Patient referrals are essential for growing a dental practice, and even more so with a dental specialty practice. Without a steady flow of new patients coming through the practice doors, you could an empty schedule and decrease in production.
The Wealthy Dentist reported that referrals are the most valuable source of new patients and that the average practice saw 20 new patients a month. Sidekick Magazine reported that a healthy practice should treat 25 new patients every month. Not only that, but at least 18 of them should come from referrals. For many practices, the number of new patients seen each month isn’t nearly that high, which should be of high concern.
However, many general dentists do refer their patients to specialists. In 2009, the Michigan Dental Association used a mailed questionnaire to better understand the referral patterns of general dentists to periodontal specialists. The responses revealed that 69% of the respondents had referred anywhere from one to five patients to periodontal specialists and 18% had referred more than five. Only 18% had referred none. The dentists that referred the patients shared the following characteristics:
1. They considered their patients’ oral hygiene a priority.
2. They saw more patients with private insurance and from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
3. They were more likely to say their dental education was not sufficient to cover periodontal treatment than those dentists that didn’t refer patients.
So, how do you become the specialist of choice for general dentists? Inc.com says the best way to get tons of referrals in any business is to mind these two principles:
1. Ensure that what you offer is valuable to your ideal prospect.
2. Lead these prospects to take the next step of retaining your services.
As a specialist, what you have is valuable to many other dental professionals. For example, LAPIP certified specialists offer the protocol that is both patient-friendly and predictable for saving failing implants from peri-implantitis, a vital service for many dental practitioners. However, not every dental professional understands that 80% of patients experience dental implant complications due to inflammation. Nor are they aware that LAPIP research shows that 95% of those failing implants treated with the protocol reintegrate in the pocket and stabilized with bone growth between three to eight threads. Therefore, while the first principle is covered, the second might need some work.
But who should you connect with to get more referrals and how? Where should you start? Here are a few different approaches that have worked for others facing the same task.
1. Define the Who, What, and Where you want. One of the first things any dental practitioner should do is set their goal, and be specific. You should know how many referrals you want to get, from whom you want these referrals to come, and where the geographical area is that you want to target. It might seem unnatural to you, especially if you haven’t engaged in a smart goal setting exercise like this before, but it is effective—and essential. Defining in no uncertain terms what you want from whom and where you are going after it is the first step to getting it.
DO break down the referrals you want down to the week and have practices you want to approach each week.
DON’T forget to record your progress toward your goal. Write down your attempts and track your successes. It will point to whether you need to revamp your approach.
2. Make sure you are referral-worthy. To whom would you feel comfortable referring a patient? Why? Whatever you answered, it is likely that these are the same things that a referring physician or fellow dental professional would need to think about you. Now is a perfect time to make sure that you are hitting all your marks as it pertains to having referral-worthy qualities. And if you aren’t hitting them, take the steps to rectify your shortcomings. There is a reason that everyone says, “every journey starts with a first step,” because it’s true.
DO enlist the help of trusted colleagues to get constructive feedback on your performance.
DON’T rely on yourself to evaluate your performance; we are not the most reliable sources when it comes to our assessment.
3. Reward the behavior you like. In many cases, you might have a couple of referral sources that are organic. Maybe you have a colleague or a friend of a friend that sent you some new patients. It’s important to reward the behavior you like to get more of it. Are we talking about elaborate gift baskets or singing telegrams? Not necessarily. Sometimes a simple note—bonus points if it’s handwritten—can do a lot to make a person feel appreciated and want to do more.
DO be clear, concise, and deliberate in your letter; make it too gushing and it’s weird; too short and it’s unclear.
DON’T forget to include business cards so they can do more referring easily.
4. Make it easy for people to refer to you. In our insta-world with numerous demands on our time, it has never been more vital to make it easy for people to do what you want than it is today. Whether it’s a link in an email or on the site or a QR code on the mailing piece, make it simple for the most distracted or busy practice to add you to their list. The power of the click takes a little effort but brings big rewards.
DO link to your website for your online presence and add a form that makes referrals a snap for any interested parties.
DON’T assume that people will take the time to find the link on their own; flag it and makes it obvious where to go to refer a patient.
5. Keep up your network. Whether it’s one-on-one meetings with colleagues, local chapters of professional organizations or an online community, an active professional network is far more likely to yield referrals than one that is neglected.
DO give more than you take. The key to successful networking is to be a valuable resource to your prospects, not another entity that wants something from them.
DON’T rely on any one method to network; the variety of contacts between online, face-to-face or written will yield a better result than resorting to one method of prospecting.
Getting referrals for your specialty work is vital for your dental practice. Try these five ways to increase your referrals and reap the benefits of establishing yourself as a trusted resource for your circle of dental professionals. It will help you keep a laser focus on providing the best possible dental care for your shared patients, as well as promoting the best possible health of your practice.
 Du Molin, Jim. “Dentists: Referrals Are Still Your Best Source of New Patients.” Thewealthydentist.com. Web. 1 February 2017.
 “Increase in New Patient Flow and Referrals” sidekickmag.com. Winter 2010. Web. 1 February 2017.
 Lee JH, Bennett DE, Richards PS, Inglehart MR. Periodontal referral patters of general dentists: lesson for dental education. J Dent Educ. 2009 Feb; 73(2): 199-210. From Web.
 Rao, Srikumar. “The Best Way to Get Tons of Referrals.” www.inc.com. Web. 2 February 2017.