How to Create a Dental Patient Referral Program

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The Connect the Doc Team
June 14, 2023
min. read

Many dental marketing experts agree that word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) is still an effective lead generation technique for dentists and dental practices. Any dental marketing strategy that doesn’t include WOMM practices, such as dental patient referral programs, is likely missing out on growth opportunities. 

The good news is if you’re not currently running a dental patient referral program or any other WOMM technique, it’s not too late to get started. Given that one patient referral can lead to 500 new mentions of your dental practice in person or online, you should do yourself and your practice a favor by at least learning what it means to run WOMM strategies effectively. 

This article will discuss one specific WOMM strategy for dentists, and that’s dental patient referral programs. You’ll learn all you need to know to set up, run and monitor the progress of your referral programs. So, let’s dive in. 

What is a Dental Patient Referral Program

A dental patient referral program is an initiative that rewards patients who recommend your dental practice to their friends, family, or network. But they are more than simply rewarding referrals; running these programs involves creating a process that enables patients to refer their network to your practice. As such, it requires a great deal of thought and planning to put the pieces in place. 

You don’t have to own a large dental practice to run a successful dental patient referral program. Small and new dental practices can use this program to spread the word about their work and create more awareness in their local community. Furthermore, it can help you save time and resources on marketing strategies that simply do not lead to desired results. 

Why You Should Run a Dental Patient Referral Program

Chances are you’ve got other marketing campaigns running and strategies in place. And you’re probably wondering how an additional program can help your dental practice’s growth and success or if it’s worth considering at all. 

These are valid questions, and so, in this section, we will discuss three ways dental patient referral programs can be an added boost to your marketing process. Who knows, this could even be the centerpiece of your marketing strategy after all. 

Here are three reasons you should run a dental patient referral program:

1. Attract More High-Value Patients

High-value patients are your ideal patients. They are patients who are most suited for the kinds of services you offer, and as such, you become their dentist of choice. These patients are most likely to refer your practice to their network. The more of them you have, the better your chances of increasing your practice’s visibility, profitability, and sustainability.

With a dental patient referral program, you can attract like-minded patients to your practice by encouraging your current high-value patients to spread the word about your practice. In many ways, this is similar to the targeted digital marketing campaigns you’re likely already running. But this time, you’re leveraging the patient relationship you’ve built to attract more ideal patients. 

2. Boost Patient Engagement

Patient acquisition gets talked about a lot, and rightly so. In fact, you should always have a strategy in place that keeps attracting your ideal patients to your dental practice. But what’s the point of attracting patients if they aren’t engaged with you or your services? 

Patient engagement tends to mean a lot of things, but in this case, we are talking about the process of nurturing patient relationships so that your patients can become your brand ambassadors. If a patient enjoys and trusts your dental service, they will likely want to spread the word about your practice. A dental patient referral program is a great way to encourage current patients to do just that.

3. Gather Feedback 

Patient feedback is crucial to the growth of your dental practice. Without a proper patient feedback mechanism in place, you could be offering services in ways that actually hurt your progress. A dental patient referral program is one of many ways to gather the feedback you need to understand your patients’ pain points and needs. By acting on feedback received, you can boost your patient retention rate and save money otherwise spent on patient acquisition efforts. 

6 Steps to Creating a Dental Patient Referral Program

By now, you know what a dental patient referral program is and how it can be beneficial to your dental practice. Next, let’s discuss the steps you can take to create a dental patient referral program. 

1. Learn the Rules and Regulations

Like with many marketing strategies, you must take a step back and understand the laws governing or regulating dental patient referral programs before you jump right into it. These rules and regulations exist to protect the best interests of both dentists and patients. They help you limit the chances of unforeseen logistical, communication, and privacy issues hampering your progress. 

First, every interaction you have with your patient needs to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). So, any patient information shared with you during this process must remain private. 

