The Dental Specialist and Referrals

Here is another guest post from our client Dr. Lurie. We are so fortunate to have him share the wisdom he gained for five decades as a dental specialist.
It seems to
me that the dynamic of a specialist obtaining referrals has changed.  As we have all noted, private solo practice
in the specialties has greatly decreased. 
I have heard estimates of less than 7%. 
As a retired Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, I have personally noted the
change in referral patterns and, I think, understand what must be done to
encourage referrals.  This wisdom comes
from fifty years of practice.  No longer
is it enough to take a generalist to lunch, or to have an annual Christmas
party.  I think that the whole picture
has to be viewed and rearranged.
Firstly, the
specialist has to be extremely well trained. He has to be able to get the
“word out” about how well trained he is. I would suggest  a curriculum vitae be sent with the
announcement of the opening of his practice. 
This is important and should be of the highest standards befitting the
degree of their excellent training. 
While it is important to let folks know where you are located, phone,
email etc…, it is paramount to let them understand your qualifications.  This should be updated periodically as new
honors and leadership positions occur. 
Obviously, with social networking as keen as it is, it is imperative to
have the correct team to help in this initial matter.  I have discussed the team concept in one of
my previous articles (The Team of Retirement). 
This is the first impact that you will have on your referring base.
It is to be
assumed that most specialists will be joining an existing practice.  I would still recommend that this initial
information (CV and other marketing) get out there so that the new
“person” is not relying on the reputation of the existing
practice.  Obviously, if the doctor is
solo, then it speaks for itself. 
Incidentally, most of these ideas
would apply to a generalist starting practice with the obvious difference being
that his target marketing prospects would be different.
In the
beginning of the practice, personal visits to the referral base is
mandatory.  Now the doctor can place the
name with the face.    I would also suggest that care be taken to
find a convenient time to visit the doctor—-check with his front desk and get
to know them well.  Lunch is always good
if it is possible but a coffee break at an off-time can usually be
arranged.  You might want to stop in
unannounced just to meet the front office, introduce yourself and make the
appointment with them in person.  These first
months will require a great deal of leg work and it is wise to plan this out so
that you still have proper time to cover your new office and schedule (keep in
mind the new IRS standard mileage rates as well – note all of your travel in a
journal regularly).  It will be also
mandatory that your new staff be well versed in what you are doing so that
things run smoothly while you are out and about.  Again, the proper team will be helpful in
putting that staff together.  Nobody said
it would be easy. 
As time
progresses, I would suggest a series of “Munch and Learn” sessions in
your office.  This now completes the
circle of announcement, face to face, and seeing your office location.  There should be a wall that displays your
credentials—–do not make it obnoxiously obvious, but it is a must
These sessions should be an hour or less and eventually may lead to
further interactions (study clubs, etc…) which I will discuss in another
article.  Keep them low-key with simple
refreshments.  You might want to invite a
speaker, present yourself, or even have one of the detail persons from a
company at these gatherings.  It does not
always have to be about your specialty per se, but could be a practice
management tidbit, accounting novelty, equipment demonstration etc. 
I invented a
little item that was a big hit and I will share it with you.  After a patient was seen, treated and
eventually discharged, I sent them a thank-you note.  What?!? A thank-you note from a surgeon to a
patient.  At the same time, a reminder
note went to the generalist so that his patient could be kept in his system for
recall and follow-up.  Too often, these
patients were late in there general check-up because the referring office
thought the patient was still under treatment. 
Just a little tidbit but it was effective for me.  The marketing angle is to engage the patients
to refer to you directly.  Obviously, you
then have an opportunity to reciprocate with your referral base if the patient
is not “attached” to a GP. 
Always, always, always, try to market with your patients. 
I think that
the specialist should take a look at the reports that he sends to the referring
doctor so that they are sent in good time and are relevant.  I had a personal, handwritten quick note that
went out the same day the patient was treated so that the doctor knew that
treatment was on-going and active.  If it
was a major case, this was followed by a complete operative note etc. so that
it could be filed in the patient’s permanent chart.  This is just another means to get your name
in front of the generalist and to establish good lines of communication.  This obviously can be done by email, fax
etc.  The important thing is to document
the treatment clearly and always ask for his feedback if necessary.
These are
just a few ideas about getting started and I hope they are of help.  Please do not hesitate to send me you
thoughts or questions.  It would be my
honor to be of help.
Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned next time.
Dr. Donald
B. Lurie, DDS
Phone:     717-235-0764

Cell:         410-218-2228