Preparing a brief elevator pitch in advance and leaving behind laminated marketing materials can help make a favorable first impression, says a dental sleep medicine practitioner-speaker.

For dentists to responsibly treat patients with sleep apnea, they should have working relationships with local physicians. Physicians are also essential for generating patient referrals, the lifeblood of a thriving dental sleep practice.

“It is very important that these patients are managed by a multi-disciplinary team,” says Jason Tierney, chief operations officer of Dental Sleep Solutions, a company that develops software to streamline dental sleep practices.

Often, these patients have comorbidities that are being managed by a physician and it’s essential that all parties work as a team to stay apprised of any medications or other underlying health issues, says Tierney.

The key to making these crucial connections with clinicians in your area is through a combination of in-person meetings, thoughtful marketing materials, and good patient outcomes, explained Jason R. Doucette, DMD, a dentist at Caffaratti Dental Group in Reno, Nev, during a talk at The North American Dental Sleep Medicine Symposium held Feb 2019 in Clearwater, Fla. The annual event hosted by Dental Sleep Solutions brings together a community of dentists treating sleep-disordered breathing who learn from practitioners in the field.

Cultivating these relationships takes work, but once you establish ties with clinicians in your area, you should have no problem generating referrals for new patients. Here are the 8 key takeaways from Doucette’s talk entitled “The Impossible Mission of Generating Physician Referrals.”

1. Host a “Lunch and Learn.”

Offer to buy lunch for the staff of every physician’s office that you want to work with. Use this as an opportunity to get to know one another and educate the staff on the benefits of oral appliance therapy.

Answer any questions they may have about insurance benefits. Bring members of your staff who can network with members of the physician’s team. Make it clear to sleep specialists that you will refer patients back to them and you want to collaborate with them on a treatment plan for your patients. Come to the meeting prepared with marketing materials that you can leave at the office to help them remember your services.

2. Prepare an elevator pitch.

You might only get a few moments to talk to the providers, so prepare for a couple of minutes of dialogue. Think about a few bullet points that you want to make sure to hit. These should be tailored to each clinician’s specialty. For ENTs you can discuss how oral appliances could be tried before recommending surgery. When speaking with primary care providers, you can speak about how it may take a long time before their patients can get into a sleep clinic. If you meet with cardiologists, you might speak about atrial fibrillation or any other sleep apnea comorbidities and why screening for disordered breathing is important for this patient population.

3. Drop by the office.

Before you propose a lunch date, consider dropping by the office to drop off some material to inform the physician about what your services are. Include a copy of the latest American Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines  for oral appliance therapy.  Then the office can read about your services before you get there. Make sure to personalize these informational packets by including a handwritten sticky note on the front page addressed to each individual physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant who practices in the office.

4. Supply easy-to-use referral forms.

Make sure your referral forms are easy to read. Drop off a stack of at least 25 forms that can be filled out easily and faxed back to your office.

5. Provide patient education pamphlets.

Offer materials that can be supplied to the patient, so they have something physical to hold on to as a reminder. Consider laminating some of these marketing materials to make a strong impression.

6. Keep patient barriers low.

Give clinicians the comfort of knowing that when they refer patients to you, there will be no barriers to the patients. One way to do this is by offering complimentary consultations and if you are in a state that allows you to administer home sleep studies, keep the price as low as possible for your patients.  Also, try to accept all forms of insurance.

7. Keep patients satisfied.

Do everything you can to ensure positive patient outcomes. When patients have a successful experience at your office, they will return to their physician smiling and feeling better. These patients are your best marketing agents.

8. Refer patients to physicians.

Make sure to refer patients back to the physicians who you work with to keep a good relationship with them. You want them to feel like the relationship is one of collaboration, in which you are caring for patients as a team.

Lisa Spear is associate editor of Sleep Review.