Patient Referral Programs and How They Can Grow Your Practice

By: Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT

Patient referral programs are an inexpensive and easy way to help increase your patient volume.  These programs essentially take “word of mouth” marketing to the next level.  The idea is simple: offer rewards to those patients who refer their family, friends and colleagues.  The strongest referrals a practice can gain are those that come from satisfied and loyal patients.  It’s been shown that consumers trust opinions and recommendations of their family and friends more than they trust advertising.  

With the increasing availability of Direct Access in the physical therapy world, direct patient referrals have become a more feasible and successful marketing tool to help grow your practice.  Having said this, it is a good idea to do some research prior to initiating a patient referral program.  Depending on your state, your practice act, and your professional associations, there may be restrictions or guidelines regarding patient referral programs.

Design the Program

Initially building the program can take time, however, the investment will be worth the return.  Some items to consider include what constitutes a reward worthy referral?  Will there only be a reward issued if the referral actually participates in an evaluation or are there incentives for simply supplying names and contact information for potential referrals even if they don’t end up scheduling an appointment?  You will have to decide if you wish to establish a tiered referral program or keep it as an all or none reward.  In addition, what methods can be used to submit a referral and how will your staff track the referral source?  If you are an OptimisPT subscriber, you can record this information when the patient is registered into the EMR and review the “How did you hear about us?” report to keep track of the data. 

Decide who will communicate the program to your current patients.  Front office staff? Therapists? Both? This decision may depend on how your particular practice functions.  Regardless of who is selected, they should be provided with a written document clearly outlining the program details.  This will allow them to communicate the program accurately to the patients.

Select the Rewards and Incentives

When determining what type of reward to offer, think about what would be of most value to your patients.  Incentives could range from gift cards to Amazon, a local store or restaurant, discounts on future services at your practice, or entries into a raffle.  You could also have an option for charitable giving where your practice will donate a set amount to a local charity.  Social gifting is another idea for an incentive.  The idea behind social gifting is that the patient who refers the new client receives an incentive, as well as the new client.  It’s a win-win. Options could include a gift card for the current patient and a discount on the services for the new referral.  Whatever reward and incentive options you choose, keep in mind that it is the simple offering of a reward, not the amount of the reward, which determines the likelihood of gaining referrals.

Advertise the Program

Once you decide on the program details and incentives, you will need to determine how you are going to make your patients aware of your patient referral program.  There are numerous ways to promote the program including creating flyers and posters to be used within your clinic.  If you use OptimisPT, you can send a mass email to your past and present patients announcing the new program, including all pertinent details.  For any new patients, OptimisPT subscribers can also create a patient referral program document to be sent either via email or via the patient portal to be incorporated into your patient registration forms.  The program could also be mentioned on your payment invoices and included within your email signature. 

At the time of check out, you can provide patients with referral cards.  These pre-filled cards provide a space for the patient to write in their own name.  The patient can then give the cards, which include your practice information, to family and friends to be turned in when the referral comes into your clinic allowing your patient to get credit for the referral.

Don’t forget to update your website and social media accounts announcing the program.  For your website in particular, make sure the program is discoverable.  You could include a pop up that displays as soon as someone accesses your website.  Create an individual tab or page including program requirements, incentive information, and FAQs.   A referral submittal form is also a good idea.  You need to make it as easy as possible for patients to refer family and friends.

Key Takeaways

One of the most successful methods to increase patient volume is to keep your current patients happy and satisfied so they will recommend your services to others.  Creating a patient referral program is an excellent way to say thank you to your already loyal customers, as well as, give them reason to continue to refer family, friends and colleagues.  

Start testing this program out with your best patients.  These patients are easy to identify.  They are the ones who have returned time and time again when they have required therapy services.  If you’re an OptimisPT user, you can send out the Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey to all your patients free of charge, allowing you to collect information on happy customers by reviewing the results of the survey via the available report within our software.

Be patient.  Your referral program will most likely not become successful overnight.  This process is a marathon, not a sprint.  You will want to be sure to collect the stats to see if the program is worth the initial investment.  If your return is not as big as you had hoped, then you may want to tweak the program a bit.  Make sure that you have made it as easy as possible for your patients to participate.  Change up the reward offerings to see if that makes it more attractive.  In addition, be sure you are promoting it regularly and remind staff to continue to educate the patients.  If your patients are not aware of the program, they cannot participate.

Referrals coming from your current patients are invaluable.  This type of referral speaks volumes to the quality of care being provided at your practice.  If you have not yet been encouraging referrals from your current patients, now is the time to develop and implement a patient referral program.  This is a fantastic way to increase your revenue while at the same time, thanking your loyal patients.

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