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May, 2016

How to Inspire Patients to Refer

By Josh Wagner, DC

Early in my career, I didn't get many referrals. I was getting great patient results and asking for referrals as I'd been taught. Soon it became clear my patients weren't the reason – I was.

Patient referrals are never about results alone. Are they a contributing factor? Perhaps. But you likely have received referrals from patients who haven't even gotten the results they're expecting yet. If you keep reading, you can experience this, too. Patients expect they're going to get results, and no one refers based on just expectations being met.

Common Mistakes Many DCs Make

Referrals also aren't based on asking for them, especially not constantly asking as so many DCs are told to do. Over-asking hurts your referrals because it makes patients feel uncomfortable. People won't refer someone they care about into an uncomfortable situation. It's human psychology. And that applies to any aspect of the patient experience, not just over-asking for referrals. Over-education or any pressure whatsoever by you or your staff could reduce your chances of getting a referral.

Referrals aren't about gifting or prizes, either. You can always gift as a nice gesture for a patient who refers, but as a surprise afterward, not as the incentive. It should be an act of caring and giving, not a commercial incentive.

Why Patients Refer

So, why do patient referrals actually happen, both in chiropractic practices and everywhere else? Once you understand the true underlying reason, you can use it to your advantage in practice for the rest of your career.

People are driven by admiration. One of the easiest ways to get admiration is through referring someone into a great experience, because you get the credit for the experience the other person has. It doesn't matter whether it's to a movie, restaurant or doctor. By referring patients to a great experience, you get the credit for their happiness, excitement, fulfillment and any other positive emotion they experience. Giving a referral to an amazing experience is a great way to cultivate admiration, because that's exactly what we get when it happens. And you can start making this happen more often in your practice without ever having to ask.

kids on the phone - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Does anyone ever refer a friend to a mediocre experience? Never. And few, if any, people refer to a merely good experience, either. In general, people only refer to an exceptionally emotionally positive and memorable experience. Knowing this, you can start to see what it takes to make this work in your practice.

The Restaurant Example

Think about why you refer. I love referring people to a favorite restaurant. Hidden inside an old tenement building with no street signage, you need to be told by someone "in the know" where it is. There's an exclusivity factor because no one's strolling in just passing by. You'll likely need a reservation, too. And the experience inside is one you'll never forget.

There are no windows and only 12 tables. You walk up two flights of stairs to an immediate open-kitchen view. The menu is filled with all types of meat, fish, and vegetable tapas. No matter what type of diner you're with, everyone's satisfied. And it's "bring your own wine," which creates more of a festive occasion with friends or a date.

While I have no interest in the profits of the restaurant or anyone who works there, I bring people and tell others about this restaurant all the time because I want to get the credit for them having that same amazing experience, just like I have.

That's a way I generate admiration. That's how referrals take place in daily life. In most ways, it's no different in health care.

Mirror That Experience in Your Practice: Key Questions to Ask

So, how do you create an experience in your practice that makes patients eager to refer others to you and gives you credit for the experience they'll have with you? Start by asking yourself and your team this question: "Would a patient want to tell their friend about this part of my practice?" If the answer isn't yes, then you need to change things if you want to start getting more referrals.

Another question to ask is: "Was there anything remarkable about this patient's experience?" Ask yourself this question with regard to every part of every patient visit, not just the first one. How can you make every single new patient feel like a VIP? Like they're getting special treatment?

The possibilities are endless, from customer service, to unexpected gifting (remember, not as an incentive to refer), to truly listening to your patients like they've never been listened to before. In my experience, that's how to get referrals from new patients after their consult; even before treatment or results are ever achieved!

Next, think about how you and your team can have fun delivering an amazing experience for your patients. When you start creating a practice in which you give patients a remarkable experience, you don't need to ask for referrals, let alone over and over again. It doesn't mean you can't ever ask; it's just not as necessary. In fact, the only time to ask is when someone is exclaiming to you about how happy they are with their results. The possibilities here are endless and only limited by your creativity. Engage your CAs and other staff members to help come up with ideas.

Finally, let's return to the restaurant example. Notice what you refer others to in your daily life. Think about how you can duplicate the concept in your practice. Focus on the patients' experience. That's what they'll remember and what they'll talk about with others.

Maya Angelou's wise words come to mind here: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Think Outside the Box

In the old era of chiropractic when insurance covered all care, patients more easily put up with mediocre experiences if the doctor told them to keep coming back. But now that patients are increasingly responsible for payment, they won't put up with a satisfactory experience anymore, let alone refer others to it. When patients have to pay out of their own pocket, you've got to deliver the best experience and value they're accustomed to.

You're not on your own island as a solo DC, even if it feels that way sometimes. And you don't have to practice in ways that don't inspire you, even if you're told it's the only way to be successful. The last way you'll get people talking about you and your practice is to be just like every other DC.

Break free from limited thinking or any box you've been told to practice inside of. Get creative, have fun, include your staff, put the patient experience first in your referral strategy – and then watch what happens.


Dr. Josh Wagner, a practicing DC in New York City, is the creator of "The Perfect Patient Funnel System", a training program for chiropractors and staff to see rapidly increased new-patient care acceptance and referrals with far more ease in practice.

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