Veterinary hospitals spend between 0.5% to 5% of their annual revenue on marketing, and the percentage can be higher in years during which they make large expenditures, such as for building a new website. As a veterinary specialist in a small, private practice, marketing can eat up a lot of your time, energy, and money, but may also prove crucial to the practice’s success. Your digital presence—emails and newsletters—advertising, and promotions can bring in more referrals, but the best ways to expand your referral network center on building positive relationships. Happy clients actively refer others through word-of-mouth (i.e., free-of-cost) marketing, and satisfied referring general practitioners send more patients your way. Our VESPECON team shares some strategies to help you build these relationships and increase referrals with no additional marketing.
Increasing veterinary client word-of-mouth referrals
Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful tool—when clients are happy with the care your practice has provided their pets, they are likely to share their positive experience with others, and often do so on multiple digital platforms. Many pet owners are unaware that various veterinary medical specialties exist until a friend or family member tells them about their own pet having recently received specialty treatment. Although their pet’s own veterinarian has likely recommended referral, clients may seek opinions from their personal network or social media before contacting a provider. You can increase your specialty practice’s number of new clients by ensuring they have a positive experience from their initial contact through follow-up or care transfer. Provide pet owners a positive experience by striving to do the following:
- Clearly communicate expectations — Ensure clients know what to expect before they enter your lobby, including initial fees, their pet’s fasting or medication instructions, the amount of time to allow for the visit, the attending doctor’s name, and whether any procedures may be performed during the first visit. Allow more time for initial consults, so the client has time to ask questions and fully understand their pet’s care plan.
- Provide estimates and communicate value — Clients recognize that the cost of veterinary care has skyrocketed. Specialty care costs can give a client sticker shock, so explaining services’ value is key to acceptance. You may also want to inform referring veterinarians of your typical fees, so they can prepare clients about your services’ costs.
- Confer with the primary veterinarian — Whether their pet’s primary veterinarian referred the patient to you or the client self-referred, ensure you keep the lines of communication open with their primary provider. As soon as possible after the appointment, notify the primary veterinarian of the patient’s condition and provide a case summary. In addition, confer with the primary provider directly to coordinate follow-ups and future care.
Increasing veterinarian referrals
To ensure a steady referral stream, build strong relationships with local primary veterinarians—your best referral partners—and keep their clients happy by providing their pets with top-notch care. Primary veterinary providers usually have close relationships with their clients and patients, and they are often heavily invested in pets’ wellbeing, expecting to be kept in the loop. When a local primary care veterinarian refers one of their patients to your specialty practice, ensure your protocols are transparent, providing smooth scheduling and professional care by doing the following:
- Prompt communication — You should contact the primary veterinarian with up-to-date information about their patient’s health status before the pet owner contacts them for follow-up. Therefore, within 24 hours after the appointment, you should call or send an electronic communication to the primary provider regarding their patient’s diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Limited services — Veterinary specialists should limit the care they provide to the condition for which the primary provider referred their patient. In turn, the specialist should recommend the patient return to the referring veterinarian for all other care. This synergy supports the referring veterinarian, and helps maintain their bond with their patients.
- Make long-term plans clear — Some conditions require ongoing specialty care, but for those conditions that are treated and transferred back to the referring veterinarian, you both should agree on a clear treatment plan. You should call the referring veterinarian and send them a medical record summary so they understand diagnostic recheck frequency, pharmacies at which medication refills are available, whether you want patient health updates, and the circumstances requiring the patient to return to your practice.
How VESPECON can expand your veterinary referral network
In addition to improving the client experience, word-of-mouth, and strengthening existing referral relationships, attracting new referral partners can be another efficient practice-growing strategy. Each new referring veterinarian who forms a bond with your practice has the potential to refer many patients throughout many years. When you join VESPECON’s specialty provider network, we can connect you directly to new referral partners, and help you maintain the connection.
VESPECON offers general practitioners virtual specialty consultations, allowing them to provide elevated care within their hospital. When a patient’s health issue is more complex, VESPECON‘s veterinary professionals can refer them to one of our network’s local specialists, which can include you. When you join our network, we funnel cases directly to your hospital, and our team fills the slots in your schedule reserved for VESPECON clients. Our specialty consultants appropriately work up and manage each case we send your way, and we facilitate the records transfer. Veterinary hospitals that did not previously use your services will refer many new patients to your practice, which builds your community presence—all with no increase in your marketing budget.
If you are ready to expand your referral network and build new referral partner relationships, contact us to learn more about VESPECON’s services, and experience firsthand how we can give your specialty practice a leg up on the competition.