How many charts do you have at your practice? 1500? 2000? 3000? Imagine if every month you could get 10% of your entire patient base to refer a friend. And then these new patients also bring in a friend of their own, and so on. In a few years you’d have thousands and thousands of patients.

Many dentists drive themselves crazy trying to market for new patients with postcards, flyers, radio ads, TV ads, etc.  And while I’m not saying that you shouldn’t promote (promotion is actually very important), as you’ve probably experienced, it can also get very expensive – especially when it’s not getting a result.

Referrals, on the other hand, are free.

One of the primary things to keep in mind about referrals is that happy, active patients refer. That’s a truism in all industries. Happy customers tell their friends. Very happy customers insist that their friends come in. Obviously, inactive patients are less likely to refer. Patients who didn’t get their full treatment plans – but only what their insurance would cover – aren’t likely to refer either.

Marketing to your existing patient base is easier and cheaper than direct new patient marketing. Your patients already know and like you. You probably have their email addresses. They know that you provide good care. They are also more likely to respond to your marketing – even if they haven’t been in for a couple of years. So bring them in and give them excellent care. Build a good relationship with them. Close them on their full treatment plans and deliver to them promptly.

I just found out the most neglected (and free) source of new patients for dentists!Click To Tweet

Don’t deactivate any charts unless you absolutely have to. Instead figure out ways to get them active again. Email them special offers, such as a free consultation or exam for patients who haven’t been seen for more than a year. Send them brochures or newsletters. Remind them that they’re due for another cleaning. Get really active on your office’s Facebook page. Facebook, by the way, is an extremely underutilized tool for most dental offices. Inviting your patients to “like” your page and keeping it up to date with posts and photos is an excellent way to stay present in your patients’ minds. And people seeing their friends posting positively on your Facebook page is the very best kind of free marketing.

Of course you can deactivate charts of patients that have voiced that they no longer wish to be your patient or receive mail from you, as well as patients who move out of state or pass away. But short of that, you’d be surprised how many patients will come back after a few years of inactivity. They usually still consider themselves to be your patient but simply “forgot” to come in. Heck, I have a co-worker who moved from Florida to California, and then he saw his old dentist’s profile on Facebook and decided to come in for a cleaning and exam while he was visiting family in Florida. So don’t give up on patients so easily.

(Related: Not Getting Enough New Patient Referrals? Here’s Why)

Once you get these patients back in and provide them good care, you should do two things: a) ask them if they have any friends or family who need dental treatment or are looking for a new dentist, and b) ask them to write a review about you online.

One simple tool to implement is a survey to give your patients with a few questions, such as:

What did you like most about your experience here?”

“Do you have any friends or family that need dental treatment or are looking for a new dentist?”

“If you were to refer another person to our practice, what would you tell them?”

With proper permission, this gives you potential testimonials you can use on your website or on promotional pieces (signed with their initials, not their full name).*

Many doctors do a Care to Share program. If that works for you, keep doing it. I’ve also had many clients call the program “Bring a Friend.” This states exactly what you want them to do – bring a friend!

Some doctors offer incentives for patients to bring in referrals (i.e. coffee mugs, etc.). If you intend to do this, check the dental practice act in your state as laws in this regard can differ. Find out what you can and can’t do in that regard.

The moral of the story is to pay at least as much attention to your existing patient base and referrals as you do to marketing directly to new patients. Get creative with it. Make it fun and get your patients to play the game with you of bringing in as many of their friends and family as they can, so you can help them, too. There is no better marketing than excellent goodwill with your existing patients!


*For more information on what you can and cannot use in Dental advertising, please review the laws in your state and your state’s dental practice act.