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Want to increase your net? Cast a broader one!

Issue 4

As the distinction between oral and overall health continues to blur, the opportunity to develop patient referral sources from both within and outside of dentistry continues to expand. Referrals from health professionals outside dentistry

As the distinction between oral and overall health continues to blur, the opportunity to develop patient referral sources from both within and outside of dentistry continues to expand.

Referrals from health professionals outside dentistry

Dental specialists have long known the value of cultivating relationships with their general practitioner colleagues.  G.P.s have similar opportunities to connect with colleagues outside of dentistry, the public at large, and even fellow dentists if they offer a service their colleagues are unable or unwilling to offer, or in other ways demonstrate ‘added value.’

Dr. Allan Gross, president of bizcentsfordocs says “Most dental specialists are not comfortable referring potential new patients to just one general dentist considering the relationship he/she has with others.  There is (however, potential) within the medical community.”

Gross relates one example where a dentist noticed a local physician offering alternative medicine.  “The dentist had not placed amalgams for years and thought this doctor might be interested in meeting him.  The doctor was so excited…not only did he become a patient, he sent over 80 patients to his office in a period of less than one year….and how much did that cost in marketing? About 2 hours of his time.”

Other ways to encourage physician referrals is to contact each patient’s physician to receive additional information about anything revealed during the initial medical history, or if any change in status is observed.   In this way, the practice becomes known for its thoroughness and concern for the patient’s health.  This message is not lost on the physician’s team either.

Sleep Apnea care wakes up your referrals?

Treatment of sleep apnea and related conditions is one of the fastest growing areas of oral health care.  According to Philip Goduco, DDS of Goduco Smiles, “I set up lunches with both physicians and dentists, the latter starting with my list of dental school classmates, and continuing with those I know who do not care to affix the oral appliance. I also contact the sleep labs, either directly, or by calling my physician friends and acquaintances. It’s also possible to search the Internet for ‘sleep centers, sleep laboratories’, and so forth.”  Goduco then sets a time to meet, not only with the doctors, but their technicians too, to let them know he is “…looking for a center to which to send my patients to have two studies done; one to establish a base line, and one for titrating the oral appliance.”   Goduco also lectures on the topic, which is another valuable way to create awareness and enthusiasm about his service.

While there is an investment of time and money required to become proficient, Dr. Goduco considers it to be one that has already paid off, and whose return will only increase over time:

Do well by doing good?

Dr. Gross says “There are many ways to be embraced by your community.  A food drive at Thanksgiving, a toy drive at Christmas, a blood drive (have the van in your parking lot), a walk/run charity event that can be co-sponsored are just a few ideas and opportunities that can build your reputation as one who is committed to your community on many levels.”
Promotion is accomplished both inside and outside your practice. Internal promotion channels include:

  • On Hold Message

  • In-Office Display Items e.g. Posters, Lapel Buttons, etc.

  • Fund raising web page

  • Social networking sites

  • External tools include:

  • Press Releases

  • Personal Networking

  • Social networking sites

  • Fund raising web page

For an example, visit smiletree.org

Rally the troops?

Consider a team meeting whose topic is identifying ways to communicate to the health community how your practice demonstrates its commitment to collaborative care (and why, therefore, your referrals will be made to look good in the eyes of those they refer).

Seek out opportunities to exchange information with fellow health care providers and act in a collaborative way to better and more efficiently deliver care to those patients you have in common.  Once that bond is established, just watch the referrals build.
Strength in numbers

While you might ‘get lucky’ and receive as many referrals as you can handle from a single source, it’s more likely you’ll need to develop and cultivate several sources.  I built my dental marketing practice largely by networking over the years to where now hardly a week goes by that I do not receive a referral from one of dozens of sources.  Did every attempt at establishing a referral source result in success?  No way!  Were I to venture a guess, I’d say that one of every 25 to 50 attempts bore some sort of fruit.  And sometimes, it took many years for that to occur.

The medium IS the message?

Realize that it’s not always what you say; it’s how frequently you say it, and that you say anything at all.  For example: if you regularly communicate with your patients, referral sources, the media, etc., the very fact you are reaching out to them reminds them of your existence and, with hope, reinforces your brand identity (just don’t overdo it or you’ll be perceived as a nuisance – in my experience, dentists more often err on the side of too little, as opposed to too much contact, however).  What you are sending to them becomes almost incidental.  How often has someone responded to a letter or telephone call asking you about something completely unrelated to what you sent or said?  It’s happens to us almost daily, and you can bet we don’t care why they’ve called, only that they’ve called!

Cultivation keys?

Gross recommends sending flowers or candy throughout the year as a “…thank you for everybody in the office to see.”  This is a small expense to pay to be noticed and appreciated, not only by the referral source, but quite possibly by its patients.

In general, the successful referral program:
1.     Develops over time
2.     Is a ‘numbers game’ in that the more you attempt, the more successes you have
3.     Involves a learning curve in that the more you attempt, the more proficient you become
4.     Draws from a number of varied sources
5.     Makes your referral sources look good in the eyes of its patients
6.     Makes your referral source’s job easier by e.g. providing timely and complete feedback on the status and treatment of the referred patient
7.     Automates the process to the extent possible e.g. through social networking sites, without ever losing its ‘personal touch’
8.     Is reciprocal

The sooner you begin reaching out beyond your patient base, and perhaps your comfort zone, the sooner you and your practice will reap the benefits.

Daniel Bobrow, MBA, is president of the American Dental Marketing Company, a dentistry marketing and patient communications consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Cause™. Readers interested in learning more about integrated marketing and patient communication products, systems and services are invited to contact Mr. Bobrow at 312-455-9488 or DBobrow@AmericanDentalMarketing.com or visit AmericanDentalMarketing.com.

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