To Refer or Not to Refer – Don’t Let That Be the Question!

When I talk with dental practices about patient referral programs, one of the first questions I ask is, “Have you given your patients the tools they need to refer a friend or family member?” Sometimes the answer is yes, but many times I get a perplexed look.

Building an effective referral program in your dental practice is not rocket science. However, it does take commitment, commitment from the ENTIRE dental team. There are four simple “R”s that you can follow to keep you on track when starting your office referral program: Request, Remind, Reward and REAP. Request – Ask your patients to refer; Remind – Keep your referral program top of mind with your patients; Reward – Thank your patients for referring; and REAP – Your practice and your patients benefit from a healthy dental experience.

One of the most important first steps to take when starting your program is naming it. Use a team meeting to explain the program and then have fun coming up with a catchy name. Patterson Office Supplies has coined one for our customers – “Share your Smile.” Feel free to use ours, or come up with your own. Again, a great team exercise where everyone is involved and feels some ownership.

Once you’ve named your program, then work with your team to build the types of fun activities you’d like to implement to encourage patient referrals. Many offices do monthly drawings for gift baskets, offer discounts on services, develop a program where the practice donates to a charitable organization on behalf of referring patients, or simply gives a gift card for a local establishment. You make the program as simple or as extravagant as your practice can handle. My recommendation is to make it fun and make it simple, but make sure everyone on your team is comfortable talking about the program, can explain it and supports it!

Use your practice Facebook page, your website or your practice newsletter to talk about what’s happening. Show pictures of the gift baskets, talk about winners, what’s coming up next month, etc. The more excitement your practice generates, the more successful the program.

Tracking is extremely important. Make sure that you are tracking your referrals within your practice management software. If your software doesn’t do this, my recommendation is to get one that does, like Eaglesoft. You need to know how much revenue your office is generating from new patient referrals so you can adjust your program accordingly.

Your existing patient base is your core. Please, please, please make sure you are taking care of them. I tell offices every day to make sure you are thanking these patients for staying with you. Do fun events for all your patients, not just those who refer. I can’t stress enough, if you make your practice a fun place to be, offer great dental care and treat patients with respect, then “they will come.”

Lastly, before building a program like this in your office, make sure to research the laws in your state regarding “gifting” for referrals. Many states, like California, have adopted regulations prohibiting practices from rewarding patients who bring in new patients. Your state dental board will have these regulations clearly posted.

I could go on and on with ideas, but this is a blog…. Feel free to contact any of our Front Office Specialists at 800.637.1140 to talk about ideas and products specifically designed for your patient referral program. Or contact us via Facebook at and I’d be happy to talk with you about your practice opportunities!

One thought on “To Refer or Not to Refer – Don’t Let That Be the Question!

  1. Hi Kim,
    Thanks so much for the information about referrals. Our office is having this discussion again and it is so helpful that we get reinforcement of our methods from someone that knows marketing!

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