Trevis Cleary

Getting referrals from hospitals, home health agencies and hospice agencies isn’t only about the quality of care you provide. 

Sure, you’ll need to have consistently good outcomes, a clean and pleasant facility, and reasonable occupancy levels. But even if you do all that, you still need to establish lasting connections with discharge planners, physicians, and home health and hospice agencies to earn their trust and let them know why your organization is a good option for their patients. 

I worked as a liaison at The Waters Facility in Tennessee for three years, and in that short time, I was able to bring in more referrals than anyone before or after me. In fact, I brought in so many that, at a certain point, we exceeded our capacity. This success is primarily because of one thing: discharge planners saw me as a friend. They knew that I’d always pick up the phone when they needed to move someone immediately. And we shared meaningful conversations about more than work. 

The truth is discharge planners are people who care deeply about what they do. And, as the saying goes, talk is cheap. So trying to win them over with gifts, pastries or an image of your facility that doesn’t tell the whole story simply does not work. So what does work? Here are a few traits I identified as being key to getting more referrals: 

Authenticity – Discharge planners are overwhelmed with niceties and promotional items. They probably won’t even notice what you give them. Believe it or not, that magnet with your facility name on it won’t boost your census numbers. It’s probably going to end up doing what it was designed to do: suspend the weekend grocery list on the fridge. So how do you get the attention of the people who send new patients to your facility? 

Hang out with them during lunch break. Talk about your lives, hobbies and interests. But, most importantly, be there for them. Listen to their problems, work-related and otherwise, and be a true friend. If you can help them out, do so. On a professional level, that means taking problematic patients off of their hands, like those suffering from drug addictions. 

Exchange phone numbers and let discharge planners know they can reach you on your cell even after work hours. When discharge planners need to move someone quickly, they will turn to a reliable friend: ideally, you. This is even more so the case for hospice agencies, which often need a long-term care facility to take a hospice patient off their hands with little warning. Your availability in their times of need will translate to them sending more referrals your way in the long run. 

Honesty – You know your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. And discharge planners will, eventually, figure them out as well. So let them know from the start what you can and can’t do. Don’t waste their and your time by beating around the bush. If you didn’t get the best CMS rating, let them know why. But also take the time to explain when your facility has since made changes that aren’t reflected in the current rating. Be open with them, earn their trust, and communication will be a lot easier.

This transparency is important when speaking with physicians as well. Of course, while you shouldn’t hide anything, you can put their fears to rest by using past patient referrals to let them know they aren’t likely to see a lot of readmissions or complaints from family members. If you get the chance to speak with the medical director at a hospital, emphasize the things your organization really offers, like the proximity of your facility to their hospital and your areas of specialization, such as cardiology or wound care. 

Persistence – Circle back to discharge planners every couple of days (when it’s convenient for them, of course). Ask them who they have for you or if they need your help with anything. You can similarly maintain a rapport with home health and hospice agencies by regularly sending referrals their way, which will motivate them to do the same in exchange. 

Getting more referrals is, in essence, a matter of tried and true business practices. You want to form partnerships with hospitals and other healthcare agencies. That means you don’t see your interests and their interests as separate. If you are willing to listen to them and accommodate their needs, they will be far more willing to work with you in improving census numbers. 

Trevis Cleary is the product manager of data analytics and financial software innovation at Experience Care, a long-term care EHR vendor. Previously, he developed point-of-sale systems for corporate banks before deciding to pursue nursing. After six years of bedside care, Cleary leveraged his computer science background to enter into clinical informatics and clinical business development at Care Centers and Infinity Health. He now works to improve end-user experiences in healthcare to streamline workflows and help caregivers work more efficiently. 

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.