Know the Rules before Rewarding Patients for Referrals

How do you acknowledge dental patients when they refer friends and family to your practice?  Hopefully you always send a thank you note to the referring patient—something personalized and not just a form letter.  A personalized thank you is always appreciated, and it typically motivates patients to tell even more people about your dental practice.

A potential challenge occurs, however, when dentists and teams decide to incentivize patients with something more than a simple thank you.  It’s not uncommon for practices to run internal marketing reward programs where, based on the number of people referred, patients receive a variety of rewards.

Before implementing such a reward system, please check with you state dental board.  In Oregon, it is against the rules to implement a reward system that patients are aware of prior to referring people to your practice.  It is also against the rules to send patients a reward that is in excess of “nominal value.”  The Oregon Board will often cite a $10 – $15 gift as something that fits the definition of “nominal.”

In addition to violating rules with the Board, paying patients for referring others may violate the American Dental Association’s Code of Professional Conduct.  If the person expects the reward as a result of referring the new patient, it typically violates the ADA’s rules.

The key points of the ADA rules and most Board regulations are referring patients cannot expect the rewards and the rewards must be nominal in value.

However, if you incentivize people in any way for referring Medicare or Medicaid patients, you may be in violation of state and federal laws.  Anything more than a simple thank you card could get you in serious trouble.

Make sure you understand the rules and regulations that relate to your dental practice.  Do not let your good intentions turn into something that could result in a fine or disciplinary action.

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