Secondly, you must comply with Section 5.F.4. of the American Dental Association’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct which states, “A dentist is allowed to pay for any advertising permitted by the Code, but is generally not permitted to make payments to another person or entity for the referral of a patient for professional services.” 

In other words, you can’t pay a patient to refer their friends, family, or anyone in their network to your practice. Service discounts and non-monetary rewards are typically okay, but check your state laws to ensure you’re complying with all necessary rules. 

If you need clarity of what the rules are in your jurisdiction and you’re unsure how to find out, you can contact the dental association in your state or country. If you’re in the US, check with the American Dental Association, and if you’re in Canada, check with the Canadian Dental Association. 

Lastly, as a dentist and doctor, you should already know that you ought to comply with both Copeland "Anti-Kickback" Act and the Stark Law (aka the Physician Self Referral Law). If you don’t, now’s a good time to review them. 

2. Set Clear Goals

With the legal stuff out of the way, it’s time to set up your dental patient referral program. To get started, you should define your goals. Here are some question ideas to get you thinking:

  • What do you want to achieve by running a dental patient referral program? 
  • Who are your ideal target high-value patients for this program?
  • How many patients do you want to attract?
  • How long will you run the program? 
  • How will you track your progress?
  • How often will you evaluate the progress and performance of the program? 

Goal setting is a crucial part of every business and marketing strategy. You need to set goals so you can have a great foundation to build off of. Don’t neglect this process. You should consider getting your team involved so you can brainstorm together and bounce ideas off each other. The more defined your goals are, and aligned your team is, the better your chances of success. 

3. Set up a Post-Appointment Survey

Next, you should create a survey that patients can respond to right after each appointment. 

This survey does two things for you. First, you can find out which patients genuinely enjoy your dental services and encourage them to refer others to you or even share their thoughts on dental review sites. Secondly, you can use the survey to gather valuable patient feedback that can improve your dental practice. 

Think of the post-appointment survey as a tool that helps you learn more about your patients and dental practice. If you’re unsure what questions to ask, you can check out Practice Mojo’s guide to creating the ultimate dental patient satisfaction survey. 

4. Reward Referrals

We’ve established that you can’t, and shouldn’t, pay for referrals. Whatever you do, please don’t do that. But what you can do is offer prizes or heavily discounted dental services to patients who refer others to your practice. 

Get creative with your rewards, too. Consider offering gift cards to local stores and businesses that your patients might be interested in. 

5. Automate the Referral Process

Once you have your survey questions and rewards sorted, the next step is to start getting patients to respond to the questions, share their thoughts so you can sort out those who are best suited for your program. Alternatively, you can simply hand out pre-filled referral cards to patients after their appointments. 

The issue with this process, however, is that it is manual. As such, it requires more time than you and your team can afford. Instead of going this route, you should consider automating the referral process with tools like Connect the Doc. 

Connect the Doc’s referral tool is designed to ask patients for their feedback and referrals automatically right after each appointment. It can tap into existing patients’ social networks and recommend individuals that they can refer to your practice. This saves you and your patients time and ultimately boosts the number of referrals you can receive. 

6. Track Your Results

Remember when we discussed goal setting earlier in this article? Well, this last step is where you start to realize the importance of those goals you set. Be sure to take some time, weekly or monthly, to track your referral results and evaluate your process. If necessary, you can make slight changes to your programs if you notice areas that need improvement. 

One of the best features of Connect the Doc’s referral tool is its ability to help dentists measure the performance of their dental patient referral programs. Connect the Doc can track the referral links patients share with their network so you can find out which patients are spreading the word the most and reward them accordingly. 

Start Creating Your Dental Patient Referral Program

With the six steps we’ve discussed, you know what you need to do to get started with your referral programs. However, it can still feel overwhelmed to start and run one. 
So, if you’re feeling unsure about your next steps or need a tool that can take care of the process for you so you can focus on work that you enjoy, contact a Connect the Doc dental marketing specialist to help you get started.

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