Data Trends: What's your practice's referral rate?

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What's your new-patient referral rate? You know how important it is for new patients to become returning patients, but how does your practice's referral rate compare with other practices in the U.S.?

Of course, to find these numbers practices needed to actually track how their patients entered their pipeline. Once they are marked as a "referral patient," they keep that tag with them throughout their time with the practice. It's another important reason why practices (as small businesses) need to figure out which marketing methods are working and bringing in new customers.

We recently extracted data from Sikka's collection of numbers taken from Sikka Software that has been gathered from more than 12,500 dental practices from around the U.S. To find the exact impact of referral patients, we looked at when patients came into the practice and also every time they were reappointed.

Referral patients

The table below shows the number of patients in the average practice who are referrals. These numbers are per practice per month on average.

Monthly average of patients in a practice who are referrals
Year Number of referrals
2010 40.75
2011 44.33
2012 46.58
2013 49.50
2014 50.92
2015 53.50
2016 54.17

Yes, those numbers are on the rise. That shows the power that referrals can have for your practice and that more and more practices are realizing the power of the referral.

How do you keep them?

But how do you keep patients in your practice rather than having them be a "one-and-done" patient in your books? We talked to Laura Hatch, the founder of Front Office Rocks, for her thoughts and what she has seen work in various practices around the country.

“If we're trying to build long-term relationships, the patient has to come first, not just what kind of insurance he or she has.”
— Laura Hatch, founder of Front Office Rocks

"So many doctors and team members focus so much on efficiency and patients in faster. I'm certainly not against that, but it can't happen in lieu of customer service and building rapport with the patient," Hatch said.

She continued, saying that it was important to get to know each patient.

"Everyone has to slow down and make the patient feel comfortable," Hatch said. "Get to know him or her. Make the patient feel like he or she is not just another number. Make that patient feel important to you. He or she won't come back and stay with you as an existing patient if he or she feels like just another number."

Hatch also said that, when it comes to turning new patients into existing patients, insurance can't be the first subject brought up by team members.

"When you get a new patient, insurance is always a discussion that happens. However, many times the dental team goes to insurance first before anything else," Hatch said. "If we're trying to build long-term relationships, the patient has to come first, not just what kind of insurance he or she has."

"So often, we in dental practices put insurance as priority before the patient even brings it up. Any time someone comes in to your practice for the first time, talk to that patient first about his or her wants, needs, fears, and dreams before insurance."

Referral patients are important to your practice's bottom line. However, keeping them as existing patients is absolutely critical.

Alitta Boechler is the director of digital marketing at Sikka Software. You can contact her at [email protected]. Practice Mobilizer is a free app that lets dentists send HIPAA-compliant video messages, tracks patient arrival times, provides ZIP code-specific fee data, and more. Dentists can check out or the mobile app at

Please note that the data should be used for comparison only.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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