When I wrote recently about the ways to break out of comfort zones in the practice, I mentioned the value of seeking advice from a specialist to help you get started on cases that are beyond the “usual.” I think this is an idea worth exploring further - the GP/Specialist relationship, because if you are truly committed to growing your abilities and providing the best care to your patients, you are going to be doing more interdisciplinary care. So you may as well work on how you and your patients navigate the process.
Why Do I Need To Go To a Specialist?
First of all, many patients, when they hear that you want to refer them to a specialist, have an almost panicked response. How serious must my condition be if you are sending me to someone else? A new office, new doctor, new people, new FEES? You probably sense that resistance all the time.
This is why it so important to create value for the specialist in the patient's eyes. Again, it all comes back to the words you choose. Rather than just saying “I’m going to have to send you to a specialist” and then sending them to the front desk to choose from three or four possibilities, make the choice yourself and create value for that doctor.
Say something like, “I would really like you to see my friend, Dr. ______. He does amazing things with this kind of case. It’s the sort of thing he does all the time and he is really great at it. I’m going to have Nancy at the front desk make the appointment for you so you can get in to see him as soon as possible.” It doesn’t matter how many specialists you deal with in any particular field, the patient needs to know that the doctor you are sending them to is their doctor.
Then, make sure the hand-off is complete. In other words, don’t just hand the patient a business card or brochure and expect them to make the arrangements. See to it that they are appointed with the specialist before they leave your office. Keep the momentum going.
And of course you want to set up the specialist to be able to treat this patient in the best way, by providing him or her with all the necessary clinical and patient profile background you can.
Finally, you want to develop an understanding with the specialists you refer to that they in turn will create value for you and your services - that they will talk to the patient about why you referred them, that they will reaffirm the value of the care that you as a GP provide, and that they too will ensure that the patient is scheduled to return to your office with a special referred mindset and is appointed to return to you.
Committing to effective interdisciplinary care is still the best way to take your practice to a new level, quickly. That is the very foundation of our study club philosophy: taking advantage of the expertise you have all around you, whether you are a GP or a specialist. Your own clinical abilities will grow, and your patients will get the best care possible. Everybody wins.