Referral Targeting Strategies Series: Unaffiliated Physicians

By: Teresa Buglione and Lauren Byers | October 28, 2020

For post-acute care organizations, growing and strengthening your referral network is the key to operational success. In our latest blog series, the Trella team will be diving into the most common, most effective, and most efficient targeting strategies you can use to improve your referral relationships and grow your post-acute care organization – through both admissions and revenue. The first three posts in our series cover the basic strategies every post-acute care organization should consider:

These core strategies focus on identifying the right physicians for you to engage with to improve your referral partnerships and patient outcomes overall. By demonstrating the value of post-acute care – and, more specifically, your organization’s strengths and performance metrics – you can help ensure patients get the right type of care at the right time from the right agency.

Strategy 2: Unaffiliated

What it Means

Unlike physicians who underutilize post-acute care, those who are unaffiliated understand the value of home health or hospice care. The difference with these physicians is there doesn’t appear to be a trend or pattern to where they’re referring their patients – that is to say, they spread their referrals out across a wide range of post-acute care agencies. This can indicate the physicians who are treating these patients aren’t necessarily the ones making the determination or referral to post-acute care. In many cases, the recommendation ultimately comes from the attending physicians at the hospital, skilled nursing facility, or another downstream setting that the patient has visited.

Why it Matters

When a physician leaves these decisions to their downstream providers, their patients may end up being treated at any number of different agencies. The more agencies the physician’s office is responsible for fielding paperwork to, the more likely things are to get missed or improperly handled. An unaffiliated physician is not officially attached to or connected to one specific agency or group. This is a huge opportunity to showcase who you are as an agency and how you can impact his or her patients’ care with the care you provide. Without a complete view into performance metrics and patient outcomes, they are missing a chance to ensure their patients receive the care most suited to their unique needs.

Better patient care and outcomes depend on finding the right organizations for a given physician’s patient population and ensuring accurate knowledge transfer of patient cases. Creating professional, trusted relationships with your agency can give your referral partners confidence their patients will be well taken care of. And, as good news travels fast, your reputation for excellent patient outcomes will open the door to winning the referrals of other unaffiliated physicians in your network.

Key Metrics: Unaffiliated

When looking for unaffiliated physicians in your market, the key is to look for physicians with a high number of Medicare patients receiving post-acute care at a wide range of destinations. Most physicians who are closely affiliated with a small number of post-acute destinations will show much higher referral rates to those agencies than other destinations in the market; if a particular physician has a very low share of referrals spread throughout your market – or even the county – they’re likely a good target to increase your level of affiliation. Let these metrics help you ask the right questions as you try to uncover where their patients are going as well as why they’re being spread so far. The physician’s response will help formulate a plan and guide your data-driven message.

Suppose your initial discussions with unaffiliated physicians lead you to believe they aren’t the ones involved in the final recommendation. In that case, you can build your data-driven message using metrics as to why they should be. Demonstrate the difference in outcomes for his patients versus another physician in your market who does utilize post-acute care. A streamlined referral process gets patients into the right care setting at the right time and makes sure nothing gets overlooked. The physician who is actively involved in his patients’ post-acute discharge instructions will likely have better overall patient outcomes. And, ultimately, no one knows a physician’s patients better than he does – so why would he leave their post-acute care recommendation up to another provider who isn’t as familiar with their unique needs.

For physicians without strong ties to a few post-acute care organizations in their market, your approach will be a bit different. Explain that, by understanding their differentiators and what services each agency provides, they can refer their patients to the agency best suited to their needs. Do the majority of their patients fall into a diagnostic category that your organization specializes in? Show the physician he or she can achieve better results by partnering with agencies like yours.

Speaking to Unaffiliated Physicians

Unaffiliated physicians need to understand their role in their patients’ care journey. Part of this means knowing how the strengths of specific post-acute agencies in their market align with their patient population’s needs. Your goal should be to educate them on the benefits of taking a proactive role in recommending the right post-acute agencies for their patients. Leveraging the right data to strengthen your data-driven message for your agency is crucial.

Present Your Case

An effective strategy to use with unaffiliated physicians is to show the relationship between using trusted post-acute care partners and improved patient outcomes. Here’s a sample presentation outline a home health agency could use to guide their conversation:

  • What is the challenge you’re trying to solve?
    Improve patient outcomes by centralizing and streamlining their discharge instructions to a handful of trusted home health destinations.
  • Why does this matter?
    When physicians leave the decision to downstream providers with a less comprehensive knowledge of their patients’ needs, their post-acute destinations – and their patient outcomes – could vary considerably. Additionally, because there are so many different destinations involved, they fail to build solid partnerships with post-acute care providers that they trust to properly treat their patient population’s specific needs.
  • What are their metrics?
    • How many Medicare patients did they have in the most recent four quarters?
    • How many of those patients received post-acute care?
      • If a small percentage of their patients received post-acute care and their patients’ care was scattered across multiple providers, they may also warrant a conversation on underutilization.
    • What is the total number of home health agencies that provided care to their patients?
      • Look for patterns in affiliation. If they seem to favor one or two destinations in your market over yours, they may be more affiliated with your competitors, requiring a different approach.
    • How did they compare to their providers in your specialty?
      • Try to find a physician in their specialty or group who is strongly affiliated with your organization and who has much better patient outcomes.
      • Is there a correlation between a large number of post-acute destinations and higher patient readmissions? Or is total cost of care higher with one agency versus another?
    • How do their readmission rates and total cost of care compare to their county and/or state averages?
  • Do the math!
    How much additional time is it taking their administrative staff to manage file and knowledge transfers to a wide variety of destinations? And how confident are they in the various destinations’ performance metrics? By not building a relationship with trusted post-acute care partners, what are their patients’ chances of ending up in a post-acute care destination that isn’t best suited to their needs? How do they ensure high-quality care while lowering the total cost of care or reducing readmission rates for their patients?
  • Show your metrics
    Now it’s your time to shine. Share how you stack up against the competition with readmission and hospitalization rates, plus total cost of care. If most of their patients fall into a diagnostic category you specialize in or would benefit from a specific clinical program you offer, your case will be even stronger. Make your agency the obvious choice.

Next Steps

Physicians have the potential to impact their patients’ outcomes significantly. By remaining involved and recommending the best post-acute agency based on a patient’s needs, they can ensure a smooth transition of care. Build a relationship with physicians in your market and help them see how valuable partnering with your organization can be for their patients.

Trella Health customers have access to all the metrics we discussed in this article. For more information on how to use Marketscape to identify underutilizing physicians or to create sales collateral, contact your Customer Success Manager or request personalized training.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Marketscape from Trella Health can help you improve patient care and increase admissions with this and other targeting strategies, schedule your personalized demonstration today.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our targeting strategy series where we discuss competitor-affiliated physicians. And come back in early November to snag your copy of our Core Targeting Strategies Guide.


Teresa Buglione

Kirsten is a product marketer who works to surface insights using qualitative and quantitative information. She often refers to her job as a markeologist, part marketer and part archaeologist. Kirsten studied political science at the University of Oregon before beginning her career as a consultant for military intelligence and security clients, where she focused on enabling clients through strategic planning and organizational improvement projects. After receiving her MBA from Emory’s Goizueta Business School, Kirsten transitioned to product marketing. She previously worked in the FinTech space before joining the Trella team. At Trella, Kirsten enjoys the range of activities her role entails, from crafting Go-to-Market messaging to understanding and communicating the nuances of our metrics.