referral pathways

Understanding referral pathways in Instagram times

Referral pathways from general practitioners to specialist doctors have changed. There is a new actor and it’s the one that also interrupts dinner conversations, social interaction on a train, or coffee with a friend: the smartphone. 

referral pathways

Understanding referral pathways in Instagram times

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

September 2, 2022

Why some referrals have no value at all

GP referrals

When we coach specialist doctors to put their marketing hat on and build a strong private practice, we often bump into the GP referrals myth. The myth consists of believing that your private practice only needs these referrals and can ignore smartphones, laptops, tablets, Google, and social media altogether. Because it has always been possible. 

It may no longer be. Referrals don’t need to be made out to a certain specialist. And, a referral from a general practitioner to a specialist lasts 12 months, which is plenty of time in elective circumstances with lots of choices.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"The painful truth is that many of your referrals have no value if you don’t have the online authority to convert the lead. Because that’s what it is, in ordinary sales terms. A lukewarm lead, nothing more than that!"

GP referrals used to be hot leads, to stick to our sales and marketing metaphor when there was no digital. Why? Because patients trusted the GP even more back then. Because the authority came with the fact that this professional (the GP) knew what needed to happen. There was no way you would do your own research and doubt this professional’s opinion. 

Nowadays, most referrals lose their significance as soon as the patient takes out their smartphone and goes to Google. So let’s look at what that means for your authority, your status, your credibility, and your ability to attract the right volume of GP referrals.

The best way to add authority to GP referrals

authority as a doctor

We now know that your referrals don’t automatically drive the patient into your waiting room. Even if the referral is digital, has your name on it, and comes from the best possible intention on the GP’s side, there is a new level of patient freedom. And leading specialists or surgeons know how to handle it. 

The trick is to inspect your reputation and authority as a doctor. Not just as you walk through a hospital corridor or sit in your consultation room.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"Your authority as a doctor starts when a patient does a Google search for symptoms that are relevant to your specialty. Do you show up? And how? And how often? And what does this content do for your patient? Those are the hard questions to ask yourself."

The digital authority you convey is not a quick-and-dirty job you outsource to a student. Just like you don’t hand over the surgical scalpel to an unqualified intern on a Friday afternoon. If you want to make sure your authority extends to the digital realm, become a master at unpacking the patient journey and the way all this googling is now heavily affecting the way patients look at their GP referrals.

What happens when patients get a referral?

patient journey

Anne sees her GP for pressure in the womb area, pain, iron deficiency and frequent urination. The GP mentions the possibility of fibroids and reassures Anne that in most cases, this is a benign condition. The GP still suggests seeing a gynaecologist and asks if Anne has a regular gynaecologist she is seeing. When this appears not to be the case, the GP writes a referral to the gynaecologist she met last month at a women’s health conference.

Wait a minute. In the patient journey until now, everything seems to be going just the way it was going 10 years ago, right? You might recognise yourself and count on this type of referral to just keep coming.]

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"Why is it that so many specialists feel that their flow of GP referrals is under pressure? What element of referral pathways are we missing? It turns out that over 50% of patients start spending a lot of time on Google after they have seen their GP for a medical condition."

The referral pathway and the patient journey are impacted simply because we now all carry a device that offers 24/7 access to seemingly unlimited volumes of information. 

Anne starts Googling as soon as she leaves the GP practice. Symptoms of fibroids. Risks of fibroids. Treatment for fibroids. What are fibroids? What causes fibroids? Are fibroids cancerous? Can I get pregnant with fibroids? Alternative treatment for fibroids. Quite soon Anne starts clicking through on search results and ends up following a gynaecologist who happens to do an Instagram live video with Q&A time about fibroids.

Do you see what is happening here? The referral is one player. The trust, rapport and information exchange after the GP consultation are all adding emotional layers and…Anne has complete freedom to go and see the gynaecologist that she prefers.

Here’s what leading doctors do to grow

developing a private practice

Developing a strong private practice is about influencing the referral pathway. 

It has become about so much more than attending GP events and displaying expertise.

It has become a human skill. Connect first, build rapport and then build authority. Many doctors are stuck in the olden days when authority was big enough as a magnet to attract work.

The simple fact that you have regular live videos on Instagram about your niche, will drive extra traffic to your online presence and to your private practice. Developing a private practice surely starts with your qualifications and experience, that’s a fact.

But immediately after that, it also starts with your online presence and your ability to use these new communication channels to your benefit.

referral pathways

The one thing to remember: content is king

content strategy

Content strategy is a relatively new word and I assume you did not hear it being mentioned often in Medical School or during your Fellowship. 

Content strategies are about showing up when patients are doing their research. We know they do, and here at Digital Practice, we have been mapping patient search behaviour for almost any medical specialty area in full detail since 2016. The data gives us an insight in the content patients are googling for.

If your content strategy is not based on ongoing monthly work, inspecting how competitive your pages are and adding more pages or blogs…then there is room for improvement to influence the referral pathways of your future patients. And to be the leading specialist.

referral pathways
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compliant marketing techniques

We are all about effective and fully compliant marketing techniques. Here in Australia, your medical communication needs to comply with the AHPRA Advertising Guidelines for Healthcare Professionals. Because we mostly work with specialist doctors in private practice, we integrate these guidelines into every step of your strategy. If you are looking to become more influential in the referral pathways for your ideal patients, book a Strategy Session here

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