New Research: How Providers Should Market to Hospitalists

 In Getting Earlier Referrals

For decades, hospitals have been the top referral source for most providers of post-acute care. Hospices, for example, have long received an average of more than 45% of their referrals from hospitals and health systems – about double the referrals from the second largest source: physicians.

In recent times, the role of hospitalist has emerged as a dominant player in who makes or influences referring patients at hospital discharge.

Does this pattern ring true for your agency? If so, do you know what hospitalists are really looking for besides a reliable provider of the services you offer?

In a recent national survey, Transcend Strategy Group gauged the referral practices and preferences of hospitalists. What they revealed provides a valuable roadmap to how your messaging and marketing can better align with their greatest interests.

You can read the full report at your convenience. For now, here are our top three takeaways:

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  1. Emphasize benefits that align with hospitalists’ greatest interests.

When asked what metrics they use to measure the value of referral partners, 96% of hospitalists surveyed named “Reduce hospital LOS.” 96%!

The next two highest priorities are factors that can contribute mightily to this number one goal. “Facilitate a quick transition from hospital to provider” weighed in at 92%. And “Accept high-acuity patients” registered at 88%.

When hospitalists are ready to discharge a patient, they want rapid response from the referral partner. They also don’t want to think about whether a patient with complex needs will be accepted by the referral agency. The ever-growing pressure from insurance payers to get patients out of high-cost hospital care as quickly as possible magnifies these demands.

Is your agency able to meet all these preferences? Do you curate and track data that proves your effectiveness against these criteria – especially reducing hospital LOS?

  1. Show how you are different from your competitors in ways meaningful to hospitalists.

Unfortunately, 72% of hospitalists said they see little to difference among providers of post-acute care. This number was similar to the 81% of physician office managers who said the same thing in a study Transcend conducted earlier this year.

So, what can you do to help them see your value compared to competitors? Relating back to the criteria above, be their most responsive referral partner to facilitate quick transitions. Set goals for quick response times (within one hour or less, for example) and streamline your referral and admissions processes as much as possible. As you make improvements in these areas, be sure to let the hospitalists know.

The most crucial key is having data to prove measurable performance. Another component of high value to hospitalists is reducing hospital readmissions (84% ranked this as an important metric). You most likely are already tracking this metric, but are you reporting your success rate to your hospitalist referrers or prospects?

Beyond tracking hospital readmission rates in general, do you or can you gauge performance by specific disease states? As you know, certain conditions such as COPD and CHF often can trigger patient episodes that scare them and their family, leading to ER visits and hospital admissions or readmissions. If your agency is particularly successful at managing symptoms of such diseases and preventing hospital visits, you should be measuring those specifics and reporting them to hospitalists. These practices will help establish your agency as specialists in those disease states – and hospitalists are more likely to make you their “go to” referral for patients with those conditions.

Your competitors aren’t likely to be reporting performance by disease state (at least not yet). This approach can be a relevant way to differentiate your agency from the competition and position you as an innovator.


  1. Give hospitalists reasons to make you their preferred provider for referrals.

Some of our clients have questioned whether the hospitalist makes the actual referral to their agency, or if it’s a discharge planner, social worker or other case manager. In our survey, nearly half (47%, to be precise) of hospitalists said they see recommending a specific referral partner as part of their role.

Which brings up a burning question: If 72% see little or no difference among post-acute providers and yet they make a referral to a specific agency, on what are they basing that choice?

Only 8% said they are required to refer within their own health system (although 75% are “strongly encouraged” to do so). And the hospitalists implied they make the referral to a provider with whom they have an existing relationship (whether in-system or not). Relationships can be hard to break unless the referral partner really messes up or underperforms consistently.

So, if you’re not the provider with whom the hospitalist has a relationship, how do you cut through and get an opportunity?

The answer goes back to data. By curating, analyzing, packaging and proving your superior performance in criteria that resonates, you greatly strengthen your case for hospitalists to give you a shot at becoming their preferred provider over your competitors.

Putting these principles into practice.

AuthoraCare Collective, a Transcend client based in North Carolina, has been applying these practices for gaining referrals, particularly in their palliative care and hospice services.

The agency is cultivating value-based relationships with hospitals and health systems, speaking a language of total cost of care, quality metrics and patient satisfaction. AuthoraCare built their program with a focus on:

  • Ease of referral
  • Timeliness of care
  • Communications/coordination of care
  • Outcomes/quality data
  • Culturally competent care

By tracking data pre- and post-palliative care, the agency was able to document these results:

  • 4% reduction in hospital admissions
  • 100% reduction in hospital readmissions
  • 9% reduction in the total cost of care (translating to nearly $485,000 in cost savings)

Measuring and promoting this performance contributed to the agency increasing admissions 10% and market share by 5% in only one year.

How is your agency doing in growing referrals from hospitalists? Do you want expert guidance and support in thinking through the implications of our research … and forming a strategy to better connect with this important referral source? Feel free to contact me at

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