Before, During and After: Building Physician Relationships
Relationship building is one of the most time consuming aspects of running a business. For a radiology practice, that means creating and sustaining relationships with referring physicians — a tall order. But, broken down into segments ‑ and with the help of technology ‑ that order can be quite manageable.
There’s some excellent information available on the web and elsewhere on ways to create new physician relationships while strengthening the relationships you have. We find it easiest to divide the work into three categories.
In this case, “before” means the time prior to a patient arriving for an appointment. The first step is making the referral process as easy as possible. Survey your referring physicians, even those who rarely refer to you, to find out how you can make the process better. It might mean adding a method of referral (perhaps they still prefer to fax) or adding staff to help ensure physicians are rarely put on hold.
The second step is examining your scheduling capabilities to help ensure you are as accommodating as possible. No physician wants to have their patient’s care delayed, so flexibility is critical, even if it involves changing the way you handle urgent requests.
Third, keep the lines of communication open. Physicians want to know that their referral was received, that an appointment has been set, and whether or not the patient kept the appointment. The last one is especially important — never let a patient slip through a healthcare system crack by neglecting to inform a physician that an exam did not take place.
This is where technology plays a key role. Sharing patient information quickly and communicating with the referring physician to help ensure the study performed is precisely what they envisioned is the most effective way to build trust and form lasting relationships.
Today’s sophisticated enterprise viewers allow physicians to securely access diagnostic-grade images from virtually any computer or mobile device. These tools are vendor neutral and multi-platform, and support advanced visualization, peer collaboration, and multi “ologies.”
When appropriate, a host can send a link to any collaborator (i.e., the referring physician) to start an interactive session that allows the collaborator to fully interact with the image. He/she can change orientation, window level, and segmentation, as well as add basic annotation. There is built-in audio and video conferencing to help the parties communicate during the session.
The patient exam is over, but the feedback loop should be just beginning. Whether you send a postcard, conduct a survey by email, or create a page on your website, make sure physicians can comment on any aspect of your process. Keep the number of questions to a minimum, but include a what-else-should-we-know space to make sure you learn what’s most important to them about patients in your care.
Finally, consider how you’ll communicate with referring physicians on an ongoing basis. A welcome package with a handwritten thank-you after a first referral is fairly standard, but staying in touch by occasionally emailing about an industry advancement or sending out an interesting case study is just as important to creating long-lasting relationships.