Defectors: When Professional Colleagues Stop Referring

February 18, 2015
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professional referralsA curious thing about professional referrals is that nobody pays much attention until they disappear. Sometimes, what doctors don’t know about professional referrals is alarming.

professional referralsA curious thing about professional referrals is that nobody pays much attention until they disappear. Sometimes, what doctors don’t know about professional referrals is alarming.

The analogy of a “life blood” source of business is appropriate, particularly for specialty medical practices that rely on the flow of new patients. Although referrals from other providers is central to the business of the practice, taking the process for granted can easily have dramatic consequences.

Unfortunately, you may not recognize when professionals stop referring. The change in the referral stream may not be immediately apparent. And doctors themselves may not be aware that a once-reliable referral source has disappeared…perhaps defecting to the competition.

This sort of change could be for any of a dozen reasons, but competition—and continuing turbulence in the marketplace—is often a factor. Once detected, here are five things that you can do when fellow professionals have stopped referring.

The cure is doctor-to-doctor. Although the administrative process appears to be from one practice to another, the reality is that it is one patient, referred by one doctor to one doctor. It only seems to be a clerical ritual. Correcting a problem isn’t a matter that can be delegated. The system only exists because of a trusted relationship, and can only be adequately addressed on a doctor-to-doctor level.

You’ve got to ask. It may be uncomfortable to ask about it, but a break in the referral process signals a problem. Perhaps expectations have not been met, or there has been a breakdown in interoffice communications about the patient. But any effective cure starts with asking, and finding a clear understanding of the circumstances and/or root causes.

They might not know. Digging into an issue sometimes reveals that the referring doctor is unaware that something has changed. The “cure” may simply be a matter of “situational awareness” that is easily fixed. Or the story could be more complicated and require greater attention to the details.

They might not say. If a professional colleague is—for any number of reasons—unable or unwilling to elaborate about why they have stopped referring it becomes more challenging to implement a cure. Nevertheless, making the referring doctor aware of your concern, and your willingness to serve their patients’ needs can be a step toward restoring the relationship.

Back up the promise. If a fix to the problem (whatever it might be) is possible, it needs to be a permanent one. The element of trust is fuel in a referral relationship. An issue might be able to be overcome one time, but the referral system needs built-in safeguards against a future let down…or the referral source is probably lost forever.

A continuing stream of professional referrals requires a well-considered system. Regular attention to the process and being responsive to the expectations of the referring practice can reduce the incidence of defectors to the competition.

For additional information about creating and maintaining an effective referral system, click through here to these previous articles: How to Shape Successful Relationships and Increase Referrals and The 3 Cs for Winning Professional-to-Professional Referrals.

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