In my 20-year career as a veterinarian, I've worked in general practice, specialty/referral practice, and emergency practice. This experience has given me the ability to look at veterinary practice through multiple different lenses. One of the things that I've noticed is that there is still a big communication gap between ER/Specialty practices and general practices. What's the most common complaint that GPs have about ER/Specialty practices? You guessed it....communication. While both sides can do more to improve communication, I believe the burden lies more with ER/Specialty practices. In the relationship between general practitioners and specialists (and I'll include emergency hospitals as specialists for the purposes of this post), the general practitioner is the customer. They are the ones who make or break your practice, and in the increasingly competitive market for referral cases, losing one or two of your referring veterinary practices can have a huge negative impact on your practice.
So here are three ways specialists can improve communication with their referring veterinarian partners: 3 things NOT to do!
1. "Don't keep me in the dark."
I know of a few specialty hospitals to take the time to let a referring veterinarian know when a patient of theirs has checked in. Obviously this isn't helpful if your office is closed, but even an email is a kind gesture of collegiality: "We just wanted you to know that "Fluffy" Smith just arrived for her consultation. We appreciate your referral and will send you a copy of all our records as soon as they are ready. Please call with any questions or comments about this or any other patient we've seen. Thanks again!" That's all it takes.....and it can even be automated.
2. "Don't make me work too hard."
The process of referring a patient is terribly inefficient and makes the pet owner, specialist and referring veterinarian work far too hard to make the appointment happen. Put yourself in the shoes of one of your referring veterinarians when they hear a murmur in a cat. They have to explain what a murmur is, answer the owners' questions and impart the appropriate level of concern. Specialists rely on brochures and business cards as in-office collateral for referring veterinarians to hand out to pet owners in this situation, but the ugly truth is that they seem to be perennially "out" of such collateral, and in the heat of a busy office environment, nobody remembers to call the specialist for more brochures. So now I'm hunting around for a brochure, with 2 other exam rooms full of appointments that I'm already late for, and how am I supposed to get this client into your office? How hard are you going to make me work to send you $700 worth of business? At VitusVet we've developed a "one-click referral" process that helps your referring veterinarians not only handle the referral process in an instant, but also get you the information you need to convert more referrals into appointments.
3. "Don't make me look bad."
One of the simplest things you can do as a specialist to keep me happy (and the referrals coming) is to provide me a copy of my patients' records on time, every time. Many patients get discharged from specialty hospitals with instructions to go to their regular veterinarian for a recheck within 24 hours. How do you think it makes me look if that client arrives for a recheck but your records are nowhere to be found? Bad, that's how it makes me look. I can try and explain it away as "They're busy" or "We didn't get the fax" but it all rings really hollow to that client who just spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars at the specialty hospital that I sent them to. Pick up the phone periodically and check in with the owners of your referring hospitals. Are they happy with the communication you're getting? Don't assume that no news is good news!
Between rising costs and increased competition (especially from mobile specialists), it's getting tougher to be in specialty practice. General practitioners have more and more choices when it comes to where to send their referral patients, so make sure and differentiate yourself from the competitiion on communication. If my client comes out of a specialty hospital THRILLED with the care and communication they've received, that glow rubs off on me. You've made my life easier and, most importantly, helped me provide the best care possible for my patient.
Request a demo to see how VitusVet can help you improve communication AND increase referrals!