bribe is that a gift comes with no expectations - no strings attached. Referral marketing incentives and gifts are given freely and out of goodwill. Although you may hope for something in return, there is no demand. 

Bribery, on the other hand, is given to receive something in return and improve the position of the giver. A bribe giver usually gives an offer "under the table" in order to subvert standard processes. Often, a bribe can be directly related to some future action, i.e. a patient referral. For example, when gifts of substantial worth are given, and/or positions are made to restrict the competition's presence, i.e., the gift will not be offered if you refer elsewhere or the gift is above and beyond competition’s reach, you tread a fine line of bribery. Here, you may be in trouble with the local supervisory boards or even the law, whether you extend or accept the bribe. If you do indeed see this happening, your should consider reporting the issue to the right authority.

When GPs and Physicians Will Not Refer?

Fortunately, patients today take charge of their healthcare now more than ever. In most cases, although referring offices are great, other marketing strategies are at your disposal. For specialty healthcare practices that rely on referrals, direct your marketing to the consumer. With 5 major forms of marketing, tap into Community Marketing, Signage, Printing, and Digital Marketing to target your new patients. Community Marketing offers a personal touch and should be your go-to if the referring office does not refer you. 

If your referral sources are corrupt, take your concerns to the media, local boards, or law enforcement. Consider the battle you may be waging before jumping in and good luck.  

Increase Patient Conversions

Consider hiring a healthcare marketing agency like Medical Marketing Guru. We are experts in crafting and designing healthcare marketing strategies. Browse our website to understand our services or call (877) 570-9880.

Posted on Nov 27, 2023
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File ID 84297812 | © Olena Yakobchuk |


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