A Community Presence

Community in a public park

How to achieve effective and enjoyable marketing.

By Tess Vaughn, PT, DPT

What is the one word many physical therapists dread the most? Marketing. As an owner of a private practice in a small community, I would become discouraged following marketing lunches with physicians and staff as I would feel my time was ineffectual and futile.

However, what I came to understand during these lunches was that the personal connections we formed with the staff started the referral process, and the quality of our service maintained and increased referrals. With this realization we changed our marketing focus and became more involved in our community, the local schools, and businesses.

One of the most effective marketing strategies is word of mouth, with 84 percent of consumers trusting recommendations from friends and family. Word-of-mouth referrals also have a substantially longer carryover effect than traditional marketing.1 Word-of-mouth marketing can be fun, engaging, and invaluable to the growth of a private practice, but also to establishing your clinic as part of your community. Community involvement is a powerful way to build relationships, boost visibility, lead to a more loyal customer base, and establish your clinic as experts in the field of physical therapy.

Sharing Our Expertise

The purpose of a qualitative study published in 2000 was to identify the dimensions of clinical expertise in physical therapy practice across four clinical specialty areas including orthopedics, geriatrics, neurology, and pediatrics. One of the four dimensions that was proposed as a theoretical model was “a central focus on movement assessment linked to patient functions.”2 Physical therapists are movement experts. What better way to engage with our patients and customers than to assess them during their sport, work duties, and activities? We can share our expertise with the community by participating in coverage and screens for local school athletics and recreational leagues. A parent of an athlete is, in my experience, one of the greatest referral sources, not only because of the breadth of that word-of-mouth recommendation but also the satisfaction and gratitude gained by earning the trust and loyalty of a “mama bear” protecting her child. Sponsorships of recreational leagues, Booster Clubs, and local races and festivals are financial ways to support the community, but teaching educational and exercise classes are also effective ways to actively establish ourselves as experts.

Do the Right Thing for Your Community

Being passionate and proud of our community is the driving force of community involvement rather than focusing on the financial benefits of becoming involved. Teaching educational and informative classes at the local community center, senior center, and church groups are ways to begin to build a level of trust and loyalty. Volunteering at health fairs, presenting on safety topics in local businesses or factories, and teaching correct lifting and stretching in high school weight lifting and physical education classes demonstrate our commitment to the health and well-being of our community.

Community Collaboration

Collaborating with other health care professionals such as personal trainers, massage therapists, nutritionists, dieticians, and psychologists is a way to build a network in the community to address the biopsychosocial needs of our patients and customers and have a team in place when there is a need that falls outside our area of expertise but may be affecting the progress and function of our patient in physical therapy.

Create an Impact


As a part of community outreach, marketing the effectiveness and convenience of direct access directly to the consumer through flyers, billboards, radio ads, postcards, and email blasts is very important. The Health Services Research Direct Access Study published in 2011 reviewed 62,707 episodes of physical therapy using non-Medicare claims data from a Midwest insurer over a five-year period and found that patients who visited a physical therapist directly for outpatient care had fewer visits and lower overall costs on average than those referred by a physician.2 It was also found that self-referrals had an overall lower related health care use (physicians, diagnostics) and self-referred patients were still in contact with their physicians during and after physical therapy.3

Finally, as a way to set your clinic apart, demonstrate your level of commitment to evidence-based practice, present the level of expertise and specializations of your physical therapists, and send educational flyers to physicians of various specialties, chiropractors, and dentists. The flyers may contain synopses of current research studies related to the specific interest of the health care professional. Be sure to include the clinic name, logo, phone number, and the educational and specialization background of the staff and physical therapists.


1 Trusov M, Bucklin R, Pawwels K. Effects of word of mouth versus traditional marketing: findings from an internet social networking site. Journal of Marketing. 2009;73(5):90-102.

2 Jensen G, Gwyer J, Shepard K, Hack L. Expert practice in physical therapy. Physical Therapy. 2000;80(1):28-43.

3 Pendergast J, Kliethermes S, Freburger J, Duffy P. A comparison of health care use for physician-referred and self-referred episodes of outpatient physical therapy. Health Serv Res. Published ahead of print Sept 23, 2017.

Tess Vaughn, PT, DPT, is the owner of Medical Rehabilitation Systems in Winterville, Georgia. She can be reached at t.vaughn@mrsphysicaltherapy.com.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

Are you a PPS Member?
Please sign in to access site.
Enter Site!