gp referrals to specialists

What you always wanted to know about how GPs refer to specialists

For this article, we spoke with Dr Nick Tellis, General Practitioner at Partridge GP in Adelaide. What we wanted to find out is how GP referrals to specialists really work. What motivates a general practitioner to refer to you as a specialist? The takeaway messages from our conversation will help you tune into the needs of the family physician, general practitioner or as Dr Tellis calls them, the specialist-generalist.

gp referrals to specialists

What you always wanted to know about how GPs refer to specialists

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

January 17, 2022

Why it’s time to reinspect GP referrals to specialists

the mechanic of gp referrals

It won’t come as a surprise that times have also changed in this area. Tight-knit local communities where everyone knows one another, have been replaced by a more mobile society and a digital one.

In our fast-paced world, new general practitioners and new specialists move into new suburbs. Online conversations can change the direction of the patient’s choice in a blink.

Referring a patient to you – from the GP’s perspective – is no longer an automated process set to ‘repeat’, dictated by the big book of specialists to choose from and a fax machine.

That is why I wanted to ask the expert. Consultant and general practitioner Dr Nick Tellis has been kind enough to share the ultimate insights in GP referrals to specialists. Nick is an Adelaide-based GP at PartridgeGP.

A new paradigm: see the GP as a specialist-generalist!

referrals from gps

Dr Nick Tellis is highly aware of the referral process because it’s a daily reality of his work at PartridgeGP in Adelaide. When he shares his vision about establishing a new kind of collaboration between general practitioners and surgeons or specialists, I can see how that improves the outcomes for all of us, whenever we need care.
Dr Nick Tellis - PartridgeGP
Dr Nick Tellis - General Practitioner, Adelaide

"The GP is the specialist-generalist and the non-GP specialist is the specialist in their area. When it’s a meeting of equals the outcomes are better."

Nick only refers patients to specialist practices and clinics where they will get equal or better care than they would get from his own team. This quality filter makes sense, as the experience also reflects back on his general practice.

This particular recognition for the specialist-generalist is worth inspecting. There is a higher likelihood of a solid two-way conversation when you – as a specialist – take a genuine interest in the expertise that GPs build over the years. Seeing patterns, dealing with a wide variety of conditions and people of all ages, seeing evolutions over long periods of time. This generalist component is often underestimated and seen by the specialist as a mere triage process. In this new type of relationship between the specialist-generalist and the non-GP-specialist, it becomes so much more.

Doing the right thing by the referrer

following up on gp referrals

The perfect relationship is that meeting of two specialists as we have established with Nick.
Things move better when it’s that meeting of equals, is how he phrased it. And when we talk about things moving, we obviously are in the spectrum of quality follow-up.

Follow up is critical for the patient if a referral gets lost or is not acted upon, the consequences for the patient can be catastrophic. That is why Nick and his team look at the quality of care that is applied by the specialist they refer to.

There is a lot to it when it comes to doing the right thing and hearing Nick talk about this, I detected three categories:

  • Patient care: As a specialist, you establish a healthy, respectful and reliable relationship with the patient who has just been referred to you by the GP.
  • GP relationships: As a specialist, you have an open communication channel with the GP whose patient is sitting in front of you. It doesn’t become a habit to lose time in endless phone tag sessions where the GP ends up talking to a gatekeeper most of the time.
  • Availability: As a private specialist, one of your unique attributes is that you can offer more flexibility compared to someone in the public system. When this is part of the reasons to refer to you, you want to make sure that both the patient and the referring GP truly experience that flexibility.
Gp referrals to specialists

The public system as a provider of last resort

digital marketing to GPs

As a specialist doctor, your continued effort to offer availability, value, personal care and excellent service is your biggest asset.

Dr Nick Tellis is crystal clear about only referring to specialists in private practice.

Dr Nick Tellis - PartridgeGP
Dr Nick Tellis - General Practitioner, Adelaide

""I don’t refer to the public system if I can refer to a private specialist. The public system is fantastic, provides a much-needed service but it doesn’t mean they have to do everything for everyone all the time.

Recently, a Canberra court ordered $184,000 in damages because a GP failed to chase up a referral. Stories about medical negligence where GPs are held responsible for a referral that was not chased up, stir up the debate about what happens after the referral and who is responsible.

As a private specialist, do you clearly communicate how you work together with the local general practitioners in your area? Does your team highlight the importance of these relationships with the specialist-generalist, so patients are reminded of why they chose a private specialist in the first place?

So in summary, how to be the specialist GPs want to refer to?

digital marketing to GPs

Number one: know your stuff and be a great specialist or surgeon. This is not the forum to explain to you what that means.

The other tips and tricks are all related to communication.

  1. There is the vital importance of your online profile as a specialist doctor, to support and stimulate the GP referral process. The GP quickly jumps online to check that you are genuine and maybe to find out who you are if you are not on their list of usual specialists to refer to. This is where your digital profile becomes part of your online networking. If your story is told well and visually compelling, it conveys the vision behind your practice, your why as well as the story of your experience.
  2. That online presence contains options to send a referral in a secure digital way so you can avoid faxes or playing phone tag.
  3. You provide your mobile number to the GP so they can text you or have a quick two-minute conversation when needed.

Taking out the potential friction is what it boils down to. Combined with this meeting of two specialists mindset, we can see amazing synergies happening and in the end, better outcomes for the patient who is the subject of the referral process.

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Need more help with referrals?

digital marketing for gp referrals

We help specialists in private practice set up LinkedIn networking and blogging, build GP-resource sections on their websites or integrate referral forms. Moreover, we can help you with a complete digital marketing strategy to attract more referrals and more direct patient leads. Why not book a free consultation so we can help you grow?

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