Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2018 05 Refer A Friend 1

10 steps to use your dental practice referral systems properly

May 24, 2018
Referral sources in your dental practice are very important. Thanking those referrals is also something you need to be sure to do.
“Who may we thank for referring you to our practice?” I asked in a friendly voice. “I met your doctor at his ice cream social” was the reply. I was the marketing director and I knew we had never participated in an ice cream social. When I asked the doctor, he said he had no idea what the patient was talking about.

About an hour later, another call came in with the same answer. “I met your doctor at his ice cream social.” I asked the doctor again and he still didn’t have any idea what the patients were talking about. There was even a third person that called.

When the patients came in, I wanted to get to the bottom of this ice cream social. As it turns out, the doctor had taken his family out for frozen yogurt. He was feeling extra charitable that day, so while he was there, he told the lady at the counter, “Please allow me to pay for the families who are in the store right now. Here is my business card, and please call me with the total.”

The ice cream store told each family who treated them to ice cream and they all called and scheduled appointments. Of course, our next step was to plan a real ice cream social because the return on investment far exceeded the initial expense.

According to Sikka Software, patient referral numbers across the United States are going up. Take a look at the average number of patients in a practice each month who have been referred to that practice by someone else from more than 13,000 dental practices over a seven-year span.

Patient referrals sources on the rise

2010 – 40.75
2011 – 44.33
2012 – 46.58
2013 – 49.5
2014 – 50.92
2015 – 53.5
2016 – 54.17

Each dental software program has the capability to track your referral sources. If you run a new-patient report and it doesn’t include the referral source, you’ll need to run a couple of reports and compare them to determine if everyone has a referral source. When I say everyone, I mean everyone needs a referral source for your practice to move in a positive direction with its marketing.

There are 10 important steps to using your referral systems with your software that you need to understand.

1) Every patient must have a referral source. Your team needs to ask them! It may be another dental office, another patient, a marketing campaign, an event, or a family member.

2) Be as specific as possible. The internet is not a workable source. Ask again to determine the actual source. This may mean Google, your Facebook page, your website, or even the person’s insurance company’s website.

3) Many software systems allow you to track your referral marketing out as well. You can enter into the software the amount spent on a practice and what it was. This is a valuable tool that is often underutilized.

4) Check your reports often. Make sure that if you had 11 new patients in a week that all 11 have a referral source.

5) Thank your referrals, and be HIPAA-compliant with your patient thank you notes. Make sure to follow state laws for rewards for referring to your office.

6) Add pop-ups to your software to thank those patients when they come in next for the referral. People who refer other patients want to know many times that you appreciate their referrals. The actions that get praised and rewarded get repeated.

7) Use the referral information to make educated decisions with your marketing. It’s easy to determine your ROI if you can pinpoint where your patients are coming from.

8) Understand that there may be many referral sources. Most people must hear about your office, read about your office, or see your information many times before they decide to call your office. Set up a system for patients to mention multiple referral sources. If your software allows only one referral source, then decide which referrals take precedence over others. For instance, if a patient says he or she heard about your office from a children’s school presentation and his or her friend Jane Doe also said to come to your office, which one should the person mark down?

9) If a referral source is not listed, add it. You will want to list each specific school presentation by name. Don’t lump them all together. It would be beneficial to even have the year or month listed.

10) You might have to track some referral sources outside of your dental software system. If a patient who is referred doesn’t schedule due to your practice being out of network or not open on weekends, you still want to count that referral source. Not everyone is going to schedule and it’s hard to track a referral source for non-patients unless you start a spreadsheet to supplement your software reports.

Referral sources is an important key performance indicator for your practice. Remember—garbage in, garbage out. Make sure you use your software to help you determine the ROI from your marketing campaigns.

Author’s note: Now is a great time to connect with your patients and ask for referrals. Use the secure video communication and messaging capability of app Practice Mobilizer at If you want a full-scale referral analysis and ROI calculation visit Practice Optimizer at

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Brenda McNulty is a Jameson advisor and Chief of Pediatric and Orthodontic Services. With more than 25 years of experience, Brenda brings a depth of knowledge that encompasses the unique scenarios found in general, orthodontic, and pediatric practices. Brenda has provided dental coaching the past several years for the pediatric and orthodontic market and has spoken at several dental events. She has experience in marketing for specialty practices as well as internal and external marketing for all dental practices.