Physicians in many specialties rely on a network of referring physicians in other specialties or in general medicine to find new patients and build a successful and thriving practice. Traditionally this has been accomplished by forming study clubs or similar groups where doctors get together and exchange thoughts on medical news and discuss specific cases, all in the name of learning.
This isn't going to change, nor should it. Referral relationships are just that, relationships. They take a certain amount work. Face to face meetings are essential to building good relationships. That said, there are some new and interesting ways doctors are using inbound marketing techniques, including social networks both recent and more established, to exchange ideas and build or maintain productive referral networks.
Let's examine how so called inbound marketing techniques can actually be used to collaborate, build and nurture a referral network.
Blog To Build Referrals
A blog can serve as a powerful tool for any business. Perhaps the most important aspect of a blog is its flexibility. A blog can be updated regularly, with relative ease and with almost any kind of content. A blog will positively impact your search engine results. Not to be overlooked, however, is the fact that a business blog is the one "marketing" channel that you truly own. You never know when a social network is going to start charging its users.
How can a blog be used to help collaborate and/or build a referral base? Consider these ideas:
- Create articles that address new developments in your specialty and share your viewpoint
- Compile interesting case studies that showcase your work, be sure to redact PHI
- Take your old PowerPoint presentations, upload them to SlideShare and then embed them on your blog
- Embed YouTube videos of cases you want others to see right on your blog
Once these posts are up on your blog now is the time to spread the word. The best way to do this is to simply maintain a list of the email addresses of your referral network and send along the links to your specific blog posts. Many email programs will even let you see who opened the emails and if they clicked through to your blog.
Though not absolutely necessary, it would be a good idea to keep your referral blog separate from a blog intended for patients. Reader experience is important and any referring physician who happens to subscribe to your blog may not perceive any real value with emails and articles that are aimed at the lay person. The referral blog can be made harder to find while the patient blog should be very conspicuous on your site.
Other Ways To Share
Getting your message out means communicating with others in the way they want to be communicated with. Email may not be what everyone prefers and busy people tend to let messages build up in their inboxes. Certain social networks may present a great supplement to email.
- LinkedIn Groups can provide a members only way to post articles and participate in discussions
- Google+ Communities, just announced, provides a private group where only invited members can join, only members can see posts and the group won't show up in any searches
The great thing about LinkedIn and Google is their ubiquity. Drs. are on LinkedIn in increasing numbers and anyone with a Gmail account can easily set up a Google+ Community. These are great places to discuss trends, present anonymous case studies and otherwise connect. However there is one thing they are not, HIPAA compliant.
HIPAA Compliant Social Network
After a nice Twitter discussion with Howard J. Luks, MD, a board certified orthopedic surgeon and Chief of Sports Medicine at Westchester Medical Center (and leading physician voice on social media) I learned about one that is.
adoption on public platforms not deep enuf to enable that.. But I do use @doximity to communicate w referring docs— Howard Luks MD (@hjluks) December 10, 2012
If you're looking for a way to discuss actual patient details with your referring Drs. Doximity may just have what you're looking for. The site provides a way to exchange messages and images by text or fax and it is HIPAA compliant.
Looking 2 discuss med topics w/physician-only audience? Create a private Group on Doximity or join 1 that matches your interests #tuesdaytip— Doximity (@doximity) December 12, 2012
I can not get on Doximity since I have no M.D., and that's the whole point of the site. I assume the site allows physicians to post articles and discuss them within the network. If so, you would be wise to post articles from your own blog. In other words, create a blog entry that discusses the news article of interest and post that blog entry to Doximity. You'll build traffic to your own website and drive referring docs back to your best marketing asset.
And remember, your website/blog is the only marketing channel you truly own and control. Doximity seems like a great solution for HIPAA compliant coversations online. They aim to reduce reliance on the fax machine. (ReferralMD offers a similar service, including free packages, without the social aspect)
The Doximity business model is to connect its users (Drs.) with market research firms that need expert input on questions about things like new medical devices that are in development. Doximity members can get paid $250-$500 an hour to hand over their opinions on such matters. However, if Facebook's recent actions are any signal, it may only be a matter of time before there is a charge to use the site or direct advertising becomes prevalent.
Don't Forget Your Tweets
Twitter presents an interesting way to collaborate as well. To be sure, there is no privacy afforded on the popular micro-blogging site. However, it has become a great way for physicians to discuss myriad healthcare topics in an effort to learn and share. Here's how Dr. Luks uses Twitter:
The Healthcare Hashtag Project aims to make the use of Twitter more accessible for providers and the healthcare community as a whole. According to Symplur there have been over 150,000,000 tweets discussing various healthcare topics. Man, that is some serious collaboration.
What sites are you using to connect with, collaborate and build referrals? Let me know in the comments.
This is only the tip of the social media iceberg, so to speak. For more on the various social media networks and if they make sense for your practice download our free eBook:
Photo Credit: ansik