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Building Referral Relationships: The Often Overlooked Path to Weight Loss Practice Growth

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Building Referral Relationships: The Often Overlooked Path to Weight Loss Practice Growth

— By Karol Clark, MSN, RN

While technology and marketing can leverage the efficiency and overall impact of your weight loss practice, sustained business growth is built on relationships.

When it comes to growing your weight loss practice, many practitioners tend to focus primarily on paid advertising and social media. While such initiatives are very important, there are thriving practices that experience consistent growth through robust referral relationships. In fact, establishing a network of trusted referral sources can significantly contribute to the growth and sustainability of your weight loss practice.

As with any worthwhile relationship, referral relationships take time to create and nurture. Yet the outcome is well worth the effort.

Best Types of Referral Relationships

There are three particular referral relationships that tend to be the most beneficial for weight loss practitioners. For each, the goal is to build mutually beneficial quality relationships that last.

  1. Physician/Health Care Professionals: As the primary caregivers for many patients who could benefit from your services and products, physicians and health care professionals possess the trust and authority necessary to recommend specialized weight management services to their clientele. In particular, to refer their patients that desire weight loss or those that need to lose weight to enhance their surgical outcome or make an upcoming surgery safer. Some examples include primary care practitioners, orthopedic surgeons and plastic surgeons. Other great referral relationships are those who wish to partner with a weight loss expert to provide effective medical weight loss options for their patients such as bariatric surgeons, obstetricians, and gynecologists.
  2. Patients: Satisfied patients who have experienced positive outcomes are often eager to share their success stories with friends, family, and acquaintances. Encouraging satisfied patients to refer others to your practice can significantly expand your reach and impact in and around your community. The exceptional care and support you provide that results in positive outcomes creates patient loyalty which allows you to cultivate a network of enthusiastic advocates willing to promote you, your team and your practice.
  3. Partnerships: Referral partnerships can be overlooked in health care. However, they are a great way to team up with businesses that provide education and/or services to your ideal patients. Collaborating with entities such as community organizations, local businesses, business leaders, news media, and educational organizations with regular expert guests allows you to tap into existing networks. It allows you to reach individuals who otherwise, may not be aware of your expertise and how you can help them lose weight and improve their health.

Benefits of Referral Relationships

If you are like most weight loss practitioners, you are honored and happy to obtain a new patient from a referral source. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  1. Low Cost: Compared to traditional marketing methods, building referral relationships is quite cost-effective. Instead of spending valuable financial resources on expensive advertising campaigns, investing in relationship-building activities tends to bring you a greater return on your investment that pays dividends over time.
  2. High Degree of Trust: When a prospective patient is referred by their practitioner or someone they know, they tend to have more trust in your expertise, experience, and services. When patients trust you from the very beginning, your sales process is easier and they tend to be more committed to your program and recommendations.
  3. Higher Conversion Rate: Patients who discover you via a trusted referral source tend to be more committed and feel ready to get started. Thus, you have a lower no-show rate for new consultations, shorter sales conversion timeframe, and greater commitment.
  4. Improved Care Coordination: Collaboration, particularly with referring physicians and health practitioners, creates the scenario for excellent care coordination and communication. Your patient can have related co-morbidities managed in a more systematized and efficient manner.

The benefits of building referral relationships outweigh the time and effort required to establish and nurture them. With clear communication, your patients’ needs are met in a timely fashion and any potential coordinated care issues minimized or eliminated.

How to Create and Cultivate Referral Relationships

The thought of creating and cultivating long-term referral relationships may feel a bit overwhelming. However, it helps to follow the steps outlined below. You will also feel less pressure if you start with practitioners that are already referring patients to you as well as your successful patients. Work with these individuals that already trust you. Set up your systems for an easy referral and communication process with them first, and expand from there.

  1. Identify Ideal Referral Sources: It is important to focus on the right partnerships. Select practitioners that have a clientele that matches the demographics and characteristics of your ideal patient. Take the time to understand what they are looking for in a referral relationship as well as what services they desire most for their patients. For your happy and satisfied patients, they tend to find it an honor to be asked for a referral, become an ambassador for your practice, and/or post a positive review. Have your team make it a natural part of your care process to ask for referrals — particularly when your patients are happiest and meeting/exceeding their milestone goals.
  2. Communicate/Educate: Take the time to introduce yourself personally to potential practitioner referral sources and discuss the benefits of a trusting referral relationship. Maintain open lines of communication. Keep them informed about your services, any changes or updates, and how you can best support their patients. Be sure to check in regularly with referring practitioners to provide updates regarding shared patient outcomes. For referring practitioners and patients, be sure to provide them with any helpful resources regarding you and your practice that will make the referral easy and effective.
  3. Keep it Simple: For practitioners and patients, create a very efficient and easy referral process. Ensure that someone on your team leads this endeavor and tracks referrals received from your practitioner and patient referral partners. Provide feedback and inquire as to whether they find the process easy or not. Thank them for their time and ensure that there is an easy way for you to reciprocate the referral if applicable.
  4. Share Your Gratitude & Provide Value: While not necessarily expected, sharing your gratitude — even in the form of a thank you note — is greatly appreciated. Be sure to provide them with valuable or exclusive referral relationship benefits if possible. Open communication is expected and necessary for any successful relationship.

Bottom line: Establishing and nurturing referral relationships is a strategic, yet often overlooked pathway to practice growth and success for weight loss practitioners. Your efforts also tend to enhance your credibility, expand your patient base, and improve overall patient care and satisfaction.  The effort is well worth the reward today and in the future.

About the Author: Karol Clark, MSN, RN, is a best-selling author who has a passion for helping physicians integrate effective, profitable weight loss services and retail sales into their practice while improving patient outcomes and enjoying the journey along the way. Her use of non-traditional (easy to implement) medical marketing strategies, along with her dedication to a positive ROI makes her a uniquely different and sought-after weight loss business consultant. Karol is the CEO of Weight Loss Practice Builder and the exclusive membership program for weight loss practitioners, She has more than 20 years of experience working with surgical and medical weight loss physicians and their teams helping them simplify creation of a profitable and enjoyable bariatric practice.

About Robard: For 45 years, Robard Corporation’s medical obesity treatment programs and nutrition products have been utilized by physicians, surgeons and hospitals across the United States to successfully treat patients living with obesity. To learn more about us and how we can help your practice and patients, visit us online at, email us at, or call (800) 222-9201.

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