6 Ways to Increase Patient Referrals to Your Spine PracticeWritten by Molly Gamble | November 11, 2010
Increasing patient satisfaction and physician referrals is not based on surgical outcomes alone. Effective communication between patients, spine surgeons and physicians can reinforce a surgeon’s practice, increasing referrals. “People used to think that if you simply take good care of a patient, your personality doesn’t matter. Those days are over,” says Paul Slosar, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon with SpineCare Medical Group in San Francisco. Here, Dr. Slosar shares some tips on how he has earned patient referrals through simple communication techniques.
1. Create a story about what makes you unique. Dr. Slosar recommends surgeons find what makes them stand out and emphasize that facet to the patient community. For instance, Dr. Slosar recently won an award for being an “on-time” physician, meaning he is prompt and runs within 10 minutes of patients’ scheduled appointments. Attributes such as a respect for time may not be medical but are appreciated and will certainly bolster a surgeon’s reputation among patients.
2. Increase your expert input. By encouraging local healthcare professionals and hospital administrators to keep him in mind as a media resource, Dr. Slosar gained visibility while helping media outlets increase credibility. Opportunities to provide input are an effective way to increase approachability while protecting access, which Dr. Slosar finds to be the ultimate balancing act. “You have to create a results-driven practice environment where you’re considered the expert, but also accessible and patient friendly,” says Dr. Slosar.
3. Speak highly of referring physicians and reach out to those you haven’t met. Too often surgeons become overly focused on procedures and forget to be friendly toward their referral sources, according to Dr. Slosar. He avoids this pitfall by remembering the importance of a letter. Since he sees patients who often travel more than 100 miles to visit his practice, Dr. Slosar doesn’t always know their primary physicians. In those cases, he writes them a letter and introduces himself, sharing information about his practice and sometimes including booklets or literature. He also reaches out to them — himself. “A lot of times, surgeons delegate responsibility for everything,” he says. If Dr. Slosar does know a physician, a simple note, phone call or e-mail thanking them for the referral maintains a connection that results in additional referrals.
4. Give patients a voice to share their success stories. Patients have an unspoken fear of spine surgery, and Dr. Slosar addresses this by sharing patient success stories on his website and encouraging patient-to-patient mentoring. He has a group of past patients who volunteer to speak with potential patients before surgery, which he has found to be particularly beneficial. They can share stories of symptoms and treatment while discussing lifestyle adjustments procedures may require. On his website, he also features success stories of patients who are pleased with their surgery results and have resumed activities their condition once made painful, like Pilates and running.
5. Perfect your ability to explain spinal conditions to patients and take your time. Analogies and metaphors pepper Dr. Slosar’s explanations to patients. He strives to discuss spinal conditions in relatable terminology, often employing mechanical terms. “You have to try to use concepts that the patient can visualize. I keep going over it with my patients until they get a visual that makes sense. I use really straightforward and simple language and I keep asking them, ‘Does this make sense to you?’” says Dr. Slosar. He recommends surgeons take time with these explanations because they can look at it two ways: either take the time to conduct a complete and informative conversation with a patient or face time speaking to a lawyer later on.
6. Get to know your patients’ lifestyles. For too long, surgeons have hidden behind barriers to remain objective, and become inaccessible as a result, according to Dr. Slosar. Aim to know something about each patient — whether about their job, where they live or what hobbies they enjoy. This builds a catalog of experiences that helps Dr. Slosar develop a sense of patients’ post-surgery behavior. After developing an understanding of their personality and interests, he can then slow patients down or encourage their return to aerobic activities, making the spine surgery fit comfortably within their lifestyle.
Learn more about Dr. Slosar.
Read about other spine surgeons:
-Improving Scoliosis Treatment: Q&A With Vincent Arlet, Developer of Scolisoft Scoliosis Database
-How Interventional Pain Management Will Contribute to ACOs: Q&A With Dr. Scott Glaser
-Minimally Invasive or Open Spine Surgery: Rush’s Dr. Kern Singh on His Study to Compare Procedures
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