The New Year is here and what better time than now to buckle down and make gathering vision therapy referral sources a priority. It may be easy to let the insurance directory do the 'referring' because it means there is no extra work on your end, but this will not work if you are building a vision therapy practice.
Throughout my residency year I learned that a vision therapy program is only as strong as its referral sources.
If you do not have the patient population within your own office to self-refer, you must educate the surrounding doctors about your skill set, what services you offer and when to make a vision therapy referral.
So where do you even begin? Here's a list (my personal to-do list actually!) on how to rally your vision therapy referral sources:
1. Send Letters, Make Phone Calls
This may seem simple, but it goes a long way. Sending out a letter introducing yourself to fellow optometrists, pediatricians, occupational therapists, physical therapists and even primary care physicians gives you the opportunity to share what your specialty is and what services you offer. All you need is for one of those doctors to respond to your letter, reach out or send a patient your way. An editorial written by Paul B. Freeman, OD (former editor of Optometry) sums up perfectly the importance of a proper vision therapy referral in this article written in 2011:
"Certainly, all therapies do not work for all patients all of the time, but no therapy will work for anyone if that person is not given the opportunity to explore the legitimate alternatives to apparently ‘unresolvable’ visual complaints form a patient with a ‘healthy’ pair of eyes …. In the case of vision therapy, there are evidence-based protocols to support such intra-optometric referrals. And who knows? Someone reading this editorial might well be the next practitioner to change someone’s life through such a referral.”
Here is a letter that I am penning and planning on sending out the first week in January to surrounding doctors in the area to educate them about who I am and what services I provide.
Another option is to send out letters offering to do school screenings. Here is a School Screening Letter that I wrote back in September offering my services to the local school districts. We have had GREAT success with this. We got into three schools, which has brought in a ton of new patients, grown our pediatric/young adult population and has even spawned some vision therapy evaluations!
2. Event Calendar
I feel like January is the time to write lists. Lists of your resolutions, goals and now... a list of marketing tasks that you want to accomplish month by month. My "Creating a Business Plan" article details this in the marketing category.
3. Talk to your COVD mentor
COVD offers a match program that puts you in touch with successful vision therapy doctors around the country. In this instance, you can contact any of the doctors (not just the ones in your area) and talk to them about what they do to bring in vision therapy referral and how they build their therapy programs. Sometimes it isn't about reinventing the wheel, but rather learning from those who have done it already and model it after their successes.
I saved the best for last. In-services allow you to invite your target audience to listen to what services you provide and when to make the appropriate vision therapy referral.
You can do this one of two ways:
- You invite them to the office after-hours for a one hour session
- or you can offer to come to them.
Either way, it allows you to talk with potential referral sources on a one-to-one basis and gives them the opportunity to see what you do. I usually structure my in-services to have a 30-40 minute powerpoint presentation and then a 20 minute question and answer portion.
To network for these you can send out letters, make phone calls or even send out "E-Invites." I have used EventBright in the past to help spread the word about upcoming events via social media. For those of you not familiar with EventBright it is an E-Invite site that is free to sign up and use (as long as you don't charge for tickets to your event!). There are many options within the site, but it is an easy tool to help spread the word via email, facebook, twitter, etc...
As I had said earlier, your vision therapy business is only as strong as your vision therapy referral sources. Putting the extra effort into educating your close optometric colleagues and other health care professionals when a referral is appropriate will only make your business stronger. As always, the relationships you create are ones that must be maintained. Keep the doctors that refer to you in the loop with constant correspondence about patients they send to you, create a newsletter highlighting success stories, and make referrals back when appropriate.