All new patients to your practice deserve a warm welcome, but there is one type of patient who is worth their weight in gold: the one referred by another current happy patient. You know your patients are pleased with your work, so why not reward them when they spread the good news (or encourage them if they are dragging their feet)? Here are nine dental patient referral program ideas to boost your patient list.

What is a dental referral program for patients?

A dental referral program for patients is very similar to other rewards programs. Just like your credit card gives you airline miles or cashback rewards for buying gas and groceries, patient referral programs offer the current patient a reward for every new patient they send your way. This is known as word of mouth marketing (WOMM), and it works.

Consider the following statistics about the effectiveness of people talking to each other:

Dental offices lose between 15 and 20% of patients every year due to natural attrition. If your practice has four chairs, you will need to find 30 to 40 patients a month to keep steady, sustainable growth. Referral rewards programs can help.

Grow your practice: dental patient referral program ideas

Not sure where to begin? The following nine dental patient referral program ideas can get you started.

1. Know the rules

As with all medical practices, dentists are guided by strong ethical rules that place patient welfare above financial gain.

Section 4 of the American Dental Association (ADA) Principle of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct, Principle of Justice clarifies that, “The dentist’s primary obligations include dealing with people justly and delivering dental care without prejudice.”

This means that any rewards or incentives offered for referrals cannot affect the dental care provided, including offering preferential or priority treatment to those who refer.

That being said, offering a reward as a thank-you for a referral is well within the boundaries of proper ethics. If you have concerns about what’s allowed and what’s not, dentists and all dental professionals can live chat with the ADA or check in with their local jurisdiction for more clarification of the rules.

2. Create referral cards

What could be easier than handing referral cards to patients as they check out?

These can be a simple pre-filled form with space for the current patient to write their own name to get credit and handed to patients as they check in (or out).

3. Send thank-you notes for referrals

Getting mail is one of life’s forgotten pleasures. Bring it back with personalized thank-you notes when a referred patient has their first appointment.

Too busy? Emails work, too. Just make sure to say thanks.

4. Combine patient referral reward program with email marketing

A patient referral reward program launched with email marketing is the best of all worlds. You reach current patients where they are and make it easy for them to get started.

Make sure to keep the program explanation in the email simple and streamlined to make it easy to participate in.

5. Tap into social media

Don’t hesitate to engage the power of social media because it’s one of the best dental marketing strategies out there. New referrals will most certainly check your website and social media channels before booking an appointment.

While most busy dental offices don’t have time to scroll through everyone’s vacation snaps, maintaining a presence on social media gives prospective patients a bit of a chance to get to know you before their first visit.

6. Use your staff for good

You know you want your front desk staff to be cheerful, kind, and accommodating, but sometimes having a personal conversation during patient checkout just isn’t possible. Simply put, it can be challenging to engage a patient who has just had a crown put in or multiple cavities filled.

Consider all of your staff as potential patient referral program ambassadors, then from check-in to pre-cleaning to follow-up. Maybe you slip dental patient referral cards into a patient’s bag with a new toothbrush and some floss. Or maybe your dental hygienist provides referral information on a follow-up call.

Make sure everyone in the office is empowered to make all patients feel welcome and valued.

7. Make the rewards real

Remember going to the arcade as a kid and collecting hundreds of those little tickets, only to find out that they were worth a plastic bug or a pencil? Don’t do that to your patients. Make your rewards count, and offer them for every patient who schedules an appointment.


  • Gift cards (local stores, or online retailers)
  • Discounts on certain types of dental work (e.g., initial visits, whitening services, etc.)
  • Monthly drawings for larger prizes
  • Hosted events

Rewards may require an initial investment, but your fine dental care and the lifetime value of each new patient can easily offset the small upfront investment in rewards.

8. Make it easy to participate in

Have a great dental referral program for patients set up, but they can’t find it? Make it easy for patients to find on your website and social media. This can be a link, a widget, or a button – anything that gets patients to where they are going.

You can also mention your patient referral reward program on invoices, in your email signature, on appointment confirmations, and in a newsletter. When you communicate with your patients, make sure they know how much you appreciate their referrals!

9. Invite your best patients first

You know the ones. The patients who sing your praises and thank you for your kind, compassionate work. Start with those when you first launch your patient referral reward program, inviting them with special incentives for their participation.

As a general rule, 80% of your referrals come from 20% of everyone in your office, including patients, staff, and friends. Start with that rock-solid 20%, then branch out from there.

At Boost Medical, we know that healthcare digital marketing is not about clicks or pageviews; it’s about patients, and your dental referral program for patients is no different.

If you need help growing your practice, get in touch today to see how we can make that happen!

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