The Other Social Network: What Recent Research Tells Us about Physician Referrals—and What It Means to Your Revenue Goals

March 23, 2015

By Moses Hohman

Moses_ed1_1400 croppedMuch has been made in health care marketing circles of the need to embrace the social media revolution. “Go where the patients are,” conventional wisdom tells us, and where they are is on online social networks. Just last month the Pew Research Center came out with the latest user statistics on Facebook: 71% of online US adults use the service, and of those, 70% use it daily. Multiply the two together, and that’s half of all online adults in the US using the same social networking site, every day.

As impressive as that is, another kind of social network has an even bigger impact on health care: the referral network that connects physicians. Though it’s in vogue to focus on the effect online information has on health care consumers, studies show consumers choose a physician based on another physician’s referral or recommendation 68% of the time. Compare this to the fact that consumers choose 8% of the time based on information they find online, and Facebook’s big numbers begin to seem less relevant.

Physician Referral is Social

Is “social” an appropriate term for physician referral networks? Consider the following.

In our work at Human Practice, my team spends a lot of time talking with physicians about how they find new referral options. Most often, physicians tell us about social interactions. They meet other physicians face to face at hospital networking events, or when another physician visits their practice. They ask colleagues for recommendations (“Who do you refer to for urology?”), and the information shared is often simply a name. The source of the recommendation—who is saying that “Dr. Smith” is a great urologist—is what matters most.

When we recently spoke with Linda Blue, Manager of Physician Liaisons at Baylor University Medical Center, she underscored how important in-person interactions are for building physician relationships. “Practices are so appreciative when another physician takes time away from the operating room, or from administrative or speaking engagements, to meet with them. It opens so many doors.”

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