There is a special relationship between general and specialty dentistry. In many cases, specialists depend heavily on the referrals they receive from general dentists and it makes sense that they spend a significant amount of time and thought trying to figure out how to get “in” with a general practice. I was asked recently how to make a specialty office stand out. We all want to stand out, don’t we? What sets us apart from others, what brings patients through the door and keeps them coming year after year?

I have never worked in a specialty practice, so I’ll provide insight from my perspective – the office manager of a general dentist office. I know how difficult it can for specialists to get that first meeting with the dentist, make a solid introduction, build a relationship and receive ongoing referrals.

Here are 5 suggestions to help specialists stand out to general dentists.

1) Ask for a one-on-one with the general dentist.  A solid relationship must be established before any referrals will come from the general dentist. Get something scheduled – don’t just walk in – the practice finds walk-ins frustrating and will not likely get you a meeting. Call the office and ask to schedule time for an introduction meeting with the dentist. Be honest and explain that you are a specialist and would like to introduce yourself and work together.

2) Get to know the rest of the team. It is the team who normally recommends which specialist a patient should see. If they like the doctor, then they will refer patients to you. It is easy to just send lunch or special treats, but that does not help them know you and what you do. When we have lunch or treats sent in, only a few of us know where they came from and the rest just eat because it is good. Instead, make it personal and host a meet and greet, a tour at your office, a happy hour, a lunch and learn, or something that allows the teams to mingle. Make sure it’s an event that allows the general dentistry team to meet the specialty doctor.

3) Education is important. There are times when the general dentist is overwhelmed and does not think about referring patients, but the team steps in and starts the discussion. Find a way to educate the general dentistry team about procedures you do, services you offer, before and afters and anything you can think of pertinent to your office, so they can then discuss what you offer with their patients. In the past, it has been popular with our staff when specialists offer CE and give CPR certification, lunch for referring doctor’s office managers or something special to make the staff feel appreciated, while we learn more about them.

4) Gifts are still fun. I think you can still stand out with gifts but try to do them during a time other specialist are not sending anything. For example, your gifts get lost over the holidays. I would suggest a card during the holiday season and find a time during the year to send something so it stands out. We have an orthodontist that does this so well. They show up on the first day of summer with ice cream or Memorial Day with red, white and blue cake – that stands out and makes a lasting impression.

5) Pick your best referrals and offer free consults. If you charge consultation fees, I suggest you have cards made offering free consultations and give the cards to your best referring doctors. A special offer only to high referring offices adds value to sending patients to your office and makes the referring office feel special.

Dentists want to build trusting relationships with specialists because they are placing the dental health of their patients into their hands. Their knowledge and expertise are an important piece of a patient’s over all care. If your intention is to merely get the referral and not really know the dentist or the staff, that will be painfully obvious. If your intention is to get to know the dentist, the staff and share your specialty with them, the referrals will come naturally from the connection you’ve invested in and grown.