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Gulp. You can do this! Dental hygienists might find that they like asking for patient referrals

Aug. 1, 2017
Eileen Morrissey, RDH, explains why dental hygienists might actually enjoy asking patients for referrals.

By Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

Do you participate in building the hygiene sector of your practice by asking for patient referrals? When I ask hygienists how they feel about this, I get mixed reactions. For the majority, the answer is a resounding, “No way!” My hope is that this column inspires you to take a walk outside your comfort zone and try it. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

If you believe that your dental hygiene care and that of your doctor’s is second to none, then why not circulate that message? Think about the fact that a significant number of people do not get regular dental care for many reasons. We know that poor dental health directly or indirectly impacts overall systemic health.

If such patients are staying away because of low perceived need or fear, and they hear positive accolades from friends who are your satisfied patients, then you’re providing a public health service. These potential patients will be introduced to an opportunity for good dental health in your practice. Also, there are many other patients out there who are simply not enthusiastic about the care they are currently receiving.

When you believe in the care provided by your practice, being an enthusiastic champion for the cause can be very gratifying, and it makes the doctors extraordinarily happy. Some employers even recognize the dental hygienists’ efforts with additional incentives.

Consider the following scenario that probably happens more often than not in your office. You’ve delivered the recare visit in a systematic and impressive fashion, and the results are top shelf. You have educated and helped your patient with some of her home-care concerns. Further, you happen to be a kind, caring, and warm hygienist who genuinely likes helping the people you serve.

As the visit winds down, you can’t help but notice that Mrs. Patient is beaming at you as you complete your documentation. Then, it happens. She says something like, “Eileen, this was a great visit. My mouth feels fantastic, and thank you for being so gentle.”

If you’re a marketing-minded, savvy hygienist, you will know to seize the moment. Your response to her compliment might be, “Susan, thank you! We’d love to have more people like you in our practice. So, if you know anyone who you think might benefit from our services, will you tell them about our office?”

This sentiment is short, sweet, and speaks from the heart. Her response will invariably be, “Absolutely!” You can then hand her a few business cards. Some of my colleagues have their own practice cards with their names imprinted. If you do not, it will be just as effective to handwrite your name on the practice card. It’s helpful to keep a stack in your treatment room so that you can dispense them on a regular basis!

Hold on, take a deep breath, and stay with me. Asking for a referral does not need to be a dreaded task. I understand that it strikes fear in the hearts of many. We may not want to ask because we fear rejection, we don’t think we need to be salespeople, we don’t want patients to think we’re desperate, or any multitude of reasons. I understand, but it does get easier once you adopt the mindset and take the aforementioned leap.

How, and when do you ask? Keep the following in mind. It’s a no-brainer when a patient gives you a compliment, as in the scenario I described. However, you can also set yourself up for the same compliment. After a successful patient appointment when you sense positive vibrations, sit the patient up in the chair so that you’re in eye contact. Ask Mr. Client if he was satisfied with how the session went today. When he said, “Fabulous,” you’re back to the compliment stage, and you can proceed with the referral process.

Since asking for referrals becomes easier with practice, you should try to do it regularly. Consider targeting two or three patients each day. This can be discussed in advance with your doctor or at the team huddle. Now, what do you do if the patient retorts with something like, “What are you, desperate?” I can tell you firsthand that this rarely happens. Remember, we sometimes have to be actors. A patient responded like this to me only once, and my Academy Award winning comeback was, “Of course we’re not desperate! We just want more great patients like you in the practice. Will you help spread the word?”

This was delivered with eye contact and a big smile. Mr. Nasty had no idea how I really felt about him, which is part of the fun of being an actor. I handed him a business card, and what could he do but take it? After all, I had just appealed to his ego with a big compliment. And guess what? He referred someone!

I promise that if you try this marketing strategy, you are really, really going to like it. When you start seeing referrals and patients come in specifically asking for you, it gets even better. Onward we go; it is in our hearts’ core. RDH

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Rowan College at Burlington County. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at