The Incredibly Simple Reason Most Patients Don’t Make Referrals (and How to Fix That)

Red "Doctor" block text with stethoscope listening to the "O's" Somewhere in the recesses of their brains there’s a point of professional pride among doctors that tells them: “Being a good physician and providing excellent clinical care will carry the day for success in business.”

Caring for the health concerns of people will please and benefit patients. And that satisfaction will bond them to the practice. Future and continuing care is a given, and patient referrals of friends and family will assuredly follow. What’s more, the office staff shares this perception and attitude.

We’re all in favor of top-notch medical care and positive, healthy outcomes. Few, if any, patient referrals would happen without this foundation of excellence. But here’s where wishful thinking smashes into reality. Nobody meant to lie to you, but being good does not guarantee success nor open the gates to a torrent of patient referrals.

The incredibly simple reason that patients fail to make referrals is that nobody asks. More specifically, referrals occur when the office has a regular system (and mindset) in place that fosters referrals.

5 big ideas to help reshape your thinking…

To many providers, asking for referrals seems either out of place or professionally inappropriate. In fact, there are almost no real barriers, and there’s a strong opportunity for success.

Satisfied patients want to return the favor. Human nature is inclined to respond with kindness. People like helping others who have helped them, but they probably don’t know that a referral is an easy (and no-cost) way for them to act.

Referrals help the patient’s friends and family. Sure, a new patient benefits the practice, but your service is of greatest value to the individual(s) who has been referred.

Rejection is an imagined fear. Nothing drastic or dramatic follows a simple and polite referral request. At worst, perhaps the patient takes no action, forgets or simply declines. There is no real downside to asking.

People like doing business with people they like. In every business environment, customers feel a sense of confidence in working with those people they know. And when satisfaction is high, they willingly share this sense of trust with others. (Assuming they are asked.)

Individuals who make referrals are more loyal. In referring your services to a friend, the patient is reaffirming their own “purchase decision.” In short, they are more likely to remember and follow their own advice in the future.

Above all, the primary pathway to encouraging and inspiring patient referrals from people you’ve helped is…you’ve got to ask for referrals. Few patients will think of it on their own, but nearly all satisfied patients will respond favorably when asked.

For related reading and more on this topic, click through to: Improving Satisfaction and Winning Patient Referrals, and Ten Ways to Use the Power of Internal Marketing.

Lonnie Hirsch

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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