Ethically setting up patient referral programs

The best way to generate referrals for your practice is to offer an exceptional experience and outcomes that result in satisfied patients.

Furthermore, referrals are the most scalable form of lead generation, because the cost of advertising will only increase.

Expanding via warm audiences will always beat cold audiences because referrals from warm audiences are more likely to adopt procedures and be able to afford your services.

The world’s most successful brands rarely need to set up referral programs. Their customers are already incentivized to refer because the product or service is that good.

Unlock More Patient Referrals: Focus on Patient Experience Over Incentives

If you’re not getting all the patient referrals you want, I recommend you objectively assess and improve your patient experience. No amount of incentivization will make up for a poor or mediocre patient experience.

Improving your fulfillment takes time, so If you wish to set up a patient referral program in the meantime, I advise considering the value the patient is receiving from making the recommendation in non-financial terms.

My experience with thousands of refractive surgery patients is that offering financial incentives to refer their friends and family does little to increase referrals, and sometimes serves to reduce them.

Your patients will most likely refer to people they already know. So, there will likely be an emotional benefit that accrues to the referrer when making the referral. They will have ‘skin in the game’ because they will perceive that their reputation, credibility, and status in the eyes of the referred patient will be linked to the outcome of the referred patient’s experience. The referred patient will associate the value they received with the referring patient.

I’ve found that these types of customers are more likely to refer when the financial reward for referring is either non-existent or modest and falls below what they might consider being “bought” or “bribed”. These types of customers who make personal introductions to their existing network are different from ‘affiliates’ who will promote on a brand’s behalf solely because they have a financial incentive to do so.

I believe this also applies to most optometrists.

This is one reason I’ll likely never make a lot from affiliate commissions on the products or services I personally promote. I’m careful, to recommend only people or products that I feel will genuinely benefit the intended recipient, never solely for an affiliate commission, no matter how attractive. The risk to my reputation of making a poor recommendation is sufficiently high to act as a deterrent, compared to any financial incentive.

How to recognise and reward patients for referrals

I encourage all surgeons to recognise and reward patients who refer other patients. However, instead of sending money or gifts on a per-referral or referral volume tier basis, I’d advise you carry out one of the following alternatives:

  1. Thank-you notes: A personalised, handwritten thank-you note can go a long way. This simple gesture can show appreciation and help strengthen the relationship with the referring patient.
  2. Charitable Donations: Instead of paying patients, offer to make a charitable donation on their behalf to a healthcare-related charity or non-profit organization for each successful referral. This way, patients can feel that they’re contributing to a good cause.
  3. Recognition and Acknowledgment: Recognize and publicly acknowledge patients who refer others. You can create a “referral wall” in your practice, and feature their stories on your website, social media, or in newsletter/email communications, showcasing their commitment to spreading the word about health and wellness.
  4. Patient Appreciation Events: Host events specifically for patients as a token of appreciation. This could be an annual picnic, an evening out, or another gathering that strengthens the sense of community among your patients.
  5. Exclusive Events: Organize exclusive events and invite patients who refer others to attend (i.e. a group dinner with the surgeon). This adds an element of exclusivity and value to their referral efforts.
  6. Referral Contests: Organize referral contests for patients who refer the most people within a specific time frame. This encourages friendly competition and engagement. As a prize, you can offer swag such as your practice-branded merchandise, such as t-shirts, mugs, stickers, lens cloths, umbrellas, or tote bags, that have no monetary value.

As a side note, what your competition offers as a referral incentive is irrelevant. By the time your patient is poised to refer a friend, they couldn’t care less about what your competitors offer to refer a patient. Those offers don’t apply to them.

I’ll leave you with a final thought experiment: If you could only get new patients from referrals, what would your service delivery look like?

Note: Be sure to consult with legal counsel to ensure any incentive program, monetary or non-monetary, complies with local, state, and federal laws, regulations and professional standards and ethics.

NOTE: The best way to answer that nagging question about practice growth or marketing or patient volume in the back of your mind is to book a free 15-minute compatibility call. Get some options and go away with a clear idea of what’s possible.

About the author

Rod Solar
Founder & Fractional CMO

Rod co-founded LiveseySolar and acts as a Fractional CMO for our customers. He’s on a mission to help transform the lives of 10,000 people through vision correction surgery by 2024. To achieve that, he inspires his customers to make confident decisions that will help 50,000 people take the first step towards vision correction.

Get your Practice Marketing Score

Take our FREE “Practice Marketing” quiz. Get your score and benchmark yourself to practices around the world.

Find articles on:

What our clients say…

“In a matter of weeks, we already saw results with LiveseySolar. Far before we were even finished with our project.”

Erik Chotiner, MD, FACS, Ophthalmologist

“The whole group has been very, very professional. We’re quite early in the stages, but we can see the benefits.”

Dr Nick Mantell , MBChB FRANZCO

“They’re very professional. They know what they’re doing, but they also put us at ease. This helped us to cut through what’s needed to get what we want.”

Mr Praveen Patel, MA (Cantab), MB BChir (Cantab), FRCOphth, MD (Res)

“It’s wonderful to work with an agency that engages on our level and understands our market.”

Dr Anton Van Heerden, MBChB; FRANZCO, Ophthalmologist

Get your Practice Marketing Score

Take our FREE “Practice Marketing” quiz. Get your score and benchmark yourself to practices around the world.

Meet our Founders

We’re passionate about helping leaders of high-quality, growth-minded practice owners double their practice revenue

Rod Solar

Founder & Scalable Business Advisor

Rod co-founded LiveseySolar and acts as a Fractional CMO and Scalable Business Advisor for our customers. He’s on a mission to help transform the lives of 10,000 people with vision correction surgery by 2024. To achieve that, he inspires his customers to make confident decisions that will help 50,000 people take the first step towards vision correction.

Read more

LiveseySolar completely transformed the way we were approaching this… We’ve gone from having just the dream of having a practice to having a practice up and running with people making inquiries and booking for procedures… It’s extremely pleasing. We feel lucky we connected with LiveseySolar.

— Dr Matthew Russell, MBChB, FRANZCO, specialist ophthalmic surgeon and founder of VSON and OKKO

Laura Livesey

Founder & CEO

Laura Livesey is the co-founder & CEO of LiveseySolar. She has developed powerful refractive surgery marketing systems that increase patient volumes and profits for doctors, clinics, and hospitals, since 1997.

Read more

Rod and Laura know as much about marketing surgery to patients as I know about performing it. They are an expert in the field of laser eye surgery marketing. They know this industry inside out. I believe that they could help many companies in a variety of areas including marketing materials, sales training and marketing support for doctors.

— Prof. Dan Reinstein, MD MA FRSC DABO, founder of the London Vision Clinic, UK