As in many industries, it is often not about what you know, it’s about who you know, optics isn’t any different.  As a healthcare provider, it is important that you build a foundation of supporting and specialist providers that you can refer your patients to if their care is outside your scope of practice.  This may include; therapeutic optometrists, paediatric optometrists, ophthalmologists, behavioural optometrists, laser eye surgeons, specialists in macular degeneration, cataracts, or glaucoma, the list goes on.  Depending on your demographic of patients and what your practice has the capability in any or all of the above, it is best to have some go-to’s that you can draw on when your patients need them. 

We have laid out some tips on how to get started on a referral network and how to maintain it for long-term healthy referrer/provider relationships.

How to get started?

Simply put the answer to this is purely networking.  Love it or loathe it, networking is the best way to get your referral list started or expand on one you have already established.  There are many ways to go about this.  Firstly, we encourage you to do your research.  Work out who’s who in the zoo and create a bit of a shortlist of people/businesses you wish to target to be in your network.  If you have quality business relationships with other independent optometrists in your region, it can be a great start by enquiring who they refer to for various optical presentations.  Beyond this there are many ways you can go about networking, these include but are certainly not limited to, attending events such as conferences and education forums, directly approaching providers via email, phone, or letter, speaking with your trusted suppliers, and of course through reaching out to others in our nation-wide network of likeminded independent businesses.

Maintaining your relationships

It is not every day you will need to refer someone to another provider for further care, in fact, some weeks or months you may not need to do this at all.  This, however, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be in regular contact with these providers.  There are simple ways you can keep in contact with your referral network, an easy one is an annual Christmas card or small gift to the provider or business recognising them for the important work they do for your patients.  Another way is to inform your referral partners of relevant practice updates and news, a simple bi-annual newsletter can be the perfect way to do this.  The key here is finding the right balance, we are all busy in this field, so it is a fine line between communicating for the sake of it and taking up valuable time and communicating with a meaningful and relevant purpose. 

Gain feedback

Your patients are your best port of call for feedback on the quality of the services your further care providers are supplying.  The easiest way to achieve this is to simply ask.  This will benefit you in more ways than one, it will assist you in building a rapport with your patients as they will feel cared for and valued, and it will give a unique insight into the service and experience that your referral partners are providing.  These insights are invaluable and allow you to ensure that the services you are aligned with match up with your business values.  Patient satisfaction is important not only for their well-being, but also helps you in the long-term when it comes to retention of patients. A happy patient is a return patient and that is always the goal.

At the end of the day, the key to having a well-resourced referral network is to put in some effort, and a little can go a long way.  Do your research thoroughly, select appropriate providers that align with your core business values, approach providers with a distinct plan so that you aren’t wasting their time, and maintain those relationships by keeping communication lines open.  Remembering that businesses and providers evolve over time, this may mean that you strengthen your bond with a provider, or you may find they are no longer suited to you, but it is important to stay engaged and listen to your patient’s feedback on their experiences to make informed decisions in this space. 

If you are new to this and are feeling overwhelmed, we would strongly encourage you to reach out to this community for support and guidance, there is a wealth of knowledge that is just there ready and waiting to assist. 

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