Four Ways to Increase Referrals from Existing Patients

July 13, 2012

Your best source of quality patients is right in front of your nose every day - existing patients! Here’s how to get them to refer more patients to you.

Going and getting new patients is one of the most expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating ways of growing your medical practice. This includes activities like visiting referring doctors’ offices, newspaper/TV advertising, and giving local educational lectures.

Getting referrals from existing patients is one of the most high-yield practice promotion activities you can do.

New patients referred by current patients are more likely to be compliant and satisfied than patients who find you on their own. Most of us know all this intellectually but struggle to move from knowledge to implementation.

The Chief Barrier

The main obstacle keeping this from happening is your own hesitation in actively pursuing referrals.

Patients can’t read your mind - most are willing to be on the lookout for family, friends, and co-workers who could benefit from your service. Getting in the habit of asking for referrals may be the most profitable activity you can focus on this month.

The only rational argument against asking for referrals is if you know deep down you provide mediocre, lackluster service that you’re ashamed to deliver. Stop waiting around for this to happen naturally and start engineering referrals with a systematic approach.

Here are some ways you can communicate to your patients that you want and appreciate referrals from them.

Method 1: Planting the Seed of Referring

Before you even see a new patient, they can start realizing that referrals are a big deal.

Here’s how:
• Write a separate web page or section of your website describing how to refer friends, family, and co-workers to the practice
• Include a small blurb on your business card that encourages patients to send others to your office
•Add a small line or two to your on-hold messages that lets patients know you appreciate referrals

Method 2: In-office Reminders to Stimulate Referrals

You’ve got the patient in your office - don’t let them leave without making it clear that your practice depends on referrals of their friends, acquaintances, and co-workers.

Instead of putting up a huge piece of abstract art on a blank wall in your office, post information about how to refer other patients to come and see you. Emphasize that your best patients come from existing patients.

Depending on the rapport you have with a patient, you can mention referrals casually or turn it into a humorous interrogation - “So, why haven’t you sent me anyone in the last month, Steve?”

At the very least, mention it before you stand up at the end of their final visit, where they’re most satisfied, most happy with you. It’s at this moment when they’re most receptive to spreading the word about your good work.

Method 3: After the Patient Physically Leaves the Office

Make a habit of sending an occasional thank you note or welcome letter to your patients after their first visit. Especially if you connected well and had a productive appointment.

Mention in the note that you don’t want to keep your practice a secret and give them simple instructions on how to refer.

Create a consistent referral-stimulating message in your quarterly or monthly patient newsletter. It should be part of every extra-clinic communication you send to patients. For example, when patients request information about arthritis in my practice, I send them a series of e-mail articles. At the end of one of those e-mails, I encourage them to refer other patients to my practice.

Bonus Method: Never Forget to Thank Patients for Referring

In medicine, most doctors don’t feel comfortable paying for referrals. I’m sure it works well with token gifts like a small gift certificate or discount coupon, but in general most patients just appreciate gratitude for sending a patient your way.

Just get in the habit of noting specifically who referred your new patients and write a short handwritten note to any existing patients who refer.

This reinforces behavior you want to encourage and sets the stage for even more referrals in the future.

Find out more about C. Noel Henley and our other Practice Notes bloggers.