By: Betsy Finkelmeier, RN, MBA
Know your customer is a fundamental marketing principle and an essential element of successful referral development. Whether you are engaging physicians with whom you’ve developed long-standing relationships or those new to the organization, your 2014 physician customers likely have very different top-of-mind concerns than in the past.
Medical practice in the United States has undergone significant transformation during recent years, much of it externally imposed and related to the long anticipated and newly implemented Affordable Care Act. Physicians, many of whom were highly content with their former state of affairs, now must navigate an entirely different practice environment. Just what has changed? It’s useful to step inside the world of today’s community-based physicians and consider the significant evolution that has occurred.
Many physicians who once were small business entrepreneurs have become employees of large, complex organizations and/or multi-hospital health systems. The complexity of delivering patient care within these systems has increased markedly. New regulatory, financial and bureaucratic considerations have become a part of clinical decision-making, sometimes affecting the relationships between physicians and patients. Physicians may perceive a loss of what was once considered the art of medicine.
By now, most physicians have accomplished the challenging transition from paper to electronic documentation. Over time, physicians adapted these electronic health records (EHRs) to better fulfill specialty-specific documentation needs. Now, many health systems are migrating to yet new EHRs that integrate information across health systems but sacrifice the specialty-specific documentation efficiencies that physicians have come to value. At the same time, physicians are adjusting to new or more stringent productivity expectations as health systems seek to capture a return on the significant investment in physician employment and practice acquisition. Meanwhile, physicians continue to fear income loss related to diminishing reimbursement; in some cases, they also have concerns regarding the financial viability of organizations with which they have become affiliated.
As the health care landscape consolidation continues, former competitors may be partners and new referring expectations have been introduced. Restricting referral choice is often as unpalatable to physicians as restricting choice of physicians is to the general public.
So how can you most effectively promote referral development while supporting physicians through this time of significant change? Most importantly, know your physician customers and understand their top-of-mind concerns. As they navigate today’s practice environment, physicians will likely be considering three questions to evaluate the value of your visits and the benefits your organization has to offer:
- Do they improve clinical outcomes for my patients?
- Will they increase efficiency in my practice?
- Can they enhance my financial bottom line?
If you are well prepared to discuss referral needs in the context of how your organization can improve outcomes, increase productivity or enhance financial practice performance, your physician customers are likely to remain engaged and you can successfully build solid referring relationships.