How to Get More Oral Surgery Referrals
Oral surgery practices thrive, or fail to thrive, based in large part on the quality and quantity of referrals from other dentists. As an oral surgeon, that’s not news or a surprise to you. But there is some useful—and perhaps even unexpected—information provided in the study done by Cottrell et al from the Boston University School of Dental Medicine, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, General Dentists’ Referral Patterns for Oral Surgical Procedures.
Below are some key findings you can use to better understand referral trends and build your oral surgery practice. As the researchers put it, “The purpose of this study is to determine the self-perceived threshold for referral to a specialist for oral surgical needs.”
About the study
This study involved 128 Boston-area dentists; their average years in practice was 10.6 years, with a range of 1 to 34 years. Males comprised 96 of the respondents (75%), and females represented 32 (25%).
The dentists were given scenarios and asked to respond as if the case represented a patient in their practice. Each case consisted of a radiograph and a brief case history, and was grouped according to surgical difficulty:
- Group I—simple dentoalveolar surgery
- Group II—complex dentoalveolar surgery (includes any third molar)
- Group III—cases requiring placement of an implant
- Group I/IV—simple surgery in a medically compromised patient
- Group II/IV—complex surgery in a medically compromised patient
Group by group, here’s what the researchers found:
Group I—Dentists treated 75.5% of simple dentoalveolar surgery cases. They referred 16.6% to oral surgeons, just 0.3% to periodontists and 7.3% to “other.”
Group II—Only 41.7% of general dentists said they would treat these cases. Of those who would refer, they would send these cases almost exclusively to oral surgeons.
Group III—Cases that required implant placement showed higher referral rates. Only 10.3% of dentists would place implants themselves; 50.1% would refer to an oral surgeon, and 31% would refer to a periodontist. Interestingly, male dentists would place implants more often (11.7%) than would female dentists (6.4%). The dentists who would refer to specialists said the reason was inadequate surgical experience, followed by a lack of proper surgical equipment.
Groups I/IV and II/IV—Both simple and complex dentoalveolar surgeries in medically compromised patients yielded increases in referrals to specialists. Of the respondents, 38.8% said they would treat simple dentoalveolar in medically compromised patients. Of those making referrals, 39.1% would send to an oral surgeon, and 11.7% would send to a periodontist. Dentists were conservative in their reported management of cases involving complex dentoalveolar surgeries in medically compromised patients. Only 22.6% of general practitioners would treat such cases themselves; the remaining 75.4% would refer to an oral surgeon.
Gender and dental referrals
The analysis of differences in treatment choices between male and female dentists is interesting and deserves some review. Females referred more often than did their male counterparts. The women treated only 29.9% of cases requiring surgical procedures, while the men treated 49.9%.
Significant differences in referral patterns between male and female dentists were seen in cases requiring simple dentoalveolar surgery (Group I) and those requiring the placement of implants (Group III). However, no gender difference was seen in patients requiring complex dentoalveolar surgery (Group II).
The impact of age
The age of the dentist was another factor. The researchers divided the respondents into two groups: “Young dentists” were clinicians under 40 years old, and “Old dentists” were those 40 years of age or older. Young dentist respondents would treat 77.0% of simple dentoalveolar surgeries (Group I), while older dentists treated 70.5%. Young dentists treated 28.5% of complex surgeries (Group II), compared with 24.9% of older dentists.
According to the data, older dentists are more conservative than are their younger counterparts. The researchers attribute this to the experience level of older dentists in recognizing when it’s best to refer a patient versus treat a patient in-house.
Ease of referral
Oral surgeons will do well to take note of this next finding. A critical factor in the decision to refer was the availability and ease of referral to an appropriate specialist. Easy access to an oral surgeon is critical. Fewer dentists were willing to perform surgery on medically compromised patients, regardless of the complexity of the treatment.
So … how can you use this information?
Share this information with referring dentists so they can see the types of cases that are referred out. This data can be powerful in your oral surgery marketing plan and the development of relationships with referring dentists.
Reiterate the importance of referring to an oral surgeon, and point out how more experienced dentists refer more often to oral surgeons. You can use this as a discussion point with your current and prospective referring dentists about how to know when to refer a patient, and remind them of how easy you are to work with.
Make referring easy!
Remember the point mentioned just above: A critical factor in the decision to refer was the availability and ease of referral to an appropriate specialist. Make sure you are top-of-mind with referring dentists by using one of WPI Communications’ professionally designed and expertly researched and written newsletters for oral surgeons: Report on Oral Surgery or Oral Surgery Update.
With newsletter marketing, you can get more patient referrals and be the oral surgeon of choice in your community. For more information about how to grow your oral surgery practice with newsletters, download a free copy of The Complete Guide to Building a Profitable Dental Practice Through Newsletter Marketing.
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