Building referrals: Private vs. academic practice
By Meghal Antani, MD, MBA, FSIR, and Deepak Sudheendra, MD, RPVI, FSIR Spring 2018
Developing and nurturing relationships with referring physicians is central to the health of any interventional radiology practice. While all IR practices have certain similarities, differences remain between academic practice (e.g., a large tertiary medical center) and private practice (e.g., a smaller community hospital or a freestanding outpatient facility). In this article,the authors compare and contrast practice building methods between the private (Dr. Antani) and academic (Dr. Sudheendra) settings. Note that many methods discussed may apply to both settings.
Relationships with referring physicians
Private: Referring physicians may not often be available in person because their offices may be located far from your facility. Reaching out to referring physicians becomes more challenging but all the more important to avoid loss of visibility (“out of sight, out of mind”). Communication is important, such as by calling the referring doctor to inform them of the treatment plan, especially if it is unusual or complicated. Having a physician liaison to serve as the interface between your office and theirs is very helpful, by making periodic visits, quickly catching problems with receiving reports, and simply to keeping your office in their mind. Attending local medical society dinners to meet both current and potential new referring physicians may be helpful for them to talk to you in a more relaxed setting.
Academic: In an academic center, there is the potential for a large built-in referral base. Many academic centers have physician liaisons who serve as “outreach ambassadors” to area hospitals and can arrange Grand Rounds sessions and other interactive meetings between you practice and referring physicians. Often the referring physicians can earn free CME by attending your outreach program. In addition, giving Grand Rounds to departments within your own hospital is a great way to promote your practice and develop a reputation within your institution as the go-to person for a disease process. Publishing articles on a particular topic and sending the papers to your referral base is another way to establish yourself as an expert amongst your colleagues.
Patient outreach efforts
Private: A more concerted effort may be needed to reach patients directly. Building awareness of what your IR group offers to the community may require the involvement of everyone in your group (as opposed to a health system’s marketing department). Methods of reaching out to the community directly include visiting senior centers and attending community health fairs and corporate “health days” to offer free screenings or consultations. (Note: Stark Rule restrictions may apply to offering free screenings, particularly to those on Medicare. A Stark Rule update will appear in the next issue of IR Quarterly.) It can also be helpful to write articles in local newspapers, including “advertorials,” to educate the public about IR treatments. Providing a direct way for patients to reach you after hours (such as via cell phone) may help to create greater patient satisfaction, leading to word-of-mouth referrals.
Academic: The marketing department of the medical center often takes the lead in promoting the IR group. However, the marketing department is not aware of the procedures IR can offer to the community and frequent meetings with marketing may be necessary. The IR division can often engage patients on their own by doing direct-to-patient marketing in the form of free screenings for fibroids, veins or PAD. Community outreach talks at local patient support groups and fund raisers are often welcomed as these groups want to hear the latest news coming out of academic centers.
Online patient marketing
Private: A private practice may not have the benefit of the recognizable “brand name” of a large academic health system. Therefore, having a contemporary website focused on the procedures and skill/expertise of the providers is even more important. Having an effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy and managing online reviews is very important and may require a consultant to manage the online presence effectively.
Academic: An academic center often has a certain draw to the public due to its brand name in the region. IRs should capitalize on this familiarity to draw in patients with not only complex issues but also those who would otherwise not seek medical care in their own community. ocial media sites and easy-to-navigate web pages are crucial to disseminating information to the public about advanced IR techniques. Patient reviews along with written comments are collected by nearly all hospitals to improve the patient experience. Make sure that these reviews are posted for all IR staff in your division, since such reviews lend further credibility to IR as a clinical specialty.
In summary, while there are similarities in building IR practices within academic and private settings, there are also important differences. Most significantly, it may be more incumbent on and more challenging for the private practice IR physician to develop and manage their practice’s “brand recognition” with referring physicians and the patient community.
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