By Ronald P. Snyder, OD, FAAO
March 8, 2023
Referral networks are essential to ensuring your patients receive all the care they need, and to increasing your chances of building a strong, profitable practice. Your goal should be to build a referral network that is solid and reciprocal. Over the course of my decades-long career, I successfully built referral networks with many other optometrists, ophthalmologists (OMDs) and primary care providers (PCPs).
The key to building relationships with all three of these disciplines starts with Direct Secure Messaging. Here is how to use this technology to create referral networks that will elevate care and create a stronger practice.
Direct Secure Messaging works similarly to e-mail. The first step is to contact your EHR vendor and request that they turn on your Direct Secure Messaging, which is already included in your “certified” EHR. Once activated, you will receive a Direct address, which again is similar to an e-mail address.
Direct Secure Messaging will allow you to communicate with other healthcare professionals in a secure manner. Direct Secure Messaging is strongly preferable to faxing because your reports will be embedded in the receiving practitioners’ workflow.
Building a Referral Network with Another OD in Your Community
Your first step is to establish a rapport by calling the optometrist and asking if you can visit their office. If time permits, take them to lunch. Start by asking questions about their background, family, hobbies and then inquire as to their practice specialties.
You might learn, for example, that they do not treat dry eye or do not fit scleral or Ortho-K lenses. The door is now open for you to talk about the services that you can provide to their patients. You need to assure them that you will send timely reports via Direct Secure Messaging. It is especially important that you assure them that your office will not provide any other services to their referred patients.
Building a Referral Network with an OMD in Your Community
We all know those OMDs in our communities who have stellar reputations for excellent surgical outcomes. To initiate a relationship with an OMD, I recommend that you refer a cataract patient to them. Call the office to make the referral and request their Direct address. Explain that you would like to co-manage the patient and emphasize that you will forward timely post-op reports by Direct Secure Message. This will improve the surgeons’ MIPS scores, which will result in an increase in payor reimbursement to them. To further enhance your rapport, I recommend that you ask if you can observe your patients’ surgery.
Building a Rapport with a Primary Care Physician
Since most PCPs are too busy to take a call from you, I recommend that you ask to speak with the office manager. Explain that you are interested in a referral relationship, especially for diabetic patients. Tell the office manager that you specialize in diabetic eye exams, which are critical to rule out sight-threatening diabetic retinopathies.
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You might want to mention your new OCT, if you happen to have one, which measures the avascular zone in the macular. This instrument can help detect diabetes 2-3 years before we observe clinical changes in the retina. Let the office manager know that you would like to become part of the patients’ care team to help lower their patients’ HbA1c.
Most importantly, request their Direct address and stress that you will send timely reports via Direct Secure Messaging.