5 steps for building a dental referral program

When’s the last time you leaned on a friend, colleague, or online community to find a healthcare provider? Referrals, whether it’s through someone you know in real life, or your internet friends, are an effective way to bring more patients to your practice when you need to expand your patient base and already have a happy and loyal patient base to start.  

Consider these stats around referrals and brand trust:

  • 90% of people are much more likely to trust a recommended brand (even from strangers).  
  • 88% of people had the highest level of trust in a brand when a friend or family member recommended it.  
  • Out of the top five popular ways to recommend a business, word-of-mouth comes first, followed by Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  
  • 26% of people will completely avoid a brand if their friend or family tells a negative story about their experience.  

Your most satisfied patients will gladly sing your praises if they have positive experiences at your practice. People love to recommend brands, businesses, or goods and services they like. That’s why setting up a dental referral program could have the potential to be a lucrative opportunity for your practice. You can turn your patients into brand advocates, like what you see in other industries.  

Steps to build a referral program:

  1. Set some goals around the program.  
  2. Do your research into any laws regarding referrals and incentives.  
  3. Map out what this program will look like.
  4. Assign responsibility.
  5. Launch and monitor.  

Keep reading to learn how to set up a dental referral program.

Set goals around the program.

Before you jump right into coming up with tactics for your dental referral program, start by defining what success looks like.  

Some questions to ask yourself:  
How many new patients do you get each month?
How many referrals would you like to obtain?  
How many of them convert into new patients?  
What percentage of referrals drives your overall patient acquisition?  
What does a successful referral program look like?  

If this is the first time you’re launching a referral program, then set small and realistic goals so your team doesn’t feel discouraged if they don’t meet them. You can gradually increase the numbers based on what you all learn.  

Want to learn a step-by-step process for setting realistic benchmarks? Check out this on-demand webinar on practical ways to approach goal setting that makes it attainable and motivating for the entire team.  

Check that you’re complying with laws and ethics tied to healthcare referrals.  

Another item to do when developing your dental referral program is research any rules and regulations related to it. If you’ve ever participated in an incentive-driven campaign from your favorite brand or service or sent a referral code to a friend or family member, there’s usually some fine print around the terms and conditions.  

Be sure to verify that you’re following any rules and regulations set by the ADA and any other organization that you’re a part of as a healthcare provider. Even though this might seem like the most tedious part of this plan, it’s important so you’re familiar with any restrictions around referrals and incentives.  

Map out your dental referral program.

This is where you get to put on your creative hat. Brainstorm interesting and practical tactics to get more patient referrals. Depending on your practice size, get your entire team involved to come up with ideas. Part of the success of this program hinges on your team’s buy in and input.  

Here's what your dental program should include:

  • What channels will you use to promote the program?
  • What incentives will you offer?
  • How often will you do it?
  • How will you measure its effectiveness?
  • Who will be responsible for it?


There are many ways to promote your dental referral program, so choose the channels that your patients are most active on. If you’re unsure where your patients are most active, you can send a survey or ask your patients when they’re at your practice for their appointment. From there, you can promote your program on these specific ones.  

Here are some places to promote it.  

  • Email or customized campaign – You can send a targeted referral program campaign to your most active and loyal patients. Or you can include a brief referral blurb in the footer of all your email communications.  
  • Newsletter – Include a section for patient referrals with a link or code for patients to use and send to prospective ones.  
  • Social media pages – Promote your referral program on the channels where you get the most engagement.
  • Website – Plug your referral program on this highly visible place.
  • In-person – Mention your referral program when the patient is checking out.  

Tip: On a small team or don’t have the time to promote it across all channels? Choose 1-2 and start there.  


Incentives are a helpful way to give your loyal patients an extra nudge to refer more patients. Acknowledging and incentivizing their referrals is just as important as making the referral process as simple and straightforward as possible.  

Some effective starting rewards could include:

  • Discount on certain services like teeth whitening  
  • Gift card to a local store or restaurant  
  • Hosted event with another local business like a spa service or retailer
  • Monthly or quarterly drawing for a larger prize

Tip: Hitting a creative wall? Look at your favorite brands and how they do referral programs. Bookmark them for future reference. It might spark some ideas.  


Depending on your practice size and priority list, it’s ideal to have one person responsible for keeping this project moving along. That doesn’t mean you can’t involve the rest of your team, but to keep things organized, designate one person as the project owner. That project owner can set up a monthly or quarterly meeting with the rest of the team to keep everyone in the loop and what needs to be improved.  

Tip: The project owner can also send a weekly or biweekly email update to everyone, so the program remains in people’s minds.  

Launch and monitor it.

Once you start your dental referral program, don’t forget to keep an eye on it. The only way you’ll know if it’s effective is if you’re tracking it. You can monitor it by looking at your campaigns, patient acquisition numbers, and the other goals you’ve established. Ideally, you should be tracking this in your patient relationship management system instead of a spreadsheet.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. It takes time to build and see the results of a referral program, but it has the potential to make a strong impact on your bottom line. Referrals will remain a tried-and-true method for patient growth because people lean on their network for recommendations. Plus, people love sharing their experiences when asked.  

Launching a dental referral program should be part of your overall practice marketing strategy. Referrals are a strong way to bring more patients through the door because it's founded on word of mouth and leaning on your most loyal patients.  

Don’t forget to thank your patients for any friends or colleagues they refer, regardless if they become new patients or not. Showing appreciation goes a long way in maintaining a solid relationship with your patients and retains them at your practice overtime. Your most loyal patients contribute to your growth and bottom line.  

RevenueWell Marketing Platform makes it easier to build stronger relationships with patients both online and in-person. With tools like customizable campaigns, social media management, and automatic review collection, it’s possible to lay the foundation for a dental referral program at your practice. Schedule a demo with us to see how RevenueWell can grow your patient base and turn new patients into loyal and happy ones.