Feet on the Street: Physician Liaisons Build Referrer Relationships

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Annmarie MauroA key referrer had not referred any patients to a New York radiology practice in more than a week. This highly unusual circumstance prompted a visit by the radiology practice’s physician liaison, who left the referrer’s office shaking her head in disbelief at the cause of the downturn: The referrer’s staff members had tried to fax orders to the radiology practice, as they had been doing for years, but had encountered a technical problem on the receiving end—so they faxed the orders to a competitor instead.

Had it not been for the diligence of the liaison, this costly trend could have continued indefinitely. Whether you regard the medical-imaging community as in transition (at best) or under siege (at worst), the physician liaison has assumed a position of greater importance in organizations across the country.

Today, the physician liaison has emerged as a linchpin in the development and maintenance of a healthy medical-imaging enterprise—particularly as some payors have begun to steer patients to locations where costs (and sometimes, quality) are lower. Consequently, the role of the physician liaison has become more vital to the radiology practice.

Referral Challenges

Great Lakes Medical Imaging (GLMI), a 17-physician practice based in Williamsville, New York, is not experiencing the extreme price pressures seen in many markets, but it is not without its referral challenges. The practice serves four hospitals and operates six imaging centers. Sherri White, chief business officer, has been with the practice for five years (and with the founding partners for seven more). During that time, she has witnessed substantive changes in the competitive landscape.

“We are in a market that now has an MRI on every corner,” she reports. “It is very competitive and very aggressive, but we have succeeded because we believe in quality. Our number-one priority is patient care. We do everything we can to make sure that we are doing the right thing, not only for each one of our referring physicians who sends a patient, but more important, for the individual patient.”

As needed, White employs whatever and whomever it takes to maintain the practice’s position in the marketplace, including a full-court press from the physician liaison (and beyond). “People here get involved as necessary,” White says.

For AnnMarie Mauro, who holds the titles of business-development manager and physician liaison, getting involved doesn’t mean sending tweets or making Facebook-page updates. Everything is done the old-fashioned way. ““In our business, staff is highly involved in the process of facilitating referrals,” she reports. “All things being equal, staff members will choose the path of least resistance. Since patients can go to any corner and get an MRI exam, for example, the relationship building has to be personal.”

Loyalty Tools

Mauro’s referral-building and relationship-maintenance activity is based almost entirely on live interaction with the decision makers in the referring physicians’ offices. “For example, at the offices of all referring physicians, I take the time to load the software from our Synapse PACS (FUJIFILM Medical Systems USA, Inc) onto their computers,” Mauro notes. “That software leaves our icon on their desktops, which makes it very easy to pull up all the images for a particular patient.”

Mauro calls the PACS a loyalty tool. “With the Synapse PACS, referring physicians (particularly orthopedic surgeons) can look at all of the images at the same time as a radiologist,” she explains. “If our radiologist needs to consult with a referrer, he or she can do it instantly, remotely, and in real time. It is not only a great medical tool; it’s a loyalty tool as well.”

For physicians who do not wish to review images, reports are delivered with the utmost speed. “It all comes down to optimal patient care combined with exceptional service,” White says.

GLMI has developed a full-length brochure with a page describing every modality and with patient-preparation information for procedures—what Mauro calls the do-and-don’t rules, explained in plain language. The brochure often is given to patients at the time of referral, along with an order written on a prescription pad on which a staff member can circle one of GLMI’s five imaging-center locations. “It is our goal to assist our referring physicians in their efforts to educate their patients and to involve them in every facet of their care,” White explains.

Loyalty is a two-way