If you want to grow your dental practice, the answer is simple: Get more referrals. Referrals can generate hundreds of new patients each month. In fact, for many practices, two out of every three new dental patients come from referrals alone. And these patients are the best because they tend to be more loyal and will stick around for a lot longer than someone with no social ties to your practice.
Word-of-mouth marketing is powerful and a must for every dental practice, but it’s also notoriously difficult to harness. Plus, because you’re running a dental practice and are held to a set of ethical standards, it’s even more challenging to generate referrals. So, how do you get referrals when your hands are tied?
Keep reading. In this post, we’ll share essential strategies for generating quality dental referrals without running afoul of the law.
Is it Unethical to Offer Monetary Incentives for Dental Patient Referrals?
You’ve likely heard mixed information regarding referral incentivization. On one hand, you’ve probably heard that it’s illegal for dental practices to offer monetary incentives in exchange for referrals. On the other hand, you’ve seen a lot of dental practices do just that—offer discounts, gift cards, and other forms of compensation as financial rewards for referrals.
So, what’s the deal?
According to the American Dental Association’s Principle of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct, Section 4, “Dentists shall not accept or tender ‘rebates’ or ‘split fees.’” This means that you cannot offer money back or split the money that you make from a patient with someone else, whether that’s a patient or a dentist. You cannot offer commissions, discounts, refunds, or some other form of financial consideration for the referral. It’s unethical to do so.
Here’s the thought behind it: As a dental practice, your goal should always be to provide the best care to your patients—not the best referral gifts. For example, if you’re a specialist, a referring dentist shouldn’t recommend you solely in anticipation of a gift that you’ll give them. Instead, they should choose you because you’re the right specialist for the job. When you offer gifts, you can easily muddy the waters and make it difficult for patients to trust either you or the referring dentist. It’s best to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
But beyond ethics, it can also be illegal to incentivize referrals. Each state has its own laws regarding this topic.
It gets even more complicated when dealing with federally funded programs like Medicaid or Medicare. It’s illegal to offer monetary incentives to or for Medicaid or Medicare patients.
As a general rule, it’s just not a good idea to offer money for referrals. Even if you know dentists who do so, understand that they’re operating under the radar.
But that doesn’t mean that your hands are completely tied. You can still generate quality referrals for your dental practice. Let’s discuss how next.
Deliver Amazing Service
If you want more referrals, deliver amazing service. You can’t skip this step. No one will refer their friends, family, and co-workers to you if you offer sub-par service. They don’t want to be embarrassed. Instead, people only endorse services that will, in turn, make them look good and like a hero.
So, your first step is to focus on delivering a winning patient experience every single time. Offer something that no one practice in your area offers. For example, open your practice for extended hours or on the weekend. Also, ensure that your staff is friendly and patient-focused. Everyone on staff should make eye contact with patients and say “hello” or strike up a conversation.
These micro-interactions with patients can translate to a memorable patient experience that makes them want to tell others about you.
Host an Event
Hosting an event is a great way to generate referrals for your practice. One pediatric dental practice hosts a “thanks for being a patient” event twice a year. During these events, the practice rents out a kid-friendly space, such as an ice-skating arena or an indoor trampoline park, and throws a huge party for all of their patients. Patients are also encouraged to bring a friend along.
This is an incredible and fun way to get more referrals. Who doesn’t want to go to a practice that celebrates their patients in such a way? But there’s also no pressure put on patients. They’ll naturally bring their friends and their friends (or parents) will naturally think of this practice when it’s time to schedule the next yearly exam or cleaning.
You don’t have to dangle a carrot in order to ask for a referral. You can simply ask for a referral with no incentives implied. After completing a service, ask your patient if they know anyone who needs a dentist. This will get their wheels turning. Then ask them to tell others about you. Finally, hand them a business card (or a stack, if they allow it) to give out to their friends and family.
This simple, three-step referral process works well for generating new referrals. Your existing patients may not know that you’re accepting new patients. So, start spreading the word.
In addition to directly asking your patients for referrals, you can also ask them indirectly. Do this by putting up signs in your waiting room and patient rooms where you ask for referrals. The sign can deliver a simple message: “Tell your friends about us! We’re accepting new patients.” This by itself may not activate word-of-mouth marketing but it can prime the patient for your direct ask.
Share Your Business Card With Your Patients
Print an abundance of business cards so that you can hand it over to your patients to share with others. Your business cards can act as referral cards and allow you to easily trace the referral source.
Stack your business cards up next to your “new patients accepted” sign in your waiting area. Also, ask your patients if they would take a stack of business cards with them to hand out to others.
Send “Thank You” Notes
When booking new patients, always ask how they found out about your practice. If they tell you they were referred by someone, ask who, and then record that referral source. This allows you to personally thank your referral source.
Acknowledge the referral by sending a handwritten note of thanks. It doesn’t need to be fancy to be impactful. Do this for every referral, even if it’s to the same person. Each referral deserves its own note. In your “thank you” note, emphasize your gratitude and drive home the message that you’re only in business through kind referrals. This may lead them to refer more people to you in the future.
Create an Informative Social Media Page
Your social media page can be a source of referrals for your practice. Instead of only interacting with your current patients, also look for ways to reach beyond your followers.
You’ll do that by creating shareable content that your followers will want to share with their social circles. Provide educational content that sheds light on dental procedures. Answer questions. Share insightful videos. Then, encourage your followers to report or retweet your content on their social media.
Give Your Patients Free Swag
There’s no law against providing gifts to your new patients. Be strategic with the types of gifts you offer. For example, you can share cups, t-shirts, tumblers, and other goodies. However, don’t overlook the power of a branded ballpoint pen. You can generate a lot of referrals by giving your patients a few pens that they can share with others.
A pen may not seem like much, but it can help you build awareness for your practice so that they remember you when it’s time to book a dental procedure.
Get More Reviews and Testimonials
To get referrals, start by getting more reviews. Positive reviews can act as an endorsement. At the end of a visit, or via an email sent a couple of days later, ask your patient to share their experience with others. You can direct them to leave a review in the email or on a review site like Yelp or Google My Business.
These reviews have the power to persuade new prospective patients to give you a try. With all else being equal, if you have 10 mostly positive reviews and your competitor has zero, a prospective patient will choose you because of the abundance of social proof.
Getting referrals for your dental practice may not be as straightforward as offering a coupon, but it can be done using the above strategies. Be sure to act ethically, level up your patient care, and ask for referrals directly.