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How Radiologists Can Build Better Relationships with Referrers


Tips for radiologists on creating and improving relationships with referring physicians.

With concerns about the commoditization in radiology, making personal connections and maintaining good relationships with referring doctors can make the difference between your practice getting more patients or those patients going elsewhere.

“It’s probably more important than it’s ever been,” said David Levin, MD, chairman emeritus of the department of radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Levin was lead author on a recently published JACR article on marketing a radiology practice.

With an increasing emphasis on value, radiologists must show that they’re providing high quality care, or they won’t get paid, he said. Referring physicians are also concerned with high quality providers for their referrals. “You can’t ride along on past referral patterns. You have to show your referring physicians that you’re providing high quality care. You can’t just tell them,” he said.

Here are some ways to build better relationships with referring physicians.

Be Service Oriented
Report and study quality is important, but so is service. “[Referrers] are getting busier and busier, so service has to be impeccable,” said Arl Van Moore, Jr, MD, chairman of Strategic Radiology, a consortium of large radiology practices. Part of that service is also helping referring physicians manage resources appropriately, including appropriateness criteria. When a physician calls with a question, use that as an educational opportunity. Also important is turnaround time, whether a physician requests routine reports or the radiologist uncovers an unexpected finding.

Service is important for patients too, they want a positive experience. If the patient is happy with the experience, they may return to your practice instead of finding a different one. If the experience is negative, though, that can impact the physician relationship as well, even if you have a great relationship with the referrer, said Moore. “You need to work on all fronts to preserve a relationship.”

Consultant of the Day
Combine service and education by offering referring physicians access to a consultant of the day in each radiology department section, and make them immediately available to answer questions. Publicize the subspecialist’s phone number at the hospital or in a newsletter. The assigned radiologists sit at those work stations that day. The subspecialists will then provide help to referring physicians while also doing their daily work. In Levin’s experience, “there’s not that many interruptions during the day. That consultant is actually reading cases.” The upside is that referring doctors always know there’s someone available to help, and it’s a way to build good will.

Take Over Imaging Care
Levin suggests that radiology offices do more than just the actual imaging and reading. Take the burden off referring physicians by reminding patients to follow up with additional or routine imaging.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"60154","attributes":{"alt":"Referring providers relationships","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_9394416601653","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"7572","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 200px; width: 200px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©attem/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

“If the patient needs follow-up imaging for a lung nodule or mass in the liver, or follow-up care after treatment, we’ve traditionally left that up to the referring physician to take care of,” Levin said. “If we’re saying we’re physicians who are involved in the care of patients, we ought to take over the care. Instead of relying on the referring physician to get the patient back in. That’s one less thing they need to worry about.” Of course, radiologists might want to get buy-in from the treating doctors first.

This is already commonly done in some areas of radiology. “It’s becoming a tradition in breast imaging. We send ]patients] reminders,” Levin said. Reminders are also a helpful service to patients so they don’t forget about their upcoming appointments. “When I make appointments with the dentist, I get emails, I get reminded daily before the appointment. That type of computer program is readily available. If the dentists have that, the radiologists can get that too,” he said.

Provide CME
Lunch and learn sessions are only so helpful when time is at a premium. Providing referring physicians – and physician extenders – education tied to CME  is a better use of time, said Levin. Don’t forget to include nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who are increasingly ordering more studies these days, and need radiology education too. The purpose of the CME lectures, said Levin, is not to teach them how to read images, but educate them on how to order images properly. The course can focus on the indications for various types of studies. This type of program does require some upfront work to get accreditation standing, but Levin said it’s not difficult to do.

Hospital Committees
A great way to develop and improve relationships with referring physicians is by participating in hospital committees. “A lot of the referring physicians are on these committees,” Levin said. “By participating, you’re showing you’re concerned and want to make the hospital as good as it can be.”

Newsletters are a good marketing tool for both patients and physicians, and you don’t want to give them the same one. The physician newsletter can let referring physicians know what’s happening in the department, including new procedures they’re doing, quality measures they’re tracking, how they’re reducing radiation exposure, and news about accreditation by the ACR and other accrediting bodies. Of course, patients want to know about these things too, and both newsletters are good ways to promote the department’s subspecialty expertise.

“I’m a believer in having a photograph and bio sketch of every radiologist in the department, broken down by subspecialty,” Levin said. That includes where they went to medical school and got their training, and specialty interests. In addition to sharing this in the newsletter, it should also be on the website and in the waiting room.

A good website is important to both patients and referring physicians. After all, referring physicians may want to know more about the practice they’re sending patients to. It’s for patients and referrers to know what insurance plans are accepted by the radiology practice. Patients will be happy if they can schedule their imaging studies quickly and easily, find parking information, and get information on different types of studies. And that reflects well on the radiology practice.

Referring Physician Survey
Customer satisfaction studies can tell a radiology office what they’re doing well and what needs improvement. But radiologists can also poll their referring peers. Levin recommends sending out an annual survey to referring physicians. “Referring physicians appreciate that. It shows the radiology practice is interested in their opinions,” Levin said. In the survey, ask whether the referring doctors are happy with the radiology service provided, and if not, what some of their complaints are. Ask how the radiology providers can give the ordering physicians better service. Other issues to cover might include the reports’ timeliness and quality, the radiologists’ perceived willingness to provide consultations, availability of online access to reports, and ease of scheduling. With the future mandate for use of clinical decision support, the radiology office can ask how well CDS is working. Both Moore and Levin said that their practices send out these surveys and they get good responses.

Whether you’re looking for new referral sources, or hoping to maintain or increase referrals from existing doctors, paying attention to more than just the radiology work can pay big dividends.

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