Marketing: Day One to Discharge + Beyond
Internal and external growth
By Dale Reckless, PT
Marketing, some physical therapists cringe at the word, avoid it, and at-best tolerate it. Most of us did not have business classes let alone marketing classes in physical therapy school. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard physical therapists say, “I went to school to treat patients; marketing is not something I am comfortable doing.”
In my early years of being a physical therapist, I was not any different. Working at an inpatient rehab hospital that had a waiting list to get in for rehab was a perfect scenario for me. I only had to show up for work, do my best with each patient and at the end of the day, know that my patients were getting better with the benefits of time and guidance from the expansive knowledge we had has physical therapists.
But two things changed for me on my career path. One change was the competitiveness in the market with large healthcare companies taking over the market. The second was my change to working in an outpatient setting that required more marketing to gain the patients that we needed to bring through the door to meet our bottom line. Marketing was required as I expanded my career beyond a treating therapist to a director position. I will admit at first marketing was not my favorite thing to do as many physical therapists I think would agree. I was fortunate early on to have paid marketers in the practice, but that is not cost effective for many practices. I don’t think we naturally promote ourselves to our friends, medical doctors (MD), and the community and see that as a somewhat narcissistic attitude that physical therapists just don’t seem to have in their personality check list.
Friendly, personable, empathetic, understanding, compassionate, patient, determined, realistic, resilient: All are personality traits which are definitely in the physical therapist wheelhouse though.
EVERY PHYSICAL THERAPIST CAN BE A GOOD MARKETER
But wait, can’t we apply all these same traits to marketing? So, if these traits are so similar what is the gap of a physical therapist becoming a good marketer? This point could probably be greatly debated but let me review what I believe to be a good marketing plan to get any physical therapist to become great marketers for your business.
Indeed.com adds these attributes to a good marketer: “Strategic with their time and resources, focused relationships, data driven, storytelling.” I don’t see these traits as being far from those of many physical therapists.
I believe every physical therapist can be a good marketer if the right systems are put in place for them to succeed.
I think it is easy to establish the value of marketing for outpatient physical therapy. I have personally seen outpatient private practices that were, at one point, thriving, slowly melt away into obsolete, unsellable practices. Why does this happen? There could be many reasons such as losing a regular referring MD to retirement or them moving out of the area or maybe even a practicing physical therapist in the clinic moving or retiring. If you have one primary physician that stabilizes your visits, this can be instant trouble for a small practice if things go south. Marketing is an essential part of your program for survival. When I opened my private practice seven years ago with MRS Physical Therapy, I definitely had an “If I build it, they will come” attitude. I knew hitting the streets and marketing to my community and referring practices in the area would be a part of what I needed for a successful practice, but I didn’t know how hard it would be.
GET PATIENTS IN YOUR DOOR
So, from day one of opening your clinic, how do you get patients in the door?
Putting the right systems in place for a clinic to have a successful marketing plan is step 1. There are many branches that can develop out of these core systems. You may find some to be applicable to your market and some not. You also need to know your demographics. I have two different clinics that have slightly different marketing tactics based on who my clients are and how they interact with marketing. The clinics are only 13 miles apart from each other but collected data shows the clientele are different for how they receive their information and how they make their health choices. For example, there are 17 physical therapist clinics within a 5-mile radius of one of my clinics. Some are owned by the insurance company, some owned by a hospital system, some by the MD, some by large physical therapist network groups and some are small independents like mine. How I reach patients in this area is different as well.
Let’s be honest, some must work harder than others to market the product of physical therapy. In my area there are five larger practices (hospital or physician-owned) that the orthopods send most of their patients. Others, like me have to step up under these highly competitive conditions to get patients in the door.
TRIAL AND ERROR
There are many options, and I suggest trial and error. That may sound erratic, but you must figure out what works in your area. Over the years we have tried billboards, TV commercials, radio, newspaper, telephone book, website, brochures, direct mailings, social media, YouTube, sponsoring school teams, hanging banners, health fairs, fun runs, parades, community booths. It does take some time to collect data and figure out what is effective. I suggest picking a few key areas you think will be effective and use a tracking system for when patients come in for evaluation where they can write down on a marketing survey how they heard about you.
I also like to ask during my initial evaluation intake how they heard about us as it will sometimes give some additional dialogue beyond what they have written down that I can add into my marketing analysis. For example, I saw a patient recently that was referred by a local physician to another clinic for vestibular rehab that was too far for them to go and thus they never completed their physical therapy. That MD is now on my marketing list of who I need to see and promote our local practice. This came out of my discussion during their eval on how they found us at MRS Physical Therapy.
Next is marketing to patients in your clinic and getting your patients to market for you. Some think that once the patient has arrived through your door that the marketing efforts are successfully complete. I would say your efforts are then just beginning.
This is one of my favorite tactics because there are many ways to do this. One of the systems we have in place is a referral promotion. If a patient sends their friend or family member to come see us they receive a thank you card from us with a small gift card. This is a small token of our appreciation that meets ethical and practice standard requirements under our state and CMS regulations.
REGULAR TEXTS OR EMAILS
Another system that we have in place keeps our patients engaged through regular text messages or emails. The client has the option to opt in or out on their first visit and if they opt in, they will receive a welcome message and then follow-up messages at different intervals of their care. This gives the client the opportunity to ask questions during their course of care. This system adds an additional context for marketing after discharge as it keeps us on their minds with post discharge messages that engages the client to return to us if they have any other old or new issues that arise.
We also use a client engagement tool through our EMR which gives us a lot of different marketing options. As with most systems, they are only as good as how you use them. If your office is not utilizing the systems that you have in place, they will obviously not produce what you are looking for in promoting volume and growth.
This tool provides the opportunity to create and send out marketing campaigns to current and former patients. This might be info on a new program you have developed, a complimentary wellness screen or a program that you simply want to promote. The system tracks patients reached, percent of people that opened and clicked on your message, as well as percent of those that unsubscribed from your mailings. This is an excellent way to get the word out on what you wish to promote. The system also gives you the opportunity to reactivate former patients by sending out prompts to reengage with clients. There of course is an upfront cost to this but it gives you so many variables to create content, control how often you send it and track data, that other marketing options don’t provide.
Also, at discharge we offer the patient the opportunity to write a testimonial and take a picture with their treating therapist, holding up the company t-shirt that we just gifted them. This gets used in multiple ways. We print the picture and hang it up in our office “wall of success.” This also provides an interesting and encouraging first impression in our waiting room. In addition, we send a copy to the referring physician, thanking them for the referral. We also use this for social media promotion of the company and the program. Just make sure you have the patient’s written consent to use their picture for these purposes.
START DAY ONE
Don’t wait until discharge to discuss your programs with patients. By discharge the patients should be familiar with all your programs and it should be a smooth “see you next time” conversation. Discuss direct access on the first visit and through the course of their treatment all the way up to their discharge day.
Market throughout their course of rehab through discussion of the different programs that you offer. Train your staff to keep an acute ear regarding if patients have other issues or if they discuss their friends and families having issues that you can help with physical therapy. This can be in a comfortable flow of conversation and does not need to be a direct ask. Then provide regular follow-ups that can be preprogrammed through systems. Don’t forget the important part of collecting data on how your marketing is received and the response to your campaigns. Once your patient is in the door, the marketing systems you have in place should create a smooth circle of life for your clinic to grow!
Dale Reckless, PT, is a partner with MRS Physical Therapy and runs two offices in Pittsburgh, PA. He can be reached at email@example.com.