The fourth quarter is quickly approaching, and soon, administrators in long-term care will be developing their marketing plans for next year. If you’re in this position, now is the time to evaluate the health of your referral relationships. In fact, it’s the most important factor for you to examine as you create next year’s marketing plan.
Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and home healthcare agencies receive most of their referrals from healthcare entities, whereas assisted living facilities (ALFs) receive a significant percentage of inquiries from professional referral sources, both in healthcare and others areas, such as elder law attorneys and geriatric care managers. In my experience with ALFs, professional referrals convert at twice the rate of other classes of inquiries, such as advertising, site and signage and word of mouth, so healthy relationships are important. Here are three steps to help you improve or solidify your standing.
1. Evaluate trends
Start your appraisal by looking for trends in the number of referrals you receive from each source. If you have been maintaining a referral log—that’s a best practice, so if you aren’t doing it now, plan to start—you will be able to break down this information by month as well as at least the past two years to glean these trends:
- Month-over-month referral trend since Jan. 1. Are referrals up, down or flat since the beginning of the year?
- Year-over-year referral trends. Look at historical data from 2013 and, if possible, 2012, comparing them with data from the same time period this year. For instance, what’s the referral trend for January when you look at 2012, 2013 and 2014? How does the entire year of 2014 compare with 2013 and 2012? Are those trends positive, flat or negative?
Remember that you are looking for trends related to individual referral sources such as a hospital, physician’s office or home healthcare agency. The referral trends you discover will provide you with insights into what may be happening with all of your referral sources.
What valuable insights can you gain?
- Opportunities to expand your business. A slight increase in a referral activity from established sources could suggest an even larger opportunity that you need to uncover. And if you had a new referral source in 2014, that suggests a new expansion opportunity that you must nurture and develop.
- Threats to expanding your business. Obviously, a decline in referrals suggests that challenges exist to maintaining your census. A decline in referrals could mean that a case manager or physician who was a consistent referral source has left an organization, or it could suggest something much more significant, including a negative perception about your facility or the presence of new competitors in the market.
If referral trends have not changed, then look at your data within the context of what is occurring at each referral source. Is the entity growing, declining or remaining the same? If your referral source is a dynamic, evolving organization that is growing but your referrals are flat, you may be missing an opportunity to grow.