How to Get Your Patients to Refer in Droves

Animation of droves of stick figure people in a long line Here are two remarkably easy-and highly effective-ways to encourage patients to refer family, friends and colleagues to your practice. The cost is almost nothing, so your Return On Investment (ROI) is through the roof.

This is the closest thing you’ll find to guarantee success in internal marketing, and with a little practice and persistence, it’s almost effortless to generate patient referrals.

The only tough part is making the commitment and doing it.

1. ASK PATIENTS FOR REFERRALS

Yes, you really do have to ask. That’s rule one. You look busy to the patient and they don’t think to refer. Brochures or signs are passive-helpful as reinforcement tools, but they don’t engage or inspire the patient directly.

Far more than half of the doctors we talk to have heard of “asking for referrals,” but-here’s the tough part-many shy away…embarrassed, uncomfortable, or afraid they’ll look needy. In fact, most patients would happily refer and would love to be asked.

Consider the patient’s perspective. If they are pleased with your professional services, they are grateful, appreciative and naturally ready to say “thanks” in return. So ask. Not asking is more than an omission, it’s a costly mistake and a golden opportunity lost.

Here’s how to get beyond the stage fright (or other excuses) and get into the habit.

Doctor Talk. It’s best if the doctor does the asking because that’s the highest level connecting point for the patient, and the most direct channel for appreciation.

Timing is Important. Pick a moment when you know the patient is happy and when you’ve achieved great results. (Not when they are in pain from surgery.) Ask a “checking” question or two to make sure they’re up on the satisfaction curve: “Did we do a good job for you?” or “Are you looking forward to showing off those new pearly whites at your sister’s wedding?” Or when a patient volunteers a compliment: “I’m so glad you took care of that for me!”

Script it. Rehearse it. Keep it short and sincere. With a little preparation, you will not need the script, but it helps you focus your message. One of the best we’ve heard is to sincerely say to
the individual that you like having them as a patient, and that you would love it if they’d send their friends because you know they’d be great patients too.

Make it a habit. Look for opportunities to ask for referrals and do so often everyday as part of your regular routine. Mark the chart so that you (or your staff) only ask once (otherwise, you may look needy).

2. GIVE PATIENTS A ONE MINUTE COMMERCIAL

Here’s how to generate specific types of cases in your internal marketing.
Contrary to what you might think, the typical patient knows very little about all you do in your practice. They know what you did for them, but that’s just about it. You see the big picture but unless the patient has a need, there’s no reason for them to be aware of the full range of services in your office. So tell them just a little more about the practice.

Reserve a minute near the end of each patient visit, and present a short, informative “commercial” about ways you help other patients in the practice. Make your message brief, conversational, informal-but focused on something you’d like to promote.

An anecdotal approach is casual and effective-simply tell a story about how you helped a patient recently, or how a procedure or approach you use is being successful, or that your office now provides something many patients have requested.

For example,

“Oh, and by the way, I’d like to make you aware of something important. One of my patients had her son drop her off here the other day, and upon check out I noticed he was wearing a neck brace. I asked him how he was doing and he said, ‘Not very well.’

Now it turns out his mother has been coming to our office for years, but she didn’t know that we not only treat neck pain, but in fact, have a special expertise in that area. I’m telling you this just in case you ever run into someone who is struggling with neck pain problems, because if so, chances are we can really help them. Besides, we’d take extra special care of anyone you refer. OK?”

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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