Most orthodontists would agree that after a decade in private practice, a gradual shift in referrals occurs in a quality-oriented orthodontic office. Once a clinician begins to produce satisfied customers, previous patients and parents begin to refer their friends to their orthodontist. After all, we would all prefer to have testimonials from successfully treated patients if we were searching for someone to provide some type of health care service. But, alas, most orthodontists would still agree that a handful of loyal, referring general dentists is also necessary to keep an orthodontic practice healthy and profitable.
However, some general dentists might not remain loyal referral sources. How do you reward your referring dentists? Do you take them to lunch? Do you provide holiday gift baskets? Do you treat their children for a reduced fee or no fee? In the early days of my practice, I did most of the above to make certain that these dentists knew that I was still alive and available to treat their patients. But over the years, I found that these gestures did not provide the loyal relationship with a referring general dentist that endures for many years. Today, I believe that there is a better strategy for endearing your referral sources—one that produces a win-win-win situation for the patient, the referring dentist, and the orthodontist.
We would all agree that dental and orthodontic materials and techniques change at a fairly rapid rate, especially in recent years. Therefore, referring dentists may not be aware of what you as an orthodontist can do to assist them in caring for their restorative patients. Where would a general dentist obtain this information? After all, general dentists do not attend orthodontic meetings. Restorative dentists do not read orthodontic publications. So, to receive new information about procedures that could assist a general dentist in managing a difficult restorative situation, he or she would have to rely on information provided by an orthodontist such as you.
But if you do not archive and photograph your treated cases routinely, where might you obtain educational materials to update your referring dentists about techniques and procedures that could enhance the successful treatment of your mutual interdisciplinary patients? The answer is the On Demand Webinar series, housed on the AAO Web site. Did you know that your association is actively recording, archiving, and providing webinars and recorded lectures about topics that would be educational and beneficial to your referring dentists? Over the past 2 years, I have been actively involved in presenting several interdisciplinary webinars on a variety of restorative and periodontal topics related to orthodontics. Several practitioners over the past 2 years have taken advantage of these live sessions to educate their referral sources.
Typically, on the evening of the webinar, an orthodontist will invite referring dentists to attend the webinar in his or her orthodontic office. The orthodontist will provide some refreshments; the webinar lasts for 75 minutes, and afterward the orthodontist is available to answer questions regarding the topic that was covered. The AAO has received many favorable comments from orthodontists who have participated in this manner. But there is an even better way to participate in this type of learning environment and earn continuing education hours—and that is the On Demand Learning Program.
All of these webinars plus many lectures from the Annual Session and Winter conferences are recorded and then archived on the AAO Web site. All orthodontists who are members of the AAO can access these recorded lectures to provide an educational experience for their referring dentists. The advantage of using a previously recorded lecture is that you can stop and start the lecture from time to time to interject your personal opinions or to further explain a point that might not have been detailed sufficiently for your colleagues. What a wonderful way to spend an evening with your referral sources and be the center of their attention. This is truly a winning way to gain a loyal referral source and improve dentistry at the same time. Check out the On Demand Learning Program on the AAO Web site. These lectures are a great way to educate your referring dentists.