How to reach out to local schools to increase patient referrals

By Nancy Hyman

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As professional referrals continue to decline, many orthodontic practices seek creative measures to maintain and increase patient referrals. After all, they can no longer rely on GPs for referrals as they are increasingly keeping some orthodontic treatment in their own offices. In addition, according to Ortho Referral Systems’ clients, “shoppers” are a continuing challenge for most practices. To counter these trends, many orthodontic practice owners have increased their marketing budgets and focused on internal referral programs to increase the practice’s patient population.

While marketing directly to your current patient population is beneficial, reaching out to local schools and your community are incredibly effective ways to expand your referral outreach. By employing the full team, a practice can successfully engage local schools to build a relationship not only with the community, but with future patients. And while this approach requires involvement from multiple team members, the rewards are there to be had.

Getting Started

Before your practice goes out into the community, it’s best to assign tasks to team members to better manage the campaign. Elect a community marketing team within your staff. Nominate a team leader, and assign preparatory tasks. These tasks should include organizing task lists, assigning attendees for dated events, creating promotional materials for events, establishing goals, and tracking the effectiveness of each event. To manage all this, weekly progress meetings should be held. Don’t wait for a monthly meeting to determine progress. Meet weekly, and check the task list. At a recent presentation to orthodontic practice teams, I quizzed the audience about lunch periods. Most offices allotted a 90-minute break. Take 30 minutes out of the lunch time once per week and conduct a quick check on completed tasks and confirmation of the “to do” list to keep track of how the campaign is proceeding. Once your practice is organized, you can go out and start making contact with the following steps to success.

IDENTIFY: To get started, create a list of schools—private, religious, public, as well as home school groups—within a reasonable proximity of your practice. Include your current patients’ schools. In addition, identify patient parents who are active in the local PTAs and on the school board. The majority of parent meetings are now being held in the evening to accommodate working parents. Don’t just look to mothers; look for dads to become your ambassadors. At a recently attended school board meeting, fathers made up the majority of participants.

You will also want to directly contact school administrators. Create an introduction letter and cold-call the principal, dean of students, or development director. Why cold-call in person? Every time I walk into an office, I gather more information than if I simply called the school on the phone. Minimally, I am given the correct contact person. However, it has been my experience that a person in charge is usually happy to meet and discuss mutually beneficial promotions. And once you know who to reach out to and have started cultivating relationships with the people in charge, you can start building a presence in the school.

INVITE: Attend a PTA or school board meeting, and do a 10-minute presentation about your practice and how you would like to help the school. For example, in the office of Dr William Hyman, we utilize the Kaleidoscope system, which showcases hundreds of entertaining and educational slides on a loop in the reception area and initial exam on-deck area. During a recent presentation, I offered to have the practice feature 10 slides promoting a local school. The work for the practice is minimal. The school sends jpegs or a Word document with accompanying photos to be transformed into slides by one of the team members. A high volume of patients will view the slides monthly, creating an excellent opportunity to engage with a school.

Another way to engage the school is to offer your practice space for school meetings, sports team pizza parties, “thank you” lunches and dinners for key school personnel, PTA “meet and greets,” and other board meetings and social events. A group is more likely to be cooperative about the future promotions you would like to offer at its events if its members can see your office firsthand and get to know you and your team on a personal level.

OFFER: Once you have started building these connections, think about what you can offer to build your practice’s visibility in the community. Do you offer a complimentary exam, digital x-rays, and photos? If so, let everyone know it. Create a business card-size offer to be delivered at events your practice hosts or attends, and enclose that offer in “goodie bags.”

[Read about a successful example of how to make contact with a local school district.]

ASK: Along the way, don’t forget to ask the schools, “What can we do for you?” Service options may include participation in book scholarships and academic prizes, a custom mouthguard day for school athletes, conducting school dental screenings, sponsoring and attending school and team celebrations, presenting at a career day, and exhibiting at a school fair. It’s best to focus on multiple promotions at one or two schools for maximum impact.

hyman cover2_225But before you make a commitment, think through the steps needed for a successful outcome. After all, your practice’s reputation is on the line.

Book Scholarships. An office I work with had great success with a book scholarship promotion at a local high school. It offered four $250 book scholarships for students entering 10th, 11th, or 12th grade in a random drawing at a school assembly. The treatment coordinator presented an oversized “check” to the winners and submitted an article to the local newspaper. A $1,000 check was given to the school financial administrator to hold for the four students to be used as a credit when the student purchased books from the school.

Custom Mouthguard Day. To conduct a custom mouthguard event for school athletes, start by contacting the athletic department to offer the event. Student athletes and their parents will be notified of a designated day or half day which your practice will set aside for this event. Invite the parent into the operatory to meet the doctor, and have the treatment coordinator available for tours. Gather contact information for future promotions, and remember to distribute a designated school discount card to each responsible party. Offer a complimentary exam to be conducted at the initial impression appointment or on the pick-up day. Clients have reported that their most successful promotions involve bringing potential patients and parents to the practice. Consider a full-court press: school banners welcoming students from X school,
snacks, a sports-themed drawing, and a donation to the athletic department.

