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April 25, 2024

How to Maximize Patient Volume by Leveraging Data and Physician Referral Networks

Mike Slusarz

In my previous article, I discussed the foundation for building a successful physician referral network to increase patient volume and market share. In this article, I walk through how to use market segmentation strategies with first and third-party data to significantly enhance the effectiveness and return on investment in your referral network.   


Understanding the Market through Data 

The initial step in segmenting the market for medical practices involves collecting and analyzing data. First-party data includes information your practice already has, such as patient demographics, and referral history. Third-party data, alternatively, is sourced from healthcare databases or partner organizations. It offers insights into larger patterns, such as where patients are being referred to most frequently and the specialties of high-referring doctors. By merging and cross-referencing this data, practices can gain a better understanding of which doctors are referring patients to their practice or elsewhere. 


Geographic Focusing 

Identifying the right referral doctors, in the right areas, is crucial. For example, if your practice specializes in orthopedics, you might want to target primary care physicians within a 20-mile radius who frequently refer patients needing specialized orthopedic care. Geographic data helps identify where potential referral doctors are located, and where a significant number of potential patients who might benefit from specialized care, reside. 


Segmenting Doctors: Loyalists, Splitters, Phantoms, and New 

Once potential referral doctors are identified, the next step is to segment them into four categories: Loyalists, Splitters, Phantoms, and New. Here’s how you can approach each segment: 

  • Loyalists: Doctors who regularly refer patients to your practice. Strengthening relationships with your loyalists involves providing regular updates about your practice, patient care feedback on treatments, and streamlined communication channels to ensure the continuation of a steady stream of referrals. 
  • Splitters: Doctors who refer patients to you but also to other specialists. Understanding the needs and preferences of splitters can help tailor your communications and services to encourage more referrals. One-on-one meetings, social events and follow-up discussions can provide insights into what these doctors value in patient care.
  • Phantoms: Doctors who have stopped referring patients to your practice, or have never referred despite potential alignments, fall into this category. Identifying barriers, whether they are service-related, geographical, or interpersonal, can help rekindle these relationships. Outreach efforts might include educational seminars that showcase your practice’s capabilities and successes.
  • New: New doctors in the area or those who have recently started their practice present fresh opportunities. An introductory meeting, combined with regular communication, can help establish a strong initial relationship. Offering support and resources to new doctors as they build their practice can create a foundation for future referrals. 


Data-Driven Strategy Implementation 

Implementing a data-driven strategy requires a consistent effort in monitoring and responding to the data trends and the dynamics of your segmented doctor groups. Regular analysis of referral patterns, patient feedback, and regional healthcare trends can guide adjustments in your approach.

By effectively segmenting the market and focusing on the development of relationships with different types of referral doctors, practices can not only increase their patient volume, but also improve the quality of care and patient satisfaction. As your network grows and evolves, adapting insights gained from both first and third-party data will ensure that your referral network remains strong.


Case Study: Boosting Market Share for a Regional Orthopedic Group 

Faced with declining market share in a competitive landscape, a large regional orthopedic group sought to reverse the trend of losing patients to a nationally renowned competitor. 

To address this, we initiated a physician relations program aimed at enhancing market share and developing a robust referral network. The program kicked off with a detailed first and third-party data analysis.

The analysis revealed that 55% of primary care doctors were loyal to our client, while 40% were split between providers, and 5% were newcomers to the market. Notably, 90% of the referrals from splitters went to the competing group.

Armed with this insight, we focused on key “splitter” doctors based on factors like location, referral volume, and prior relationships. We also proactively engaged new primary care physicians to establish and strengthen connections.

The impact was significant. Within just twelve months, our efforts shifted 10% of the market share back to our client from their competitor, translating to over 70 new patients.


Next Steps

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Mike Slusarz
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Mike Slusarz is a seasoned healthcare marketing professional with 30+ years expertise in brand management, strategic planning, digital marketing, physician relations and corporate communications. As former VP of Marketing & Brand Strategy at Barnabas Health for 25+ years, leading the marketing operations for seven acute care hospitals, three cardiac surgery centers, four of NJ’s largest teaching hospitals and over 700 medical practices.

Mike’s leadership spans Cape Regional Health System, PRISM Vision Group, and the Marathon Group, his award-winning agency. A former President of the Health Care Planning & Marketing Society of New Jersey, he also teaches at Temple University.

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