Make friends when you make referrals
It was a quieter world when Dr. Jay Merriam started his career as an equine practitioner. It wasn't due to fewer cars on the road or fewer people—it was the doctors who were quiet. When Dr. Merriam came to town years ago, some of the older equine veterinarians didn't communicate much about cases—especially referred ones. He wouldn't hear a peep if one of his clients went to another doctor for a second opinion. Fear of competition seemed to lead to a loose-lips-sink-ships—err, practices—philosophy. Dr. Merriam, now owner of Massachusetts Equine Clinic in Uxbridge, Mass., threw that philosophy overboard a long time ago. He knows firsthand the medical and financial benefits of referring to other veterinarians, and vice versa.
Do you hesitate to refer patients to other veterinarians with haul-in facilities, specialized knowledge, or diagnostic equipment? Don't worry—you too can build relationships with colleagues and make sure no one poaches your clients. Everyone wins in a community with good communication and good referral policies.
WHY REFERRALS WON'T HURT YOUMaybe you're a bit scared. One doctor across town has a haul-in facility. Another doctor spent a lot of money on new, high-tech equipment. A third doctor is available more often and covers more emergencies. Take a deep breath and consider this: Clients choose their favorite veterinarian for a number of reasons, and a haul-in facility or an MRI machine aren't necessarily at the top of the list.
Dr. Dina Duplantis, owner of Equine Health Maintenance, an ambulatory practice in Bueche, La., regularly refers clients to the local university's ambulatory service to take digital radiographs for her clients. Results from cases she refers to the university for diagnostics, especially, come right back to her when decisions need to be made. "Clients trust us. They want our opinion," Dr. Duplantis says. "The referral clinic or school is doing the procedure or the diagnostic, but the client still consults with us."
For one, clients without a convenient way to transport their horses need the door-to-door care an ambulatory practitioner provides. Also, clients who could haul in their horses prefer the hands-on touch and personality of their favorite mobile doctor. When you send a horse to another doctor for radiographs or a special procedure, it doesn't need to damage your relationship with the client, Dr. Duplantis says. "Clients don't think my practice is deficient," she says. "They just think another person has equipment I don't have, and I can use it."
When she asks the university's ambulatory service to send someone to digitally radiograph a client's horse, that doctor takes the images with the mobile unit, burns them to a CD, and hands them over to Dr. Duplantis to decide on treatment with the client. "It's like leasing the equipment," Dr. Duplantis says.