If your appointment schedule is full most days and you’re booked out for routine visits weeks or even months in advance, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about the need to attract new patients. But for a successful practice to remain that way, having the ability and capacity to attract and accept new patients-even if only a few each month-is essential. Attrition happens in every practice as patients move away from the area, have a change in insurance that requires them to find a new doctor, die, or simply decide they want to see another healthcare provider for any number of reasons. Replacing these patients with new ones is the lifeblood of a healthy practice.
The most cost-effective method for bringing new patients into a practice is by winning referrals from existing patients. Word-of-mouth is by far the best form of advertising, in part because when patients arrive in your office by referral, they’re already “sold” on your services. They’ve been told enough good things about you before they ever make that first appointment that they’re prepared to like and appreciate you on sight. Here are a few points to consider if you’re interested in expanding your patient base via referrals.
Be accessible. Make it as easy as possible for existing patients to get in to see you for both urgent and routine healthcare needs. Patients who have to wait to get on your schedule will assume that you are already so busy that you don’t need any additional patients in your practice. Make it your goal to have patients tell others, “It’s easy to get an appointment when I need one; they always seem to be able to fit me in.”
Make patients aware that referrals are welcome. Posting a tasteful sign in each exam room alerting patients to the fact that you appreciate their referrals is an easy, unobtrusive way to convey your message. You can also print a note on billing statements that reads, “Thank you for trusting us with your care. Referrals to our practice are always welcome and appreciated.”
Find out where referrals are coming from and acknowledge them. Your intake form should include a question about how new patients found out about your practice, whether it was through the yellow pages, a Google search, a hospital medical staff or medical society directory, or through a referral. If the answer on the form indicates a friend or family referral, a follow-up question should read: “Do we have your permission to thank this person for recommending you to our practice?” If the answer to that question is yes, then the practitioner (not an office staff person) should either send a thank-you card, pick up the phone to thank the patient who made the referral, or if the referring patient is someone seen regularly in the office make a note in the file to thank them in person the next time they’re in.
Do you have a raving fan? If you notice that a patient refers friends and family members to your office on a regular basis, you have a raving fan. When this occurs, flowers along with a handwritten thank-you note are in order. Simply say, “We’ve noticed that you’ve been referring many of your friends to our office recently and we wanted to let you know that we appreciate your confidence in us.” And then watch for even more referrals to come in!