Just as no man is an island, no optometry clinic practises in isolation when it comes to holistic healthcare. The patient who walks in your door is not just a floating pair of eyeballs – also included is a cardiovascular system, emotional and mental health needs, an immune system… In short, there are a lot of parts to a person that falls outside the scope of an optometrist’s skillset. Similarly, when a patient walks into the clinic of another healthcare professional (HCP), whether a GP or even an ophthalmologist, there are probably aspects of that patient’s care that would be better off in your hands. So, how can you, as an optometrist or practice manager, build your network of referrers?
Why Should You Develop Relationships with Other HCPs?
In addition to enabling a better quality of care for your patients by involving other specialised medical professionals as necessary, building good relationships with other clinicians also improves your standing in the local healthcare community. This, in turn, encourages these HCPs to refer their patients to you for their eye care needs, which builds your practice.
You may find approaching the following medical specialties beneficial when it comes to networking.
- General practice. Most optometrist will find that their main source of referrals come from GPs. This can be for a myriad of reasons, such as red eye, decreased vision, or diabetes.
- Endocrinology. The most common reason for a referral to an optometrist from an endocrinologist will most likely be for diabetic retinopathy screening. Optometrists may also be called upon to manage or monitor ophthalmic manifestations of other endocrine diseases, such as dry eye from Graves’ disease or visual field testing for pituitary tumours.
- Cardiology. Patients under the care of a cardiologist for conditions such as stroke or hypertension may be referred for examination of the retinal vasculature.
- Rheumatology. Rheumatological conditions such as arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease are associated with various ocular manifestations, including dry eye, episcleritis, scleritis, and optic neuropathy.1
- Paediatrics. For optometrists comfortable with managing children’s vision, building a relationship with the local paediatrician may see referrals regarding conditions such as amblyopia, strabismus, and even for investigations regarding headaches.
If you practise in a certain niche area, such as dry eye management, challenging contact lens fittings, or children’s vision, it can also be worthwhile making yourself known to other optometry clinics who may not have the expertise or equipment.
4 Tips to Build Your Network
As with most things related to building and growing your practice, it will take time and effort to establish a referrer’s network and see results. These are some strategies to get you started.
1. Make yourself known to your local healthcare community with an in-person visit.
Though email and posted letters are quick and convenient, dropping by in person to your local GP clinic to introduce yourself can set you above the competition and literally put a face to the name. In the interests of professional courtesy, be sure to organise this meeting in advance – you don’t want to be that annoying person who comes by unannounced for a chat on a full appointment book! During this meeting, you will want to make mention of your scope of practice as it relates to the potential referrer you’re introducing yourself to. For example, you know this GP clinic is in an area with an older demographic, which is at a higher risk of dry eye2, and conveniently you are set up to provide comprehensive dry eye management, including IPL therapy.
2. Extend your reach and visibility through other strategies.
Marketing through TV or radio advertisements can be costly, especially for small independent practices. Fortunately, there are other ways you can get your name, and the practice’s out there. Consider holding an educational talk for the clinic’s doctors, for example, how to investigate and triage a red eye presentation as it relates to a GP, or how to manage a stye. If you’re feeling bold, you may even consider approaching your local ophthalmology clinic to hold a talk on myopia management.
3. Make your referral process simple and streamlined.
Sending a referral should not be complex for the referrer, and understanding the referral should not be difficult for you as the optometrist. To assist with a streamlined referral process, consider distributing referral templates, which include space to fill in all the information you need to know. This should include the reason for referral, visual acuity (if measured by the referrer), current health status and medications. You can also consider using electronic referral platforms for improved efficiency, such as Argus. However, this only works if your referrer also uses the same service, so be sure to ask for their preferred method of referral.
4. Keep communication open with prompt replies and reports.
If another HCP refers you a patient, sending back a timely report is both a matter of professional courtesy as well as improves the patient’s quality of care by ensuring all clinicians are kept in the loop. Make sure your report is easy to understand by HCPs who aren’t eye care professionals, so avoid using optometry-specific jargon and abbreviations if you’re not sure whether the receiving person will understand it.
One study investigating communication breakdowns between clinicians found that referrers wanted certain pieces of information in the report, including the name of the condition, relevant examination results, and the treatment that was proposed or initiated.3 It would also be beneficial to mention the plan for follow-up, such as whether you will be reviewing the patient in x-number of days/weeks/months, or whether you are returning the patient to the original referrer’s care for further investigation.
In addition to sending back a prompt report to the clinician who referred you the patient, it can also be beneficial for the relationship to ensure that you’re available for phone calls. Though you may not be able to take the call immediately, other HCPs will always appreciate it if you take the time to return the call when you’re free.
Establishing a network of HCPs who know they can entrust their patients’ eyecare needs into your hands is beneficial for both your practice and your mutual patients. Though it does take some time and effort to cultivate these relationships, your practice value will only increase as you grow your network of referring clinics and doctors.
- Petris CK, Almony A. Ophthalmic manifestations of rheumatologic disease: diagnosis and management. Mo Med. 2012 Jan-Feb;109(1):53-8.
- de Paiva CS. Effects of Aging in Dry Eye. Int Ophthalmol Clin. 2017 Spring;57(2):47-64.
- Gandhi TK, Sittig DF, Franklin M, Sussman AJ, Fairchild DG, Bates DW. Communication breakdown in the outpatient referral process. J Gen Intern Med. 2000 Sep;15(9):626-31.Eyes on Eyecare. Ways to Increase Optometry Referrals from Primary Care and Speciality Providers. https://eyesoneyecare.com/. 2023. Available at: https://eyesoneyecare.com/resources/ways-to-increase-optometry-referrals-from-primary-care-and-specialty-providers/. (Accessed May 2023).