Damien Adler discusses his experience with using referral feedback letters as a marketing tool for private practices. As well as being one of the founders of Power Diary, Damien is a registered psychologist and a current Director of Mind Life Clinic. He is passionate about empowering health practitioners to grow their clinics while minimising admin work. Damien is known publicly through his 13 years as a fortnightly guest on ABC Radio, as well as contributing to articles appearing in The Age, Women’s Weekly, Madison Magazine, Sunday Life, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. Damien has a background in health administration, previously holding senior positions in public health services.
“You know why we like working with you?”
The unknown voice came from behind me in a crowded room of GPs and Practice Managers. My ego instantly generated a list of possible answers… effective treatments, awesome team of clinicians, patients love us…
“It’s your short letters”, came the answer, putting a quick end to my flight of fancy.
I turned to see the senior GP of a large local practice dryly smiling. It was not the answer I was expecting…or hoping for. Naturally, I wanted to know more, and so I quizzed him. I soon realized just how powerful feedback letters can be. Ever since this conversation about 11 years ago I’ve been interested in what makes an effective and powerful feedback letter. I found it’s not just about making them short, but also about what to include. This is a quick summary of what I’ve learned so far, but if you’ve got your own tips please send them to us. I’d love to get your thoughts!
Why do referral feedback letters matter?
To begin, let’s deal with the elephant in the room – writing referrer feedback letters and progress reports are rarely a clinician’s favorite activity! Let’s not pretend otherwise. Do you (or perhaps certain members of your team) need some additional feedback letter motivation? Here’s a handy list of the obvious and not-so-obvious reasons why regular feedback letters can be so important and powerful.
A good referrer feedback letter:
- Ensures treatment providers are on the same page;
- Helps coordinate care across multiple providers;
- Reduces the risk of referrers providing inconsistent or overlapping treatment;
- Maintains relationships with referrers i.e. lets them know you appreciate their support;
- Increased patient’s sense of treatment cohesion;
- Reduces the risk of your treatment being misrepresented or misinterpreted by others;
- Enables refers to reinforce your treatment strategies;
- Gives you an opportunity to communicate to referrers exactly what you do, without having to overtly “promote” or “market” yourself;
- Keeps you front-of-mind;
- Reduces referrer anxiety;
- Establishes clear lines of accountability and responsibility;
- Are mandatory in many contexts;
- Makes you and your practice look organised and professional;
- It’s professionally courteous;
- Helps ensure referrers keep referring to you!
I am going to share with you a few short tips that will not only make your feedback letters super-fast and efficient to write but can serve to be a powerful marketing tool. I’ll also outline the key aspects of a letter that referrers love, and what they can’t stand – even if they won’t tell you directly.
What do referrers want?
To keep our referrers happy we need to always keep in mind what referrers want once they have made a referral. In most cases I think their key needs can be summarised as follows:
- To know their referral was successful;
- To know another health professional is assisting to manage the presentation;
- The expertise/advice of another health profession;
- Guidance in their own treatment;
- To know where a client is up to if the client presents.
Now we’ve got those objectives in mind, let’s start with some basics.
When should you send referral feedback letters?
Whilst many professions have some minimum correspondence requirements, there are a few key opportunities to connect with referrers:
- When you first receive the referral
If you are able to see clients soon after a referral is made you can usually get away with waiting until after you’ve had your first consultation with the client. If there is going to be a couple of weeks (or longer) before your appointment, then a quick note back to the referrer acknowledging the referral is often appreciated.
- After the client’s first appointment/initial assessment
After your initial assessment of the client on the first session, it’s worth sending the referrer a letter letting them know you’ve had the first appointment, your clinical impressions, the treatment goals set (if relevant), your planned interventions, and when to expect the next update from you. Even if your assessment process takes more than one session, it is worth sending the referrer a letter letting them know the client has their first appointment, and any initial clinical impressions you have.
- Mid-treatment Progress Update/s
Sending an update midway through treatment helps keep the referrer updated on progress, reassures them the client is receiving treatment, and gives them confidence when making their own treatment decisions, i.e. whether it is appropriate to prescribe analgesics. It also keeps you at the forefront of the referrer’s mind!
- Conclusion of Treatment
It’s important for referrers to know when treatment has been concluded either optimally, where treatment has been successful and there are no further treatment needs; or unexpectedly, due to client disengagement, client relocation, etc.
Characteristics of a Great Referral Feedback Letter
To write a great referral feedback letter, there are a few general principles to follow. Clearly laid out and contains all relevant information:
- Addressed to the specific practitioner;
- Your details clearly identifiable, including the most efficient method of contacting you;
- Standard font size, style, and line spacing;
- The client clearly identified using industry norms: At a minimum; Full Name, D.O.B, and if relevant, Health Identifier, Insurance Number or Claim number;
- Use clear concise language and minimize the use of abbreviations or jargon, even if commonly used in your profession, as this can often vary across different countries, hospitals and training institutions;
- Where possible and appropriate, when providing a diagnosis, use formal diagnostic titles, and associated diagnostic codes to minimize the risk of misinterpretation;
- Is brief. Unless the presentation or referral clearly calls for it, aim to keep referral feedback letters to one page or less. Not only will it save you time, but it’ll also make it easier and more efficient for the referrer to focus on the most important aspects.
Use a Simple Structure that Tells a Story
Good feedback correspondence should tell-a-story about the treatment. Each paragraph needs to have a clear purpose and moves the treatment story logically forward. The following structure works well:
- The boring stuff first
The top of the page should include the boring stuff like the referrer’s name and address, client’s name and identifiers.
This is where you briefly recap the history, referral and the context of your letter. Whilst this might seem unnecessary, remember that some General Practitioners may make over a hundred referrals a month, and have a constant stream of feedback correspondence and test results pouring in every day. A quick reminder of the reasons they originally referred the client to you can help them contextualize your correspondence quickly.
- Summary of Recent Treatment Provided
Provide a summary of the recent focus of treatment and interventions provided to the patient.
- Patient Response to Treatment
Provide a summary of the patient engagement and response to treatment, i.e. how has their presentation changed. This is also a good place to include the results of any outcome measures.
- Plan for Further Treatment
Outline the next treatment priorities and planned interventions. If the refers needs to approve further sessions, or renew the referral this is the opportune place to request this.
Include brief comments about any recommendations you have for the client’s provision of treatment if relevant.
- Next Contact
Set an expectation of when your next contact will be and remind the refer of the best way to contact you, and the presentation changes that would necessitate this.
Referral Feedback Letter Example
Here’s how this comes together in practice. (Click to see a larger view.)
Use Templates, Save Time
If the above seems like a lot to remember, it is. But the solution is to cheat and use templates! And remember that your referral feedback letters don’t have to be long.
With a great template in place, not only will you be able to quickly get your correspondence done, you’ll be presenting information in a structured and predictable manner that your referrers will love! In Power Diary you can setup letter and report templates that contain merge fields so that you can generate personalized feedback letters in just a few clicks. (Learn how to create letter templates here.)
Remember that feedback letters are both a clinical activity AND an important marketing activity that can really help grow your practice.
When you have a busy practice, I know it’s easy for letters and reports to become overwhelming. In both, my own clinic and the learnings I’ve gleaned from thousands of other practitioners, I’ve found that it’s best to get in the habit of writing letters quickly when they are due so that they don’t build up. It’s much better to send a quick, basic, but timely letter, than a late letter or worse, no letter at all!
Have some great letter writing tips you’d like to share? Let us know – we’d love to include your tips here!
Until next time,
Private Practice Owner &
Co-founder of Power Diary