As a dental practice coach, I’m surprised at how poorly I see practices are looking after their patients who need specialist dental referrals.

I just thought that all dental practices would do for their patients what we did at Active Dental.

But they don’t.

In fact, after I left Active Dental and started working as an associate dentist, I was horrified to find that practices were sending patients off for specialist treatment without any system or accountability as to whether the patient got to the specialist or even bothered to go and see them.

Sadly, in 2024, when things don’t go according to plan, saying to the judge that you gave the patient the referral and that it was the patient’s duty to go to the specialist is below an acceptable standard of care.

Remember, the patient is your patient and you are LOANING the patient to the specialist.

If your patient needs some form of specialist treatment that your practice cannot provide them, it is the duty of your practice to ensure that the patient gets that treatment done, and that the specialist returns the patient back to your practice.

Sometimes I hear of dental practices that feel that once the patient has been given a referral to the specialist then the practice has permission to literally “wash their hands” of the patient.

Nothing should be further from the truth.

But it is the truth…

There are so many practices out there who have sent patients off for specialist dental care and the patient isn’t quite sure why and so feels as though they have been left hanging in the ether….

This happens to dozens of patients from hundreds of practices…

At one practice I saw patients would leave that practice with a specialist appointment being made, but with no physical referral being given to the patient…. The referral was later posted to the patient a few days after they had left the practice…

What we used to do at Active Dental was this:

Firstly, the dentist would write a referral for the patient and the referral was then handed to the receptionist at the handover, with specific instructions as to who the patient was being referred to, as well as what treatment the patient was going to be getting done at the specialist, and the reason why the patient was going to have to visit the specialist.

As well as the urgency and time frame…

The next thing that happened was that the Active Dental receptionist would phone the specialist’s practice and arrange the appointment[s] needed for the patient. All done right there in front of our patient, with the patient being able to contribute if needed…

This showed our patient that Active Dental had a very good relationship with the specialist.

Our specialist dentists used to remark that they wished that all their referring dental practices would do this, because it pretty well guaranteed them a 100% turn up rate for our patients.

This also allowed us at Active Dental to schedule our patient back in to our practice as soon as the specialist had completed what they needed to do… it maintained treatment continuity for our patient.

So many practices do not do these simple steps and then have to phone their patients and ask:

“Hi it’s Jenny here from ABC Dental. Just wondering whether you’ve been to see the specialist yet?”

What we wanted to achieve for our patients…

What we wanted to do was to make the appointment at the specialist as convenient and simple as possible so that our patient always felt that we had their best interests at heart.

And in doing it this way, our patients valued OUR CARE for them, and they appreciated everything EXTRA that we did for them.

And that’s really what its all about.

Remember, dentistry is a GRUDGE BUY of the highest order for your patients.

Nobody ever wakes up in the morning and says to themselves:

“You know what? I’ve got a few hundred dollars in my wallet… I might go down to the dentist and see what I can buy?”

Sometimes as dentists and dental staff we get so caught up in everything that we have to do, that we forget that for our patients, a visit to the dentist is not something that they all really look forward to doing….

Doing as much as you can to make life easier for your patients goes a long way towards building trust and respect with them.


Dr. David Moffet BDS FPFA CSP is a certified CX Experience coach. David works with his wife Jayne Bandy to help SME businesses improve their Customer Service Systems to create memorable World Class experiences for their valued clients and customers. Click here to find out how David and Jayne can help your business