Gyl's Guide to Managing for Success
Dr. Kasewurm is the founder, president, and owner of Professional Hearing Services in St. Joseph, MI, which has more than 16,000 patient visits a year.
No matter how long you have been in business, there are times when the phone just doesn't ring and you wonder if you will ever see a new patient again. So, who you gonna call? If you're as old as I am, the impulse would be to say, “Ghostbusters,” but that probably won't deliver the results you want. You can get new patients coming through your doors just as easily though: Ask your patients to refer their friends and relatives to you.
Many of my colleagues say they already do this, but unless you have a specific program in place, regular referrals from your patients aren't likely. It's rather like running into a friend you haven't seen and ending the conversation with, “We should get together sometime.” Unless the discussion concludes with an actual date and time for a meeting, it's unlikely that you will reunite in the near future.
The key to a successful patient referral program is not only to ask for them, but to implement a system that builds asking into your processes so it happens without fail. If requests for referrals are sporadic, they won't have the positive impact they could on your business. I once gained eight new patients in a single month from just one patient who was extremely pleased with his hearing aids.
TIMING AND METHODS
When asking your patients to refer others to you, consider the timing of the request. You need to identify the point at which your patients have received excellent care and are receptive to a request. The best times to ask for a referral are when a new patient has just gotten used to hearing aids and is noticing an improvement in his quality of life, or perhaps after you have provided exceptional care or service.
Consider also the method of the request. This is best done by expressing the desire for a referral face-to-face, although many patients are not comfortable providing information about a potential referral in person because they feel put on the spot or they simply won't be able to think of someone at that particular moment who needs your services. I have found it is best to mention how much you appreciate and rely on referrals from your satisfied patients, and then follow up on that request with a physical mailing to their home or email address.
Some feel it is helpful to offer patients an incentive for their referral. The incentive must be nominal because Medicare and other third-party payers perceive anything more than $100 as “buying referrals,” but thanks in the form of flowers, batteries, or handwritten notes can certainly show patients that you appreciate their referrals and encourage them to refer more people to you. Most satisfied patients are so pleased with the services you provide that they will not expect any incentive other than personal thanks, but for others, the small token of appreciation will be the little extra push they need to pass on your card or mention your name to a friend or relative.
You can incentivize referrals by having cards printed with your picture on them and a blank space to fill in an expiration date. The card can be redeemed for a free screening or discount if the patient schedules an appointment before the expiration date, and the date should be no more than one month in the future. This will encourage the patient to hand out the card immediately rather than put it in his pocket and forget about it. Set a goal for how many new patients you would like to gain, and monitor how much revenue is generated from the referral program at the end of the month. In my office, my staff and I put five referral cards in our pocket each morning, and we make sure to hand them out that day. This habit makes asking our patients for referrals a regular part of what we do each day.
It may take some time to finetune your process, but once you request referrals on a regular basis, you will start to see a steady stream of new patients walking through your doors each month.
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