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Building a practice on the medical model can be very time consuming. In my experience, this segment of my patient population has been the most loyal and the most compliant to return to the office for recommended follow-up care. As a result, itís time well spent attempting to establish as many strong networking relationships from neighboring physicians as you can. These networking opportunities can drastically increase your base of patients requiring your medical services.
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The biggest challenge in obtaining referrals from the medical community is gaining their trust and respect first so that the referrals come later. Such a task seems easy enough; however, this can be a much larger mountain to climb. Most physicians have very little experience working with optometrists. Medical physicians ďdonít know what they donít knowĒ about optometrists, therefore it is very important that we O.D.s take the time to educate them on what weíre trained to do.

Making It Happen
 
There are several ways to network with the medical community. One of the best ways to start the referral process is to invite doctors one-on-one to lunch, dinner or breakfast. This approach provides you the opportunity to network in a relaxed, informal setting with the physician and allows you both to get to know one another professionally and personally. Besides promoting yourself to the doctor, be sure to come prepared with business cards and brochures of your practice so that he or she can leave with information about you and your practice. Whenever possible, invite the physician back to your practice for a tour so that he or she can see firsthand the state-of-the-art technologies that your office uses. When I have the opportunity to give the physician a personal tour, I always have a technician take a retinal photograph of that doctorís eyes. Many physicians have never seen the backs of their eyes and they are always quite impressed. This is an excellent way to promote the medical aspect of our training as doctors of optometry.

Donít Drop the Ball!
 
Having a technologically savvy practice is an important selling point when promoting your practice to the medical community, but itís just as important to have a functional office flow in place for sending letters back to the referring physician in a timely manner. You should send a thank you note for a new patient referral or a courtesy letter detailing your findings to the physician every time you receive a referral. I always send letters regarding a received referral to the referring physician and will follow up with a personal phone call if I feel it appropriate. A thank you or a courtesy call is an easy step to take, yet many O.D.s arenít taking the time to do this.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes
 

If you think about it from the physiciansí perspective, it is quite a foreign concept to them to refer outside of their community. For the most part, M.D.s were never really appropriately educated on an optometristís training; therefore, they arenít as comfortable referring their patients to us. The only way to bridge this gap is to reach out to them and educate them about the vital role an optometrist can play in their patientís care.
Starting Strategies

When trying to network with other doctors throughout the medical community, donít rule out school nurses, teachers and other health professionals such as chiropractors, podiatrists and dentists. Many of these health professions are great advocates for optometry. School nurses are a great resource. Assist them with their school screenings if state law permits. This is a fantastic way to build a relationship with the nurse and build your pediatric practice. - Kelly Kerksick, OD

 
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