Referral Source Customers
The High-Value Customer You Haven’t Thought of
By Carlos A. Martinez, PT, DPT
As practice owners in this vulnerable healthcare climate, it’s important for us to capture as many customers as possible.
Customers in physical therapy (PT) are plentiful, and practice owners and our teams need to know who they are, what their wants and needs are, and how to capture them. Take a moment and think of your customers. If you said, “my patients,” you would only be partially correct.
Although patients are in fact customers, we have many other customers. We also have what I call referral source customers. These referral source customers include claims adjusters, nurse case managers, vocational counselors, lawyers, employers, and all of those physicians who refer to us. Again, as private practice owners we need to capture as many customers as possible from as many sources as possible.
For a business to be successful, we benefit by knowing the needs and wants of our customers. When we understand this, we can provide it and make those customers very happy. Remember, happy customers refer other customers. We also must know what we are doing wrong! Some practice owners get upset or become emotional when they receive complaints from customers. As business owners, we need to know what we are doing wrong so that we can correct and fix it. If someone takes the time to complain, they are verbalizing an upset, and we have the power as practice owners to correct the upset so that no other customer has the same negative experience. Consider the complaint an opportunity to make your practice better by making changes and corrections so that the upset never happens to another customer again. Blaming the customer won’t get us anywhere other than wondering why we don’t have any customers!
In my experience, one of the most important things we can provide to all of our customers is clear communication. Patients want to know what’s wrong with them and how are we going to help them. They usually want to know how much their co-payments are and if their insurance will cover their care. Our referring physicians not only want their patients to get better, but they want to know what’s going on with their patients. Are they improving and what are the next steps are in the rehabilitation? This communication with both the patient and the physician is vital to long-term success and future relationships (which will turn into future patients/customers). Now let’s look at some nontraditional customers many private practice owners don’t think about.
Claims Adjusters, Nurse Case Mangers, Vocational Counselors, Lawyers
All of these customers have the ability to refer patients directly to our practices without a referral or script from a physician. These customers have simple needs and wants. They need their clients to get into therapy as soon as possible. They like consistent communication with the physical therapist and front office staff. They want to know if their clients show up for appointments or cancel/no show. They need to know how the patients are progressing (whether good or bad) and the next steps in the rehabilitation process in order for the patient to get better and return to their normal lives and work. When you keep these referral source customers updated on patient progress this helps them move cases forward. They remember how much easier you made their job and continue to refer. Communicating this information regularly provides a platform for you to establish a long-lasting professional relationship with a loyal referral source customer.
These customers also have the ability to refer patient directly to our practices without a referral or script from a physician. Even better, many employers are self-insured and can pay your bills directly. And, if they aren’t self-insured, they can direct the plan administrator to pay your bills. Employers require one specific thing: communication. They need to know all of the same information as the claims adjusters, nurse case managers, vocational counselors, and lawyers. Are their employees showing up? Are their employees improving? What is needed for their employees to get better? When can the employee return to work? If you can keep these referral source customers happy, they can refer a lot of business to your practice.
How To Nurture these Customer Relationships
After you evaluate a new patient, call the referring physician to give them an update of your findings and recommendations. The more you communicate with them, the better your chances are of establishing a long-lasting relationship. Phone calls go a long way in establishing relationships. Most times, the reports we send are reproduced from our electronic medical records systems filled with a lot of data and information that the referring physician isn’t reading. Sometimes, you need to overwrite the information on the report to make it simple for the referral source to read.
Go through all your current and past patients who are worker’s compensation and gather a list of the claim’s adjusters, nurse case managers, vocational counselors, and lawyers on the file. Call and schedule appointments to visit all of them. Schedule to meet them at their offices or meet them for lunches. Tell them how you can help them and help their injured workers get better and return to work safely without reinjuries.
Attend your local Claims Association meetings, Risk Management Association meetings, Self-Insured Association meetings, etc. These are all good places to find new customers who will refer to your practice.
Make your customers’ lives easier. Although we have usual processes, our customers have needs that don’t always align with those processes (for instance, scheduling within 24 hours—we had to get someone in within 2 hours for a referral source that needed it). Flexibility is vitally important to meet the needs of all of our customers. Our teams need to have some authority to make decisions and break rules to make customers happy. Don’t be so stuck on processes that don’t meet the needs of your customers.
Know what you are doing wrong! Look through patient surveys and what was marked low. Take customer complaints seriously as a way to improve your practice. Make changes based on those complaints quickly in order to improve your service.
Remember, happy customers refer other customers. Communication, flexibility, openness to change, and expanding your definition of customers are keys to success.
Carlos A. Martinez, PT, DPT, is a PPS member and owner of CAM Physical Therapy and Wellness Services LLC. with 4 outpatient locations and servicing 1 skilled nursing facility Maryland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org