School Dental Screenings. If you offer to conduct free dental screenings at the school, consider how you will do it. For junior high school grades and high school, start with the lowest grade level and work up. Consider a dental screening for elementary students in grades three through five, with an oral hygiene talk for younger students. A staff dental assistant can lead the oral hygiene presentation. A dental assistant or marketing team member will take notes for the doctor and include the screening exam sheet in a dental hygiene kit. Quantum Labs offers a hygiene kit with an external pocket for business cards. Include a special offer on the reverse side of the screening sheet.

School Fundraising Events. While the orthodontist and spouse/guest may opt to attend an annual fundraising dinner event, another option is to host a table for your staff. Provide a gift for the silent auction such as an oral hygiene basket with an offer for free records and/or discount on services. Post a team member at the silent auction area where your item is displayed. You may sponsor an element of the event if an opportunity is provided for high-profile signage and recognition. Provide a small gift with an attached offer for the party favor bag.

Sponsor a School Sports Team Pizza Party. Your key staff members will attend a pizza party for a designated event such as an “end of the season” or “opening day” party. The coaches, team members, and their parents are invited to the pizza parlor or your practice. Friendly staff will personally connect with each parent and invite them to become a patient.

Career Day Presentations. When it comes to career day presentations, your dental assistant is an excellent choice. He/she can bring copies of required diplomas and certifications along with a description of job duties and a typical day at your office. Offer a memory game about the information presented. Suggested prizes include electric toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other oral hygiene gifts. With permission from the administration, hand each student a hygiene kit and special offer card.

School Fairs. Participation in school fairs is an excellent opportunity to meet parents and potential patients. Create a trifold tabletop display for your booth. One of the panels will focus on features of your office that will appeal to parents: open Saturdays, interest-free finance plans, before school/work hours, etc. The second panel will exhibit an offer. I have had great success offering a $25 gift card for initial exam appointments made and kept, to be redeemed at the exam. And for the third panel, I recommend an on-site drawing. Gather e-mail addresses and mobile numbers, and award three $25 gift cards per day throughout the fair. Keep the contacts for future e-mail communication, inviting the parents and children to a complimentary exam. Consider awarding a $50 donation to the school for each student accepting treatment.

And don’t just focus on the students. Think about school staff. Sponsor a staff lounge monthly “goodies” drop-off, and include cards announcing special pricing for school staff. Laminate an announcement to be placed near the treats thanking the teachers for their service on behalf of your practice. Host a portion of the “end of the year” staff lunch (For example, “Dessert sponsored by Hyman Orthodontics”), and include a raffle prize or supply party favors.

Throughout your school promotions campaign, remember to create materials to communicate your message and a “call to action.” There should be a sense of urgency when discussing your proposals with contacts. You want to get the ball rolling sooner, not later. And always remember to include engaging staff members in events.

In the end, getting involved with local schools alerts potential patients to your practice through several layers of contact, whether through your practice’s participation in the school fair, the student dental screenings you host, or a charitable donation. You will have created new relationships with parents, students, and staff that will put you first in their mind when it comes to selecting a new orthodontist. OP

 Hyman headshot_140 Nancy Hyman is a speaker and practice growth consultant specializing in referral systems and increased case acceptance exclusively for the orthodontic industry. She developed the Practice Representative program for the Practice Builders orthodontic division and established marketing plans for their clients. She now shares this same program through Ortho Referral Systems. Nancy is the author of Winning Marketing Strategies. She can be contacted at [email protected].






hyman bizcard_250Making Contact

In February, a practice I worked with wanted to reach out to a local school. We created an action plan and came up with a list of services we could provide the school. Each of these activities allowed the practice to build its name among the student body and with parents within the school’s community. To make contact, we sent the school the following letter. Here’s what we wrote:

Greetings, St Benedict Elementary School!

The orthodontic office of Dr William Hyman would be delighted to partner with your school in appreciation of your students and the valuable educational services you offer the community. I suggest the following initiatives for your consideration:

1) Our dental team will provide Tooth Brushing clinics in the classroom. Each hands-on clinic is 30 minutes and conducted by two licensed dental assistants. Students will learn the proper way to brush and floss in an entertaining and relaxed presentation. Each student will receive a complimentary oral hygiene kit and an offer for a panoramic x-ray and orthodontic exam at no charge.

2) Dr Hyman will provide a custom mouthguard for each athletic team player. We will offer designated days at our office for these appointments, and team members will be fitted for the mouthguard. Appliances are made in our office, and players may pick up the guard within 7 days.

3) Nancy Hyman invites your parent-teacher association to the office for a demonstration of Kaleidoscope: slides that you may produce for promotion of your school. The slides are on a constant loop in two prominent areas and are an excellent format for promotion of your school’s events.

4) Nancy Hyman will meet with your parent-teacher association to collaborate on one project per year. The project will involve a financial donation.

5) Dr Hyman is available for dental screenings of each student in the classroom or at a designated area at your school. I am open to your suggestions as well! Kindly e- mail for additional details. Let’s get started on the road to success for our children!


As of mid-March, dozens of students had appointments for initial exams. OP