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Four Tips All Collaborative ODs Need to Keep Relationships Working

Common do’s and don’t’s ODs should consider to foster relationships with surgeons.

The referral process causes anxiety for doctors and patients alike. As health care continues to evolve, maintaining healthy relationships among members of the medical community remains a vital part of the comanagement system. Here are four action points—two do’s and two don’t’s—to consider when seeking to alleviate stress in a comanagement relationship.


Gather direct contact information. I have multiple doctors’ cell phone numbers in my own phone’s directory. When I’m deciding on when or whether to refer, it helps to be able to reach out to a specialist or subspecialist directly. The ability to consult with the other physician before referring a patient to him or her allows all involved parties to be on the same page and helps me to confirm that referral is indeed warranted.

I also make sure to give my direct contact information to any doctors who may refer to my practice. I know how important it is for me to have their information, and I am certain that the referring doctors in my network feel similarly.

Meet the practice that sends patients to you. Getting to know surgeons in our network has worked wonders for the referral process. Whether it be offering continuing education credit for doctors, going into the practice and shaking hands, or welcoming them to an open house or presentation, there is tremendous value in establishing personal connections.

When doctors know more about their colleagues than just their names, it demonstrates to patients that they are part of an eye care team of clinicians they know and trust.


Don’t talk negatively about the referring doctor. This sounds like common sense, but, nevertheless, sometimes a doctor will speak negatively about a referring doctor in front of that doctor’s patient. Remember that this patient has been sent to you by a doctor he or she trusts. Eventually the patient will see that that doctor for a return visit. Sometimes, the patient may let that doctor know what the other doctor said about his or her skills and talent—and a less-than-flattering comment may have an outsized influence on that doctor’s decision to refer to you in the future.

If there is a disagreement or a mishandling of a referral, reach out to the doctor and offer suggestions on how to make the experience better for the patient. No one benefits from name calling, degrading a doctor’s skill set, or accusing others of wasting a patient’s time.

Don’t maintain radio silence. You don’t want to keep your clinical partner in the dark. Referring clinicians want to know about their patients’ care, and communication helps every aspect of the referral process.

For the patient, communication ensures that each doctor has an up-to-date medical record. For the specialist, communication shows appreciation for the referral and provides a chance to educate the referring physician on specific conditions. For the referring doctor, proper communication can be an opportunity to learn when referral or observation is best. Keeping the referring doctor in the dark about your findings will frustrate him or her—and may jeopardize future referrals.

Mark Schaeffer, OD
  • Optometrist, Schaeffer Eye Center, Birmingham, Alabama
  • drmschaeffer@schaeffereyecenter.com
  • Financial disclosure: None relevant
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