How to Get Your Patients to Refer in Droves

 In Practice Building

How to Get Your Patients to Refer in Droves

The cost is low, and the Return on Investment is high … once you begin.

By Stewart Gandolf, MBA and Lonnie Hirsch

Here are three remarkably easy and highly effective ways to encourage patients to refer family, friends and colleagues to your practice. Naturopathic physicians are probably among the top ranks of professionals for connecting with their patients, so for many, it will be easy to get comfortable with these “marketing tactics.”

What’s more, the cost is almost nothing, so your Return-On-Investment (ROI) is through the roof. You’ll find additional ideas about Internal Marketing at, but here are some of the basic ingredients and easy ways to begin immediately.

1. Ask patients for referrals. Yes, you really do have to ask. That’s rule one. Patients don’t normally refer spontaneously, but most patients would happily refer and would love to be asked.

More than half of the professionals we talk with have heard of “asking for referrals,” but they feel uncomfortable. Patients who are pleased with your services are grateful, and they’re ready to say “thanks” in return. So ask! Not asking is a costly mistake and a golden opportunity lost.

Here’s how to get beyond the stage fright (or other excuses):

  • Doctor talk. It’s best if the physician does the asking, because that’s the highest-level connecting point for the patient, and the most direct channel for appreciation. Don’t delegate.
  • Timing is important. Pick a moment when you know the patient is happy and when you’ve achieved great results. Ask a “checking question” to make sure they’re up on the satisfaction curve: “Did we do a good job for you?” or “… And things have continued to improve overall?”
  • Script it. Rehearse it. Keep it short and sincere. One of the best “scripts” is to sincerely say that you like having them as a patient, and you would love it if they’d refer their friends because you know they would be great patients, too.

2. Give patients a one-minute commercial. Contrary to what you might think, the typical patient probably does not know all the capabilities of you and your practice. Often, there’s simply no reason for them to be aware of your full range of services. So reserve a minute to tell them. 

With each visit, present a short bit of information about ways you help other patients. Make it brief, conversational, informal, but focused on something you would like to promote.

One approach is to simply tell a story about benefits others have found or something that your practice now provides.

For example: “By the way, I wanted to let you know about something that many of our patients have been asking about.

“I’ve discovered that a lot of people think it’s a major challenge just to eat right every meal every day, or that meal planning is difficult. I’ll be presenting a lot of helpful and easy tips about healthy eating, why it’s easy to do, and why it’s important to the whole person.

“We’ve set up an evening presentation about the benefits of nutrition and weight management. It’s about an hour and a half, here at this office on Thursday evening (date). And a nutritionist will join me in answering questions.

“If you or someone you know are interested in attending, I hope you’ll help me spread the word. Of course it’s free, but our space is limited.”

Tell every patient you see for a month and no longer than one minute in length. Have several timely topics, and perhaps a note on the chart will keep your material fresh.

3. Inspire patient ambassadors. Some patients who refer to your office will become repeat referral ambassadors. And when you encourage referrals, it inspires more of the same. Rewards after the fact work better than contests and are free of any issues created with up-front promises. 

So here’s how to reinforce the referral behavior:

  • With the first referral, personally make a brief “thank you” phone call. Physicians who do this routinely realize that it doesn’t take long. Plus you’ll find your patients LOVE this.
  • With every referral, send a brief note of thanks. Simple Thank You notes are better than postcards, and consistency is more important than an elaborate format.
  • Consider a token gift item when it’s practical and appropriate. Something simple and low cost will reinforce the second or third referral.

Challenging Start

This is the closest thing you’ll find to assured success in internal marketing, and with a little practice and persistence, it’s almost effortless to generate patient referrals. The main challenge is simply getting started. The water’s quite warm once you jump in.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch are cofounders of Healthcare Success Strategies, and two of America’s most experienced practice marketers. They have worked with all professional disciplines for a combined 30 years, and have consulted with more than 3,543 private healthcare practices. They have spoken at hundreds of venues across North America and their practical guidance on highly effective practice marketing appears regularly in professional publications. Reach them at (888) 679-0050, through their Web site at, or via e-mail at © 2010 Healthcare Success Strategies

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