Marketing Physical Therapy
What does the future hold?
By Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS
It’s been almost 15 years since I transitioned into the role of physical therapy practice owner. When I started, my marketing plan consisted of visiting local physician practices, introducing myself, and dropping off a prescription pad and brochure. Sometimes I would bring lunch. I advertised in the yellow pages because that’s where most people looked for local businesses. On a slow week I could visit physician practices to drop off candy, pens, stress balls, or water bottles. Calling former patients to check in maintained a healthy percentage of returning patients.
Marketing today looks much different than it did then. People don’t use the yellow pages to find services, and physicians don’t write scripts on prescription pads anymore. Most consumers turn to the internet, and most physicians send prescriptions electronically. As the world moves deeper into the digital age, so must our marketing. As we shift our marketing tools from pens and prescription pads to websites and social media, we must change our message to match these new mediums, take advantage of new capabilities, and meet customer expectations.
Customers used to expect marketing to be a one-way street. You’d tell them about your clinic with a yellow pages ad, billboard, or brochure in their doctor’s office. They’d take the information you sent out, compare it to everyone else’s, and make a decision on where to go. They expected to come in, pay a small copay, and get whatever therapy their insurance covered.
Today is a different story. Customers expect marketing to be a two-way street. You can send your message out, but customers want the ability to talk back. They expect if they fill out a contact form, send out a tweet, or contact you in any other way that you’re going to respond and do it quickly. Customers are also now used to getting a customized experience. Gone are the days of accepting whatever “standard” is. With the rise in copays and deductibles we have seen, customers are paying more out of pocket and they expect a higher level of service for it.
Let’s dive in to look at how you can use digital marketing media to meet the changing expectations of your patients.
The ability to request an appointment through clinic websites is becoming more common, and I only see this trend growing. Expect this to grow into the ability for patients to schedule their own appointments online and for providers to make direct referrals. People see capabilities like these as a convenience, allowing them to choose an appointment at their leisure, without waiting on hold or playing phone tag to find a time that works for both them and you.
The use of live chat boxes on websites is also growing. These give people a way to have a personalized experience and have their questions quickly answered. Consider having someone in your office use a chat box on your website throughout the day to engage potential patients and start a conversation.
To make the most of social media, don’t try to be everywhere; there are too many platforms and you’ll quickly become overwhelmed. Instead, figure out where your patients are and concentrate there. Think of social media as a place to develop and maintain long-term relationships. Former patients can keep up with what’s going on at the clinic, and potential patients can get a feel for what the staff and company are like before they even get a referral. Use social media to have real-time interaction with your customers. It’s a great way to learn what is important to them, as well as what their wants and needs are so you can serve them better.
Today’s consumers don’t want to be pushed into buying something. They want to learn about a product or service and choose something that resonates with them. Use your online real estate to show people who you are—let them behind the scenes of your clinic, tell them what makes your company unique, share your values and mission. Have conversations with them and show them the value you can provide. People are increasingly wanting “authenticity” from the companies they do business with, so don’t be afraid to show the personality of your clinic online. People want to see it.
I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché that people prefer to do business with those they know, like, and trust. It may be cliché, but there is some truth to it. We’ve already talked about using your website and social media to let people get to know you, but how do you use them to build trust? It’s a process, and it starts small. If people give you information, like their name or email address, they expect you’re going to use it in a way that benefits them. If you do, their trust will grow. If you misuse their information to bombard them with advertisements, or worse, sell it to someone else who misuses it, the trust will be broken. Grow trust by continually benefiting and helping your customers.
Share your expertise and knowledge by giving people the information they want, in the format they want, and they’ll begin to trust you as an expert. Right now, video is rapidly growing as the format of choice. Audio is also growing, with many companies putting out podcasts.
The theme of marketing being a conversation has been obvious so far. People expect you to engage with them, but you should also want to. Listening and being responsive to your customers allows you to get to know them, learn what they expect, and better understand what drives their decisions. If you pay attention to these things, and act on what you learn, you can give people what they want and better serve your patients. That leads to more trust and more loyalty.
Because of the ease of broadcasting a message through social media, YouTube, or online review sites, customers now have a much louder voice. People are increasingly looking at online reviews and mentions of a company on social media to make decisions. If you serve your customers well, get good results in the clinic, and meet their expectations, people are willing to use this new, loud voice to sing your praises. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. Understanding expectations and using the tips here to meet them will help you generate more of it. Of course, the other side of this is that if you disappoint your customers, they’ll let others know about that too.
Marketing Today and in the Future
Marketing is no longer a separate department or activity; it is everything we do. The entire patient experience matters. What your website looks like, how the phone was answered, what the office looks like, how clean the bathrooms are, if treatment was effective, and how the billing office handled the insurance claim all impact the patient’s experience and should be considered marketing. I see marketers working with the IT department to make sure that the website, mobile apps, and social media accounts are all consistent in design and message. They’ll work with the front office to make sure what is said on the phone or the online chat box is consistent with the messages people are hearing on the company podcast or in videos on Facebook. They’ll work with the therapists to make sure they’re delivering treatment in the way promised by the marketing brochures. They’ll work with the billing department to make the claims process easier on patients. By integrating throughout the business, future marketers will ensure that the business presents a cohesive and consistent image. They’ll also make sure the business keeps the promises made to patients from start to finish. This kind of integration, responsiveness, and consistency is what people expect from you. Deliver it and they’ll gladly do business with you. Break their trust or disappoint them, and they’ll quickly move on to one of your competitors.
Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS, is the chair of the PPS PR and Marketing Committee and chief executive officer of Performance Physical Therapy in Rhode Island. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.