Improve physician referrals: 7 fundamental tips

Physicians are the lifeblood of any ambulatory surgery center. They are the source of the high-quality care that ASCs pride themselves on being able to provide. They are also the primary source of growing a center's patient base.

"If you rely on a handful of physicians to support the ASC then you will eventually be scrambling to recruit new talent while the ship is quickly Kathy Kellysinking," says Kathy Kelly, RN, MSN, CNOR, administrator at Viewmont Surgery Center in Hickory, N.C. "Continual focus on physician referrals along with growth is essential to keep the facility strong and growing."

Here are seven tips for improving physician referrals, and thereby growing patient volume:

Mark Babin1. Data speaks louder than words, put it to use. Publishing quality data is an effective way to attract physicians to your surgery center, says Mark Babin, vice president of development at ASD Management. Show them why your center is the place they need to come to perform procedures. "This is one of the major areas of growth in the industry just now," he adds. "Especially with the advancements with surgical techniques and procedures, such as total hip and total knee."

2. Remember that the customer is king. Every ASC is in direct competition with every other ASC in its market for physician referrals. Physicians are essentially customers that ASCs, like any other business, are trying to attract. However, it is possible to win over physicians performing cases at other ASCs if they do not have an ownership stake in the center. "Offer them block time, equipment that they want, staff that they need," says Mr. Babin. "You must know your market and base the incentives offered at your center on what your competitors are not offering."

It is important for credentialed physicians to be performing procedures regularly at your center. If they are not owners at your center, their satisfaction needs to be a priority.

3. Establish the right relationships. It is important that administrators know and establish a good relationship with the administrators in physician groups and practices, according to Ms. Kelly.

"This has enabled us to meet new physicians who are being interviewed and even offer them a tour of the ASC as an option for the new recruits to perform their outpatient surgeries," she says. Ms. Kelly adds that on the tours she highlights efficiency, low staff turnover and the time and cost savings for everyone.

4. Consider different payment models. Going out-of-network is still a viable model for an ASC, says Mr. Babin. Also, be sure to properly contract with the health plan in the market. This includes not only reimbursement by CPT code but also making sure carve outs are administered where appropriate so a fair and equitable value for the procedure is recognized. Health plans seldom if ever contract for specific specialties, he notes.

"It's  difficult to administer for the payer but if your center does a majority of cases with one or two specialties that, under the plan, have good reimbursement relative to the cost, a blanket contract may be worthwhile," says Mr. Babin.

5. Communicate with your current physician team. "Keep in constant communication with your existing physicians because they can provide you with information that is key in identifying new physicians or even what's going on elsewhere," says Ms. Kelly.

Your current physician staff can also help you find the right time to approach physicians who have never performed cases at an ASC. Some physicians are more comfortable in the hospitals because they haven't tried practicing at an ASC. "It is very difficult to convince these physicians to step out of their comfort zone, but it’s all about timing," says Ms. Kelly. "If you can figure out a time when the physician is disgruntled with the hospital, then that is the time for you to step in and flaunt the ASC and all its perks to entice the physician to give you a chance."

Also, frequent open, honest and direct communication with physicians develops a true sense of ownership that in turn creates powerful physician engagement and support, she says.  

6. Ensure that business office operations are efficient and timely. Make sure your collections are timely and that your accounts receivable does not drag on for months. This will encourage physicians to bring more cases to your center and perhaps even attract new physicians, says Mr. Babin.

7. Prepare comprehensively for a new physician's arrival. Make sure you have any supplies that a newly recruited physician may need, particularly if the new physician is also adding a new specialty to the center. "If you need to invest in new technology or bring in new surgical techs and staff, make sure you have everything ready for a new physician," he says. But it is very important to set the expectation that the specific equipment, instruments or implants desired may be cost prohibitive.

Additionally, it is important that administrators understand that increasing volume doesn't necessarily translate into an increase in the bottom line, adds Mr. Babin. It may take some time for all the pieces to come together for recruiting a new physician. "Also, you may get a physician who is not a good fit or a good cultural match," he adds. It is critical to monitor new physicians to ensure they fit into the team.

More articles on ASCs:

Reshaping adversarial relationships into partnerships: How payers are heading to the ASC team
5 key changes in CMS guidance for ASC surveyors
Baptist Health proposes surgery center, urgent care center in Florida

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