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Why hospitals should utilize health IT investments to grow referrals

As today’s healthcare industry continues to shift, providers are constantly grappling with how to attract new physicians in order to grow their referral communities. While most think of targeting consumers first, others agree it is time to shift the focus – to physicians by way of technology. Health IT investments are helping improve both quality and convenience of care and leveraging them could end up benefiting providers in more ways than they ever thought possible.

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Hospitals are using health IT investments to grow physician referrals in communities.

Healthcare reform has led to countless opportunities to reduce costs and improve patient outcomes, and while marketing for the purpose of attracting patients and growing new business may not be as headline-grabbing as other healthcare priorities, it is – or should be – a critical part of a health organization’s growth strategy.  The question becomes – where to focus marketing efforts to achieve the best ROI?  Most think it’s targeting you and me – the consumers of health services but others, including Becker’s Hospital Review and the New York Times emphasize the importance of physician referrals.

Referring physicians can send providers 10-20 patients each year – many who may be “frequent fliers” ‒ patients who use frequent medical services and may prove more valuable and loyal over time than perhaps a patient who sees a billboard and may only use a hospital resource once. Patients have faith in physicians and their recommendations or referral will carry some weight. Knowing that, what can hospitals do to ensure physicians are referring patients to their facility and services over others?

Leverage Technology to Drive New Business Channels

The vast majority of healthcare executives (93%) say technology helps improve both the quality and convenience of care, according to a 2015 healthcare outlook poll. In my career, I’ve seen firsthand how healthcare IT (HIT) directly benefits physicians and the way they practice. HIT can not only influence patient care, physician satisfaction and financial outcomes, it is also used to recruit and retain top talent who are attracted to the efficiencies tech brings.

Top-of-the-line services and quality of care are among the most important factors in a physician’s decision to refer patients to one practice over another. That’s why I recommend healthcare organizations or individual practices leverage HIT innovations to pique the interest of referring physicians and support new business development. And, when you look to the future, patient expectations matter, too, and it’s clear that patients expect information and access they can find outside of healthcare. As we found last year in a Nuance patient survey, technology can be a sign to patients that a physician is staying up-to-date and may include innovations in care.

In summary, leveraging and promoting technologies to build a strong referral base of physicians and hospitals are good for business. But don’t just take my word for it.

Successful Networking in Missouri
In 2013, Children’s Mercy Kansas City implemented Nuance’s PowerShare Image Sharing to enable physicians to view, share and store patients’ medical images quickly and reliably. As the only free-standing children’s hospital between St. Louis and Denver, a cloud-based image exchange was crucial to ensuring efficient delivery of insight and care between its physicians and a large referring community.  In this case, the hospital wanted physicians to be able to see medical images before a patient arrived and evaluate cases from afar to save patients and their families from long unnecessary trips to the hospital. With PowerShare, a cloud-based network, the hospital can do just that.

Children’s Mercy realized image sharing could benefit thousands of others outside its current community of providers, so it began leveraging its success with medical image sharing as a way to grow its referral base. In return, they attracted physicians who wanted to send their patients to the organization for a range of services because of the quality of care and speed of information sharing.

Here’s a look at how the hospital used technology to grow its referral base:

  • Education: To start, Children’s Mercy created a flyer about the benefits of cloud-based medical image sharing for physicians and patients. Then they communicated news of PowerShare Image Sharing to other healthcare organizations and at events in the community.
  • Nurturing Relationships: Children’s Mercy continued to nurture new relationships over time, and provided ongoing education on the benefits to different audiences, including significant reductions in CDs and unnecessary imaging to patients, and the value of physicians being able to evaluate images anywhere, anytime from any device.
  • Tech Innovations: In addition to educating potential referrers, Children’s Mercy also shared ongoing updates on PowerShare’s new and cutting-edge features. According to Shominica Mack, Image Service Center Manager at Children’s Mercy, “By keeping our facility and the community in the know of how to leverage the technology, we built a strong reputation within our referring community.” In fact, since Children’s Mercy began showcasing image sharing technology, the hospital has increased its number of referring providers.

The next time your organization is deciding how to attract new physicians in order to grow referral communities – look no further than the HIT investments right in front of you. This investment could end up benefiting your facility in more ways than ever thought possible.

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