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Does Asking Patients for Referrals Really Work?

October 7, 2009
By Scott Newman and Shawn Veltman


Asking your patients for referrals is the best marketing you can ever do!” In the chiropractic world, if you’ve been in practice for any length of
time, you’ve probably heard this, more than any other so-called
“practice growth” strategy. It always sounds logical, and so easy. But
is it?

Asking your patients for referrals is the best marketing you can ever do!”

In the chiropractic world, if you’ve been in practice for any length of time, you’ve probably heard this, more than any other so-called “practice growth” strategy. It always sounds logical, and so easy. But is it?


Of course, like most things that seem too good to be true, this is a strategy that can easily fall apart when you try to bring it out of “Theory-Land” and into the real world.


You can certainly generate a lot more referrals in your practice, but if you use the wrong strategy – or the right strategy in the wrong way – you run the risk of putting your existing patients in an uncomfortable and awkward situation, alienating these patients, while still achieving no new referrals.

What makes just asking for referrals fare so poorly?

You walk a very fine line in your practice. Yes, it is a business, but first and foremost, it’s a place where your patients come to improve the quality of their lives. It is critical that relevant marketing strategies are applied to support this delicate balance.

That is why asking for referrals can be a risky strategy. Simply asking a patient “Can you think of anybody that you might be able to refer to me” can be misconstrued by the listener, and end in disaster for the asker.


When most chiropractors say, “Can you think of anybody who you could refer to my practice?” the underlying message from their point of view can roughly be translated as follows:

“I’m so glad that I’ve been able to help you over the last few months/years. Every time you come in, I can see the difference between now and your first visit. I just want you to know that if there is anybody in your life who’s going through what you were, who is in the pain that you were, that I’ll do my best to help them, like I’ve helped you. I don’t know if we’d be able to achieve the same level of success, but I’ll do anything I can to help them on the path to optimal health.”

Unfortunately, more often than not, when you ask for referrals, your patient doesn’t hear that. Instead, he/she hears: “Can you think very hard, and rack your brain, to find a way to bring me more money?”

Now, that is not the question you want to be putting to your patients, is it?

One of the simplest, and most effective, ways to ask for referrals is to follow the LSR model of referral generation. It’s LaSeR focused and will give you great results.

LSR stands for Limited, Specific and Regular. Before we look at these elements, though, let us look a little closer at why most referral requests fail.

You have a lot of expertise, and can help treat any number of conditions. But most of your patients will only think of you in terms of what brought them in.

Think about it this way: if I were to ask you, “Do you know anybody who needs an accountant?” You would probably tell me “Sorry, no, can’t think of anybody.”

But, if I were to ask you, “Do you know anybody who has started their own business within the last three years?” or, “Do you know anybody who has kids entering university?” or “Do you know anybody who’s going through a divorce?”

These are all people who might benefit from speaking to a skilled accountant – but asking for them in this specific way makes it much more likely that you’ll be able to think of somebody who fits some of these criteria.

Can you see how this applies to your patients?

Okay, now we can examine “L”, “S”, and “R” as they refer to referral generation.


Decide that you’re going to spend a month asking your patients about specific conditions – see the next section – and only ask once per patient within that month. So, if you see John again in two weeks, you won’t ask him for a referral then, because you will have asked him today.

The idea here is to pick one or two things that you treat, and ask your patients if they know anybody who is suffering from those ailments.

For example: “John, before you go, I wanted to ask you – Can you think of anybody in your life who suffers from migraine headaches?” Then wait. Give him time to think. If he says no, you can ask, “Do you know anybody who’s suffering from arthritis?” Again, give him time to think.

You can explain that you are asking because while you have met with great success in treating many patients for those conditions, you know that there are many more people who are suffering through them needlessly – and if that’s the case with any friends, family, or co-workers of John’s, you want to do anything you can to help.

This means that you want to change the specific thing you’re asking about on a regular basis – usually, every month or two months works best.

That way, you can ask all of your patients about potential referral opportunities in a much more effective way, and you can ask them a number of times over the course of a year.

The LSR model for referral generation is one of the ways that you can help your patients bring in many more referrals to your practice – without putting them in an awkward position, and without putting your relationship with them at risk.

The great myth of “asking for referrals” is that you just have to ask. Like all myths, it has a kernel of truth to it. The LSR model can help take this myth into the realm of reality because, unless you ask your patients for referrals in the proper way, you’re likely to do more harm than good. •

Scott Newman is a senior consultant, specializing in designing and implementing patient reactivation systems. He can be contacted at

Shawn Veltman is a practice growth expert operating out of Hamilton, Ontario, and the founder of SV&A Chiropractic Consulting.  He has helped practices in Canada, and the U.S., develop systems to bring back patients, retain existing patients, and run their practices more effectively.  For more information about SV&A Chiropractic, visit .

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