In the pre-internet age, word-of-mouth referrals were the most common way doctors would attract new patients. In a sense, some of that hasn’t changed in the years since: 55% of patients rely on referrals from acquaintances or existing healthcare providers. But the patient journey from that initial referral to the doctor’s office has changed dramatically over the years, and referral leakage is becoming increasingly problematic for healthcare providers.
What does “referral leakage” mean?
Referral leakage is when a prospective patient has been recommended to your practice but ultimately decides not to follow through with booking — and keeping — an appointment.
Even after a patient has been referred, 81% will research the doctor online to find out more information about the physician and their practice. This is a critical point in the patient journey, where referrals are at huge risk of dropping off. Outlined below are the four primary causes of referral leakage. Fortunately, they are all within a provider’s control.
1. You have a weak online presence
How do you look when patients search for you online? Is there enough information about you? Are your listings accurate? Do you have positive reviews, and are they recent? Do you have a professional headshot and photos of your office? If your presence is scarce across the web, you’re losing a significant share of referrals. A staggering 90% of referred patients will choose another doctor if you have a weak online presence. A prominent online presence legitimizes your practice and validates patients’ search.
>> Related: Check your online presence score
It’s not just your own website. Today, your online presence is omnichannel, encompassing the myriad directories, third-party review sites, social media channels, and other destinations that patients use to inform their healthcare-related decisions. Providers need to have a stellar online presence to attract new patients and win over referrals.
2. Your online reputation is poor (or nonexistent)
Word-of-mouth referrals must be backed by a positive online reputation. A large majority of prospective patients read online reviews and consider doctor ratings before booking an appointment. In fact, 2016 marked the first year that the use of ratings sites — like Google My Business, Yelp, and Healthgrades — surpassed word-of-mouth referrals. And this is a trend that’s not going anywhere.
According to Doctor.com proprietary research, 60% of patients have chosen one provider over another due to their online reputation. And 88% of prospective patients would change their mind about seeing a referred healthcare provider with an online rating under than three stars! Doctors must accept that online reviews aren’t going anywhere and learn to harness the power of patient reviews to grow a successful practice.
3. Competitors have hijacked your profiles
Beware the competitors coming for you! Even if you’ve beefed up your online presence, complete with rave patient reviews, digitally savvy competitors can gain the edge by advertising on your profiles, which contributes to referral leakage.
Flip the script on them. By taking advantage of premium listings, you can remove competitor ads from your profiles on leading sites like Healthgrades, Wellness, and Vitals as well as bump your profile to the top of these sites and even advertise on others’ profiles. (We call this the “competitor conquest.”)
4. The booking process is too difficult
Don’t complicate things for patients once they’ve made the decision to schedule an appointment! Today, 45% of patients prefer to make appointments online, and a third of them are scheduled after business hours. And these numbers continue to grow as more practices incorporate online scheduling and appointment requests into front-end office operations.
Online scheduling extends your office hours 24/7. Patients can book appointments with you on their terms, not just when your receptionist is free to answer the phone. Don’t deter prospective patients by limiting their booking options to archaic methods. Adopt the digital tools that make the process of locking down an appointment slot as easy and seamless as possible.
Reduce referral leakage
Referrals are just a jumping-off point. There’s no guarantee that a referred patient will follow through with making an appointment. Practices that are out of step with the modern patient journey will continue to bleed referrals. And they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to grow their practice.
But by establishing a strong online presence, capitalizing on patient reviews to improve your online reputation, reclaiming your profiles, and enabling online scheduling and appointment requests, healthcare providers can largely eliminate patient leakage.
Plus, Doctor.com makes it easy! Read about our solutions to see how we can do all of the above — and more.