How 6 spine surgeons are upping their patient referral game

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A growing number of patients are using online platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Youtube to seek out healthcare providers, which presents a key opportunity for surgeons to expand their patient base. 

Six spine surgeons discuss how they plan to increase patient referrals at their practices

Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. Becker's invites all spine surgeon and specialist responses.

Next week's question: What spine technology do you think promised more than it delivered? What can the healthcare industry learn from this?

Please send responses to Alan Condon at acondon@beckershealthcare.com by 5 p.m. CST Wednesday, Nov. 24.

Editor's note: The following responses were lightly edited for style and clarity.

Question: What recent strategies have you implemented to boost patient referrals?

Brian Gantwerker, MD. The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: I have worked on keeping my current referrals by doing meticulous follow-up with my usual physicians. In terms of new patient referrals, we rely mostly on word of mouth. It is difficult in the era of shrinking reimbursements to allot any significant money to campaigns with minimal return on investment. Keep your patients happy, watch your reviews and always look to improve the in-office experience.

Vijay Yanamadala, MD. Hartford (Conn.) HealthCare: A combination of fostering relationships with referring providers, including primary care physicians, pain management physicians and physical therapists, and direct to patient marketing creates opportunities to diversify referral streams for surgeons today. This has been my strategy to boost patient referrals.

The hallmark of direct-to-patient marketing is having a good website that showcases a surgeon's background, philosophy, example surgeries and patient reviews. Google business pages are an essential component that can direct patients to your practice and website. Search engine optimization strategies are important in maximizing the visibility of both surgeon's websites as well as Google business pages. Additionally, in an era of increasing social media presence, the importance of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as patient sources cannot be underestimated. I have connected to a number of patients through a professional Facebook page, which has allowed me to communicate with and obtain new patients.

Ultimately, while these digital strategies are extremely powerful, direct connection with referring providers remains an extremely important mechanism to boost patient referrals, particularly referrals that are likely to be of higher surgical yield. Referring providers want to meet surgeons face-to-face and want to understand that they will be sending their patients to a surgeon who will truly take care of their patient, who will spend time, make coordinated care decisions and avoid potentially unnecessary surgeries. 

Alok Sharan, MD. NJ Spine and Wellness (East Brunswick, N.J.): We are seeing that more patients are going online to seek information. Beyond the traditional Google search, patients are looking for information on Youtube and social media. Not only do these channels provide information and knowledge, but they also allow patients to determine if they can trust the physician.

I recently performed a telehealth visit for a patient from Northwest Washington. He saw a lecture I had given on Youtube. From that, he determined that he could trust me and wanted to seek my opinion on what care path he should follow to manage his herniated disc. Increasingly, we will see more of that from patients. As a result, we are creating more robust videos, which are certainly yielding more patient referrals for us.

Issada Thongtrangan, MD. Microspine (Scottsdale, Ariz.): My main referrals are direct consumers via Google ads and social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, etc. I also connect with other professionals and healthcare providers via LinkedIn. Mainly, I share with them and educate them so they know their options and how my approach will benefit them more than some others. I am also planning to connect with more patients via online webinars in 2022.  

Christian Zimmerman, MD. Saint Alphonsus Medical Group and SAHS Neuroscience Institute (Boise, Idaho): Our parent institution has supported and sustained a culture of patient engagement by utilizing patient interaction, referring physician involvement, health coverage assists, subspecialty care excellence and patient gratitude. If you couple these fundamentals with care provisions for all folks, the result is a health system regionally and nationally caring for large numbers and extended referral patterns.

The recent COVID surges have pushed clinic openings in this area for first-time referrals to April of 2022. Deductible season for most surgical specialties most likely will not be met in its usual timely fashion. Implementing strategies of availability and affability remain.   

Todd Lanman, MD. Lanman Spinal Neurosurgery and Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center (Beverly Hills, Calif.): We implemented several strategic initiatives to meet the growing demand of patients seeking to resolve their chronic neck and back pain and empower them to regain control of their lives by restoring their motion, preserving their mobility and improving their overall quality of life. 

This spring we launched the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center in Los Angeles, which has recently expanded to offer our minimally invasive, advanced surgery solutions to candidates throughout Florida, in places like Palm Beach, Tampa and Miami, as well as in other cities in the coming months, including Austin, Texas.

We're also continuously enrolling patients who may be proper candidates for motion-preserving alternatives to spinal fusion, including restorative motion surgery, as well as in a number of clinical research trials.

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