These days it seems that lots of GPs want to keep as much treatment in-house as possible. Maybe it’s because general dentist earnings continue to go down. Maybe its because overall patient spending on dentistry is flat despite rising costs. It makes sense as a strategy; if you’re looking to boost revenue, stop referring out care.
The traditional model was for GPs to refer out the extractions, endos, etc that they couldn’t handle and, in return, the specialists thank them by giving them perks like the occasional dinner or basket of goodies during the holidays. Following that model, I would agree that referring out treatment is essentially missing out on potential revenue.
However I was taught a more unique approach: build two-way referral relationships with your specialists. If you are sending patients to a periodontist, why can’t he/she send you patients in return? Sure, we don’t want them to steal a patient away who already has a GP, but there are “free agent” patients out there who are in need of a new one. My team of specialists and I have an understanding. I tell them to save their money on nice dinners and tickets to sports games and just send me patients when possible. I’ve even created referral cards for them to use.
Let’s say I refer an implant surgery to an oral surgeon. Some would say I just let $2,000 walk out the door. But the OS I refer to also sends me patients. Sure, it’s not a one-for-one kind of deal, but they will send me someone when the opportunity arises. Let’s say that new patient they send me needs an implant crown. Now I’ve gained back that $2,000, but, more importantly, that patient will also now see me for their regular dentistry. And they’ll bring their family. And they refer their friends. This was a major strategy for building my start-up practice six years ago and it’s worked extremely well.
When I lecture to specialists, I strongly encourage them to market themselves directly to patients. GPs should become active members of the community to get new patients and specialists can play the same game. Let’s pretend you’re an endodontist. You follow my advice and join your local Chamber of Commerce. Sure, most of the people you connect with won’t need your services, but you can still gain their trust and refer them to your network of GPs.
Without a doubt, the most important thing here is that patients get the best care that is available to them. I have no problem with well-trained GPs performing advanced procedures in their offices instead of referring them out. But I have made specialists a strong source of new patients for my practice. Whether you enjoy the team approach or want to become a super-GP is up to you and your practice model, but both can work very well.