Increasing Patient-to-Patient Referrals for Your Medical Practice

Written by on September 30, 2013 in Practice tips - No comments

35 year old Jennifer is pleased with the care and attention that she receives from her dentist, so she routinely refers many of her friends to the clinic. Dr. Norton goes out of his way to understand how each of his new patients found his practice, and for every patient referral, he sends out a signed thank you note to the original referrer. Needless to say, Dr. Norton’s dental clinic has no dearth of patients.

Patient-to-patient referral is one of the most effective ways to build the reputation of your medical practice. If you ignore this golden opportunity, you may be turning your back on a low-investment, high-return strategy to grow your practice. With the intimate integration of social media into our day to day lives, patient referrals have now become more complex and have gained more importance. Word of mouth publicity today is as simple as a Facebook update by one of your patients, praising the care that they received at your office.

Your marketing plan should have special emphasis on maintaining and increasing your referrals. It needs to be cultivated actively, and must meld into the DNA of your practice. Only if you understand the reasons that encourage a patient to refer others to your clinic, can you play an active role in improving this aspect of your marketing plan.

What prompts patient-to-patient referrals?

A survey by ClickFox on Consumer Tipping Points reveal that 52% of disgruntled customers share their unsavory experience with their friends and family, 32% stop dealing with the company altogether, and 60% of consumers are influenced by detrimental comments aired on social media.

The fact is that when people have a negative experience, they tell up to 10 people (possibly more, considering social media), and happy customers may share details about their good experience only with 2 or 3 others. The secret behind keeping your referral rates up is to ensure that your patients are satisfied with your service, and to encourage them to talk positively about your practice to their friends and family.

Every single touch-point between the patient and the practice will influence his or her perception about the service. The initial phone call, how they were greeted, whether all their questions were answered, how easy it was to find your office, how long they had to wait for the appointment, the quality of reading material in the waiting room, the demeanor of staff, your bedside manner, and post-visit communications, all play a crucial role in how many points you score in the patient’s mind.

There is a good chance that the patient will refer others to your practice if they had a positive experience. A negative experience may not just lead to the loss of the patient, but also the possibility of all future referrals as well.

A 2012 survey by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Heath reveals that 50% of parents thought that word of mouth is very important when selecting a pediatrician. 25% thought that doctor rating websites are very important, out of which 30% selected a doctor based on good ratings. Younger people are more likely to look you up Yelp or similar services before they decide whether to visit you or not. Referrals from friends and online reviews, both play an important role in whether the patient decides to walk in your door or not.

Encouraging word-of-mouth referrals

Perhaps one of the toughest things for a doctor and his staff to do is to ask a patient to refer others to the practice. But this can be done very naturally by delivering a short, personal message to the patient, and ending it with a request for referrals. Consider what Dr. Norton told Jennifer: “Jennifer, I am pleased to see that you are so thrilled with your smile makeover. I hope you will tell your friends and family about our practice so we may have a chance to help them get great smiles too.”

You may send your patients away with a promotional item like a desktop calendar to show your appreciation. To encourage online reviews, you may also specifically request them to post a review on Google Places, Yelp, or other directories where you are listed. Whenever a new patient comes in, find out who referred them. If it is one of your previous patients, make sure that you thank them.

Blogging to build referrals

A blog is a powerful way to build referrals at a very low cost. It is your very own marketing channel, and gives you considerable power and flexibility to position yourself in the best possible light. You can share information about the latest advances in your specialty and answer questions posed by your readers. A blog is a great way to build authority, and encourage people to visit you or refer your practice to others.

Social media – the new word of mouth

You just cannot ignore social media, the new physician referral system. Before a patient walks in for an appointment, chances are that he has tweeted about it or updated his Facebook status. While he waits for the appointment, he has probably checked into FourSquare. After leaving the clinic, he most likely updates his network about the experience he had. The ClickFox survey reveals that 8% of respondents were more likely to post comments on social media after a positive experience, while 16% are likely to do so after a negative experience. With the average number of 254 social media friends per person (Source: Pew Research Center), you can see how many potential patients a single person can influence.

Medical practices must establish their presence where their potential patients congregate. Set up a Facebook page to let your potential patients see how happy people are to interact with you. They are going to see how invested you are in educating them, and helping them understand things that are important to their health.

People are going to look for more and more convenient ways to select their healthcare service providers. Those who have a head-start in setting up a good online presence, including a website, blog and social media pages, will be the ones that will attract the maximum number of patients.

By Nisha Salim

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