Neuroscience providers face several challenging barriers to program growth. First, the physician alignment landscape has shifted referral patterns. Even hospitals that employ physicians can experience referral leakage. Second, many hospitals face capacity constraints, particularly for neurology appointments. Referring physicians are also dissatisfied by unmet service expectations in areas like transfer procedures and timely communication of patient information. Finally, referral strategy in the neurosciences is further complicated by the segmented nature of the service line. The patient base and services provided can vary widely by subspecialty, making a centralized marketing strategy difficult.
Over the past few months, Marketing and Planning Leadership Council researchers have spoken with neuroscience leaders about their different tactics for securing share. We will be compiling our findings into a new publication on the outlook for the neurosciences service line, to be released in December (similar to the recently published study Orthopedics: Service Line Strategic Outlook).
As a preview of this new research, we want to share our take on the elements necessary to develop a comprehensive referral management strategy. Effective programs must:
- Launch initiatives to build strong relationships with referring physicians
- Maintain long-term partnerships through close communication
- Increase specialist accessibility
Build strong relationships with referring physicians
1. Use an incremental, tailored outreach approach
Many physicians feel pressed for clinical time, limiting their availability to meet with physician liaisons. According to a survey by the American Association of Physician Liaisons, a majority of liaison-physician meetings are under 15 minutes. To make these short visits most effective, liaisons must tailor their message to meet the specific needs of individual physician practices. Giving a small amount of tailored information over many different visits is necessary to keep physicians from feeling overwhelmed by irrelevant collateral.
2. Provide decision support tools
Physicians are often unaware of the many different neuroscience subspecialty service offerings, as well as which patients are most appropriate for these services. Offering decision support tools can increase the proportion of appropriate referrals sent to hospital specialists. However, this strategy may have a double-sided impact on volume, as these tools may increase volumes of underutilized services while reducing volumes that are now considered inappropriate. It is important to consider current program capacity, the level of appropriateness in your market, and the amount of service underutilization in your community before implementing this strategy.
3. Facilitate physician to physician connections
The ultimate goal of physician outreach is to build strong relationships between referring physicians and hospital specialists. Physician liaisons and other marketing staff can support and grow these connections through lunch and dinner meetings, office visits, facility tours, CME events, grand rounds, and provision of specialists’ cell phone numbers.
Maintain a long-term partnership through strong communication
4. Generate competitive intelligence regarding the physician service experience
Generating feedback from referring physicians is critical to optimizing the referral experience and maintaining strong connections. Retreats, surveys, and liaisons are all effective methods for identifying areas for service recovery and program improvement.
5. Return important patient information in a timely manner
Many physicians are dissatisfied with both the timeliness and content of hospital discharge summaries and other forms of patient communication. In addition to high quality discharge summaries, hospitals can improve the communication of patient information through physician-to-physician phone calls, simplified templates that highlight critical patient information, and online access to patients’ medical records.
6. Tailor long-term patient care to physician preferences and capabilities
While some physicians worry about specialists “stealing” their patients and choose to manage key aspects of their neurological condition, others prefer that their patients with complex neurological disorders receive all or part of their care at the hospital. Hospitals must make it clear to referring physicians that specialists will work with their preferred medical management strategy.
7. Improve capacity to reduce appointment wait times
Referring physicians are often concerned with extended appointment backlogs, particularly in neurology. While it is difficult and expensive to hire additional neurologists, clinic capacity can often be increased through strategic use of advanced practice nurses.
8. Streamline transfer protocols
Referring physicians value a clear and quick transfer process. Having a dedicated staff member, often a nurse, monitoring a specific neuroscience referral number can reduce unnecessary phone calls and waiting time.