Developing healthcare referral sources

Luke Fannon

Relationships with hospitals, physicians and other healthcare referral sources are critical to an LTC provider’s ability to maintain budgeted census. However, the typical admissions director or director of marketing receives little of the training and coaching needed to develop the skills and ability to do this successfully. We’re not born to be referral development specialists-we’re made that way, through training and coaching.

One of the most important concepts to get right is to determine what type of referral sources should be targeted for development. Skilled nursing facilities serve an elderly population, for the most part, with specific medical conditions. Take, for example, a short-term rehab patient who is recovering from a hip fracture and replacement surgery. This patient, while in the hospital, is receiving care and services from a variety of healthcare professionals: orthopedic surgeons and physician assistants, hospitalists, floor nurses, rehab professionals and case managers (to name a few). Each has the ability, because of their contact with a patient and his or her family, to influence their decision about which LTC facility and services to utilize.

The impact that all of these professionals have on the elderly patient and his or her family is that one group may have more control over where the patient goes for sub-acute care than another. In one hospital, the hospitalists controlled where patients went for short-term rehabilitation. In another setting, the orthopedic surgeons controlled where their patients went. And in other hospitals, case managers have more of an influence.

Unfortunately, LTC providers tend to unevenly focus a great deal of their marketing activities on case managers. To develop strategic marketing plans that grow census, providers should expand their sales and marketing activities to include the physicians, therapists and other professionals who are treating the elderly patients they are looking to attract.


When these other healthcare professionals have been targeted, there must be a strategy to develop relationships with them. Look to the basic needs of referral sources for clues on how to develop a specific referral. While this isn’t an all-inclusive list, these five items contain the most important needs of referral sources:

  • Deliver the best care that meets the clinical and functional needs of patients.

  • Reduce patients’ risk for injury and re-hospitalization.

  • Quickly turn around referrals.

  • Follow post-surgical protocols.

  • Seek opportunities to grow business.

Despite misinformed perceptions, referral sources do differentiate between LTC providers regarding the quality of the care their patients receive. Therefore, providers should first educate referral sources about their services. It’s typical to conduct in-services with physicians, case management departments and rehab departments in hospitals.

There are other methods of educating referral sources if the in-service is not an option. Create a postcard to inform referral sources about new programs and services. And don’t mail these-drop them off. Or write a fact sheet that outlines unique programs, capabilities and important information about services offered and distribute it to referral sources.

Another form of education, which emphasizes quality of care, is in updating referral sources about their patients’ progress and recovery. It’s a good idea to provide a facility discharge summary report for physicians and case managers.


Collect physician post-surgical protocols and train staff to use them when a patient is admitted to the facility. For face-to-face interaction, send physical or occupational therapists to doctors’ appointments to open a dialogue with physicians about the care of their patients.

LTC providers should identify opportunities to develop programs that grow not only their business, but also that of their referral sources. Orthopedic programs, pulmonology programs, trach care programs, wound care programs and palliative care programs are all examples of what can be created in partnership with physicians and other organizations that then refer patients into those programs.

Finally, hospitals are looking closely at readmissions. Try having the administrator, director of nursing and/or other management personnel schedule meetings with senior leadership at referring hospitals to discuss lowering readmissions, among other challenges. This strategy has led to collaboration between SNFs and hospitals, breaking down barriers and providing opportunities to develop joint programs. And it opens the door to a broader relationship between the LTC provider and the local hospital.

Luke Fannon is the Founder and Principal at Premier Coaching and Training (PCT), Unionville, Penn. PCT provides healthcare sales and marketing training, admissions and marketing team coaching and other strategic consulting services. For more information, email Long-Term Living 2011 November;60(11):32

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