5 ways to boost your dental practice's patient referrals

Word-of-mouth advertising-when one person recommends a product or service to another-ranks at the top of the list of marketing strategies in terms of cost-effectiveness. It costs very little yet delivers excellent results.


Word-of-mouth advertising-when one person recommends a product or service to another-ranks at the top of the list of marketing strategies in terms of cost-effectiveness. It costs very little yet delivers excellent results. This would explain why dentists give it such high marks. In an April 2015 survey, the Levin Group Data Center™ found 88.3 percent of respondents identified “referrals from current patients” as their most successful marketing method.

In the new dental economy, when the number of adult dental care visits is declining, you need to make sure you and your team are doing everything possible to encourage patient referrals.

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Here are some basic guidelines:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask. You can’t expect your current patients to realize you wantnew patients. You have to communicate that somehow. Doing so can be as simple as putting up signs where patients will see them, saying “We welcome new patients!” Your front-desk coordinator can mention it at checkout… especially when patients seem very pleased. You can note it on patient correspondence. And, guided by scripting, you or any staff member can ask if there’s anyone who might need the practice’s services.

2. Give patients reasons to praise you to friends and family members. Provide exceptional customer service and your patients will want to tell people about it. They may not even suggest that the people they talk to should come to your practice. They’ll still be making a strong, positive impression on them so that, when the time comes to find a new dentist, they’ll think of you.

3. Implement at least 15 internal marketing strategies. Different patients will response to different patient referral strategies, so your program should consist of a range of approaches, from signage to social media to contests. These should be used consistently and monitored for effectiveness so that underperforming strategies can be replaced with new ideas.

4. Hire a part-time marketing coordinator. It takes time and special skills to manage a multi-faceted patient referral program. Rather than trying to do this yourself or assigning the job to other staff members, hire a part-time marketing coordinator… just 8–10 hours a week to start. There will be a substantial return on this investment, as measured by the increase in new patients.

5. Set a target of one referral per year from 40–60 percent of your patients. People perform better when given performance targets. This one, translated into quarterly, monthly and weekly goals, will motivate your marketing coordinator and serve as a yardstick for measuring program success-making it clear when the mix of strategies needs improvement. 


Generating word-of-mouth advertising in the form of patient referrals represents an outstanding practice-building technique. It offers an excellent return for the time, effort and money your practice invests in it… especially if you follow the guidelines discussed here. 

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