Extra! Extra! Read All About It: Spreading The Word About Patient Referrals and Word-Of-Mouth

A successful patient referral program is an incredibly cost-effective way to get your name out there and attract new patients. Although a well-run Google AdWords campaign or well-planned email blast can give great results, there's no better ROI than spending just a little bit of money on business cards and pens, providing a remarkable customer experience, and letting an impressed patient spread the good word about their incredible eye care experience! So, how do you put together a patient referral program that will inspire your existing patients to refer the world to your expert care? Let's take a look at some top tips!


Identify Your Practice Brand, and Gear It Toward Referrals

The first step to getting referrals and expanding your word-of-mouth is deciding what you want your practice to be known for. This is known as your "Practice Brand." Put another way, since we're discussing referrals and word-of-mouth: What kinds of conversations do you want to lead to people referring their friends and family to your practice? Do you want people to think of you when they're discussing their children's incredible experience with Vision Therapy, or Back-to-School exams and eye care? What about when people are discussing the troubles their parents or grandparents are having with Low Vision, Glaucoma, or Macular Degeneration? What's that moment you want people to say, "Oh yeah, I have a great eye doctor that I see for that?"

Once you've identified what your Practice Brand is, make sure that all your marketing materials, and your whole patient experience, are pointed toward conveying that message. 

Don't forget to also include in your messaging that you're the kind of practice that appreciates referrals and encourages word-of-mouth! You should include in your marketing materials phrases like, "tell your friends," and, "now accepting new patients."

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Involve Staff in Getting Patient Referrals

As with all important initiatives in your practice, it's essential to involve your staff in planning and executing your referral program. Every step of the referral process should be discussed so that the entire staff can be kept in the loop. Don't forget to also set office goals, and discuss incentives to encourage staff members to ask for referrals.

Who Should Ask For Referrals, and When?

Since the reception staff are usually the first and last faces of the practice that the patient sees, they often have the best rapport with the patient. This means that, in most cases, they are the ideal candidates to ask for the referral, most of the time as they are wrapping up billing and final instructions with the patient at the end of their appointment. For those who may not be sure exactly how to ask the patient, brainstorm a standard script for them to run through, that includes a natural-sounding request for referrals. 

Although the reception staff will be the usual go-to for asking for referrals, this doesn't mean that other staff members can't or shouldn't take the opportunity when it arises naturally. For instance, in the case of a patient who loves their new pair of eyeglasses or sunglasses, or comments on the great selection of frames in your practice, your optical staff may be in a perfect position to naturally slip in a request for a referral, even before the reception staff mentions it. This can be as simple as an off-handed, "Well, when your friends and family tell you how great you look in your new glasses, don't forget to tell them where you got them!"


Just bought a practice? Don't get rid of staff that long-time patients know and trust. Referrals tend to happen based on established relationships between patients and staff members, so you may lose potential referrals if you give patients that "under new management" vibe.

Set Practice Goals And Staff Incentives

To encourage staff to really do their best to bring in new referrals, you might also consider setting a practice goal and incentives. You can offer incentives both to individual staff members (perhaps a $50 Amazon gift card to the one with the most referrals) and to the office as a whole (maybe a nice dinner at the local steakhouse for the whole team, if the office hits a certain number of referrals this month). The sky's the limit on how best to encourage staff to participate. Be sure to get input from the whole team on what would motivate them most.

Get Creative: Patient Referral Materials and Incentives

The most common material an optometry practice will send patients away with for referral purposes is a business card. It's natural, of course. It has everything the patient might need to refer someone to you, right? It has the office number, the address, the doctor's name, and business hours. So, what's the problem? Well, it's boring. It doesn't stand out. Your business card is much more likely to get lost in a purse or wallet than it is to wind up in someone else's hands for a referral. So, what can you do to increase your chances? Here are some tips:

dr handing out business card

Get Personal With Your Patients

All of the above about the commonality of business cards aside, if done correctly, they're still a fine way to give something tangible to patients to encourage referrals. So, what's the right way to do business cards? Make it more important, by making it personal! Write the doctor's personal email and phone number on the card "in case of any questions or concerns." Let patients know that the doctor is always happy to hear from them and that friends and family are welcome to reach out with any questions as well. This frames the referral as another way you've offered to help them and the people they care about, rather than as a favor you're asking of them. It's a nice way for you to score extra points with the patient, while also furthering your goal of bringing in more referrals.

Think Beyond the Business Card

 One of the universal truths of life is that people love free stuff. Magnets, mugs, pens, you name it; if it's free, people will take it. So why not take advantage? 

  • When giving patients forms to fill out at intake, give them a pen with your practice logo and contact information on it. Make it known that they can keep the pen, and take one for a friend too! 
  • Want another way to make sure your business card doesn't get stuck in a wallet or purse and lost? Make it into a magnet your patients can stick on their refrigerator. This keeps your number handy in case of an eye emergency, and also keeps your practice top of mind when a friend asks them for a referral.
  • Everyone needs their coffee in the morning, especially while dealing with trying to get the kids off to school. Make a back-to-school raffle for a coffee mug with your logo and info on it!

The possibilities are endless for this one, and our Marketing Managers are happy to help you brainstorm! They have years of experience helping doctors think of the best ways to get creative and spread their brand in new and exciting ways.

gift card

Offer Patient Incentives Where Possible

Incentives can be tricky since state laws vary on what you can offer to the referring patient themselves. For this reason, many practices tend to stick with offering discounts on services or other incentives to the new patient being referred. 

However, in places where it is allowed, practices may consider offering both the referring patient and the new patient discounts (either of a certain dollar amount or a percentage) on specific products or services in your practice, entry in a raffle, or gift cards to services such as Amazon or local restaurants. These can be very powerful incentives in places where they are allowed. Do your research and see what your state allows before deciding what you'd like to do.


In Closing...

When patient referrals are done right, they can be a great way to promote new patient growth with minimal investment required. To learn more about how EyeCarePro can help you with this and other optometry marketing initiatives, take a look at our Optometry Growth Plans, or give us a call at 201.591.4350.