New patients are important for growing your practice, as we’ve mentioned previously in our article about patient acquisition. While there are many traditional and digital marketing approaches to attracting new patients, word of mouth can be one of the most powerful.
A patient referral program is built around this idea of “word of mouth” and uses your patients as a marketing tool for your practice. Health care practices with patient referral programs use a variety of tactics to encourage patients to refer others in their social or professional circles to visit you for their hearing care needs.
Why are referrals such a powerful tool? People tend to place more confidence in the opinions of their peers than advertising; in fact, 83% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services.
Let’s take a look at some best practices for developing a patient referral program. Keep in mind that depending on the state in which you operate and professional associations you may be a part of, there may be strict guidelines on how to implement a referral program – so do your research ahead of time!
Have a plan
Consider whether you want one or two people to be tasked with discussing referrals with patients or if it should be a teamwide effort. What makes sense for your practice will depend on your typical process with patients and who has the closest relationship with them. If you select to recruit your entire staff in the initiative, create some friendly competition by offering rewards for employees who get the most patient referrals each month.
Be aware that some staff members may not be as comfortable asking patients for referrals as others. Help those having a hard time find an approach that works for them, but don’t force it.
There are numerous ways to get the word out to patients about your referral program. Create flyers, brochures, or cards that introduce the program and include details about how it works and what rewards (if any) you are offering to patients who successfully refer someone. Having these materials on hand simplifies the process for your staff to request referrals. Consider putting up signage in your waiting area and/or exam rooms to prompt patients to ask about referrals and serve as a reminder.
Lastly, develop a marketing campaign as part of your referral strategy. Mention the program in your email newsletters, in social posts, and on your website, but do so mindfully so you don’t come off as needy. The more channels you use to educate patients, the better your chances of getting the number of referrals you’re striving for. Get creative to determine what works!
Whatever methods you choose, make the ask as personal as you can. Rather than saying, “Please refer someone!” ask a patient, “Can you think of anyone you know who may need hearing care?” Write the person’s name down on a card for the patient to pass along.
It’s important to have an understanding of whether your program is successfully bringing in new patients. Regularly evaluate results of your supporting marketing campaign – keeping an eye on email clicks and social engagement – and use them to reach out to patients who have shown interest.
Set up a system to track the referrals themselves. Record the patient’s name, date, and the name of the person they are referring, and make note of whether the referral actually schedules an appointment – and shows up for it. It may seem unnecessary to document referrals that never materialize into scheduled patients, but it will help you understand whether your marketing efforts and rewards offered (see below) are having the desired effect.
Set a goal for the program, like a certain percentage of your patient base, and adapt it over time as you learn and feel more comfortable with the process. The specific number to aim for will depend on the size of your practice, how many current patients you have, and how many appointment slots you are trying to fill.
If state laws and provider ethics in your area allow, offer rewards for existing patients who refer newly scheduled patients. Gift cards, entries into a raffle, or discounted services can all serve as incentives for patients to spread the word about your practice. Make these rewards known in your marketing materials to encourage participation.
Remember: The most impactful incentive you can offer patients is to continue providing exceptional care at every visit.
Know that your patients are unlikely to step out of your office and immediately begin calling friends and family to schedule an appointment. The effort you put in will take time to produce results, so don’t get frustrated if you haven’t secured a referred appointment after the first several weeks or even months.
Additionally, you shouldn’t expect every patient to refer someone. Even those who are satisfied with the services you’ve provided may not know others who need hearing care or feel inclined to spread the word. Let patients know about the referral program but don’t be too pushy – it could backfire.
Your patients can become your best advocates – and a great marketing tool for growing your practice. Other impactful referral channels? Physicians in your area. Check out our blog about physician referral marketing.