It’s Not Retail – It’s Added Value for the Patient Experience

cashier handing bag to woman

By Peter Decoteau

Ask any physical therapist why they chose physical therapy as a career path and nine times out of 10 you’ll get some version of “I want to help people.

The act of treating a patient, helping an individual heal and get back to their life, is at the core of what we do. In that regard, the extra responsibilities many physical therapists have to take on can seem insignificant by comparison. This may be true for things like completing notes in a timely fashion, but it is especially apparent with anything that feels like a “sales pitch,” such as promoting your services to build your client-base, developing relationships with physicians or selling retail items out of the clinic.

In an Impact article from March 2020 titled, “Teach a PT to Fish,” I said about self-advocacy, “It’s important that PTs understand they’re not ‘selling’ anything, but instead educating people and bringing value to them—and potentially to their friends and family members—by helping them live a more active, pain-free life.”1 The point is that, despite how you may feel about self-promotion, bringing physical therapy to more people can only be a good thing, because, ultimately, it is a means to the end of helping more people.

When it comes to retail sales in the clinic, there is often a similar reluctance on the part of the clinicians. Still, the same concept remains true: if it’s in the service of helping the patient, it can only be a good thing. While adding sales of equipment and other products into the clinical environment can certainly be a way to increase revenue channels, it only works when it’s a sincere and appropriate addition to treatment.

If you’re considering rolling out retail in your clinic, here are a few things to keep in mind that can help to keep the focus on the patient experience so you can turn reluctance into enthusiasm.

IT’S ABOUT BETTER TREATMENT AND BETTER OUTCOMES

The number one thing to reinforce when rolling out a retail program in the clinic is that most sales are made to enhance the patients’ treatment program. In terms of “onboarding” your clinicians to be comfortable participating in retail sales, the process most likely entails promoting items that can be used by a patient as part of a home exercise program or upon completion of treatment as a means to continue strengthening, stretching or otherwise recovering and preventing future problems. In addition to being another opportunity to ensure positive outcomes, this approach shifts the mindset of the clinician from that of “selling” to adding value to their patient’s experience by pairing the right tools for recovery with one-on-one guidance from an expert. Speaking of guidance…

MAKE IT PART OF CLINICAL TREATMENT

Sending a patient home with a new piece of equipment and expecting them to know how to use it is a great way to exacerbate injuries and potentially cause new ones. On the flip side, implementing retail equipment into your clinic offers a great opportunity for your clinicians to fold guidance and education into clinical treatment, which puts the power of recovery into the patients’ hands while also potentially creating a higher level of accountability for keeping up with home exercises during or after treatment.

There’s a psychological component to why this clinical guidance can be effective at getting buy-in and follow-through, as outlined in Dr. Robert Cialdini’s “6 Principles of Persuasion.”2 The first component is Authority, which speaks to the obvious influence clinicians have over their patients’ decisions regarding treatment. Beyond providing medical expertise though, your knowledge and demonstration of the value of a certain tool or piece or equipment in the clinical environment aligns a patient’s perspective directly with what Dr. Cialdini refers to as the “trappings” of their experience, inherently increasing patient buy-in by creating a through line from the authority you provide in the clinic to the work they do at home.

Another relevant principle is that of Consistency, which relates to the idea that people like to be consistent with things they’ve previously done or said. Dr. Cialdini refers to “small initial commitments” leading to larger commitments that are consistent with each other. In this case, the task of actively learning how to use a product, verbally committing to continuing its use at home and then committing financially to it not only creates patient buy-in but also makes follow-through more likely, which in turn produces better and more reliable outcomes.2

IT’S A WIN-WIN FOR YOU AND THE PATIENT

Sales have historically had negative connotations because it’s generally assumed that the “seller” is trying to take advantage of the “buyer.” In this case we know that not to be true, for both the reasons listed above and because, in most instances, the patient will need the right equipment to aid in their recovery no matter who they’re buying it from. This creates a win-win opportunity for both the clinic and the patient, wherein you are able to generate an additional revenue channel (and potentially reduce clinical expenditures) and the patient is provided guided expertise on how to best use equipment for their needs, while also being able to leave the clinic with the item(s) in hand.

The key to overcoming any remaining reluctance on the part of the patient, then, is to verbalize these benefits during treatment. Making sure they know that your main priority is their successful recovery reinforces the fact that everything being done in the clinic, as well as any at home or continuing exercise program, is for the good of the patient’s health. 

References:

1Decoteau, P. Teach a PT to Fish. Impact. March 2020;3.

2Cialdini, R. Influence At Work: Principles of Persuasion. https://www.influenceatwork.com/principles-of-persuasion/. Accessed January 21, 2021.


Peter Decoteau

Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at peter.decoteau@ptsmc.com.