Center shares secrets for boosting referrals

(Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on the benefits of a marketing director. In this issue, we tell you about the successes of a former RN who increased referrals while working part-time as the marketing director of a surgery center. In next month's issue, we tell you about the benefits of having a full-time director with a marketing background.)

How would you like to increase physician referrals, decease the number of physician problems you have to address, and improve your image in the community, all at the same time?

Some surgery centers are finding success in these areas and more, simply by hiring a part-time marketing manager.

At Valley Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC) in St. Charles, IL, Diane Lauterer, RN, marketing director, focuses on educational and promotional activities, in addition to marketing. "This includes recruiting additional surgeons and encouraging existing medical staff to increase utilization of our facility," she says. "I look for new specialties to bring into our center, like pain management and bariatrics, and actively recruit physicians who can provide these services."

Having a designated staff person for marketing is a significant advantage for busy outpatient surgery managers, says Deborah Lee Crook, RN, CASC, administrator at Valley ASC. "One advantage as an administrator is that we're so busy with day-to-day things, it's difficult to try to get out to new doctors, and you have someone to focus on that," she says. "Just the little things set you apart from competition such as visits, getting to know their likes and dislikes, and keeping up with our Internet site, to make it useful and informative."

In addition to the web site, Lauterer develops and maintains marketing materials such as brochures and newsletters. She represents the surgery center at community events and serves on several boards, including ones for the chamber of commerce and a free medical clinic where several physicians volunteer their time and services.

The bottom line for Lauterer is increasing case volume, "and my most successful strategy in that arena was in introducing and growing our interventional pain management specialty," she reports.

The center had one interventionalist and needed a referring network. Lauterer determined a large number of chiropractic physicians in their area didn't have an established referral pattern for other specialties when their patients needed more than chiropractic care. "They need an injection to get them past this acute inflammation and spasm state so that they can then receive chiropractic care," she says. "But the chiropractors were either unaware of this option or mistrustful of referring their patients in this manner for fear of losing their patient in the system and never seeing them again."

Lauterer scheduled breakfast seminars for the chiropractors where the pain physician stated his respect for their specialty, educated them on what he offered, and assured them he would return patients to their practice. "I also started inviting our orthopedic surgeon to these seminars so that he could interface and discuss concerns with the chiropractors," she says. "The end result was that a relationship developed between the specialties, and everyone benefitted from it."

Cross-referral pattern set

A cross-referral pattern was established between the chiropractors, interventional pain physician, and orthopedist. "Trust and communication were key, and I needed to work hard to follow up with all parties to establish a communication network that nurtured that trust," Lauterer says. "Case volume rose quickly for the surgery center due to not only the pain cases, but also orthopedics due to their increased referral base."

The breakfasts were held at the center's overnight care facility. Out-of-pocket expenses for catering and table/chair rental were $400, which was split between the surgery center and the pain physician. The center also had sponsorship from an independent radiology group, which benefited by providing information on their MRI and other services to the attendees. That group paid for the design, printing, and mailing of invitations to the chiropractic database. The center held three breakfasts, from 7:30 to 9 a.m., and had 12-15 attendees at each one.

Lauterer sees her 30-year background as a nurse as a significant benefit in such endeavors because she is familiar with the environment and communicates well with the physicians. "I know their needs and what they are looking for to make them choose an [ambulatory surgery center] over a hospital," she says. "Nurses have an advantage because they have been taking care of patients for years, and it's really the same process working with doctors: We anticipate their problems, identify their problems, and then take care of them. It's like second nature for a nurse."

Crook seconds those thoughts. "They can identify their needs," she says. "They know the language and vocabulary. She worked in a surgery center, knew the environments, and when they talked about instruments or something they're looking to do, she understood."

The ability to connect with physicians is critical, Lauterer believes. "I truly believe it all comes down to relationships, the ability to build them and nurture them," she says. "That is the single most important characteristic needed in this position."

Times tough for docs? Take advantage of the quiet

Marketing director targets office staff

During these difficult economic times, physician offices are quieter. The marketing director at Valley Ambulatory Surgery Center (VASC) in St. Charles, IL, has put this down time to good use.

"That means that we have more opportunity to talk with them and find out what we can do to help them to grow their businesses," says Diane Lauterer, RN, who leads the marketing, public relations, and physician referral efforts at her center.

"We are all struggling together, and if we can identify what obstacles our surgeons have in making their surgeries more efficient and their practices growing, it will come back to the surgery center in more case volume," she says. "And we can assist them in growing their referral base by making connections for them in the community and with other medical doctors."

New physicians and staffs are provided lunches and tours of the facility.

"I act as a liaison between physician offices and VASC, and am often called first if there is any problem," Lauterer says.

She also maintains a good rapport with the surgery schedulers and practice managers of the medical staff, and she hosts several functions throughout the year for them. "We have started to have lunch meetings for practice managers in our community every other month where we have roundtable discussions of challenges and successes in our practices, money-saving ideas, collection strategies, etc.," Lauterer says. "Not only do we all benefit from each others experience and knowledge, we also are interfacing across specialties and making relationships with possible referring practices — a win-win opportunity for everyone."

The practice managers' luncheons are organized through the Kane County Medical Managers, which Lauterer helps lead and which is linked to the Kane County Medical Society." Dues are $75 a year. "We also accept some sponsorship for some of our luncheons, but we are very careful with that because it is not our purpose to sell anything to our group," Lauterer says. "However, if we find a company that we would like to know more about, i.e., local phone services that can save us money, EMR vendors, outpatient labs, etc., we invite them in, and they sponsor the event for the privilege." The medical society covers the cost of printing and mailing invitation postcards.

The luncheons are held on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. "We do a lot of fun things at these luncheons also, like raffles where offices donate an item and then are given the opportunity to do a one-minute 'infomercial' on their practice or services to increase awareness and market to their medical referring base," Lauterer says. Typically 24-40 office managers attend.