The Guest Experience


How you treat your patient before, during, and after physical therapy is your best marketing tool.

By Kristen Gerlach, Steve Ziccarelli, and Mark Nelson

Rehabilitation providers today face high competition for the consumer’s health care dollar. Unlike some of the larger hospital systems, those of us in private practice do not have a constant stream of patients being sent to us from down the hall. Therefore, we have one thing and one thing only to leverage: the “guest” experience. The goal of such an experience is to build long-term relationships with your patients through all encounters including prior to, during, and after patient care.

Before marketing, identify your practice’s strengths and weaknesses. Compare these to your competition and learn what makes you unique, or in other words, what sets you apart. In addition, everything you market should show a benefit to the patient. Patients do not want to know what you can do; they want to know what is in it for them.1 Now that you have identified your key difference makers and benefits, it is time to begin marketing to potential patients.

Marketing Prior to Patient Care

To get new patients into your doors, you must make your brand visible. Participate in community events, such as local 5K walks/races, or offer an educational presentation at a local venue. To gain additional community exposure, submit press releases to a variety of media forms including television, newspaper, online blogs, and radio stations each time your practice hits a noteworthy benchmark, offers a new specialization, hires new staff, or hosts an event. The goal of this active participation is to establish credibility and become known as the expert in physical therapy. In addition, your branding must parallel your community outreach efforts.

Regardless of your marketing approach, you must stay consistent with your branding. Your colors, fonts, and logo on every collateral, website, social media page, and building signage must match so that patients can easily recognize your practice. Marketing studies have proven that it takes an average of 17 impressions of a brand before a client will consider using it,1 so be sure that every time potential patients see your brand, it matches.

Your online presence will most likely be one of the most dominant touchpoints. With the advancement of smart phones and technology on-the-go, more patients are choosing health care providers based on their impression of websites and social media sites. Therefore, you must not only have a website or social media page, but you must keep it current and updated. Think of your online presence as a storefront open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Patients can find and access it at any time, so you want their first encounter to be positive.

Marketing During Patient Care

Believe it or not, every interaction you hold with a patient during patient care is a marketing opportunity and impacts the “guest” experience. Once again, be sure everything in your practice matches your branding look. Since you only have one chance to make a first great impression, you want to “wow” the patient from the beginning. In addition to visual branding, you should make an emotional connection with your patients. Patients come to us during some of the most intimate times of their lives—when they are in pain and worried about making a full recovery. Therefore, each staff member must contribute to a comforting and positive environment.

The administrative staff members are typically the first faces a patient will encounter. A warm and friendly welcome can make a large impact. In addition, the administrative staff should be an educational resource for the patient, answering any questions or concerns regarding insurance issues or repayment options. Ensuring the patient is comfortable while they wait puts patients at ease.

The clinical staff can also impact the “guest” experience. Educating patients on their ailments is key, showing them that they are not just a number, but that you care about their overall well-being. In addition, understand their preferences. Some patients may prefer to receive home exercise programs by email or text, while others may prefer a hard paper copy. By best meeting their needs and preferences, you have the opportunity to really “wow” your patients.

Lastly, ask for patient input during treatment. Offer satisfaction surveys at various times throughout the month and ask the hard questions to improve. Respond to both negative and positive feedback to show the changes you have made to make their experiences even better.

Marketing After Patient Care

After a patient has graduated from care, strive to be an educational resource to them for life. When a new ache or pain arises, you want them to think of your practice first. Let your patients know that you have not forgotten about them. Schedule a graduation follow-up program and designate times to check in to see how they are feeling. Invite them to open houses at your practice or send them birthday cards each year.

Just like before, remember to continue to monitor your online presence and offer plenty of engaging social media posts. Engaging content asks a question, offers tips and tricks to stay healthy and avoid injury, or provides visual components such as pictures and videos, keeping your practice visible and at the forefront of your previous patients’ minds.

Every single interaction, whether direct or indirect, affects a patient’s impression of your practice, whether prior to, during, or after patient care. Be sure that you are an active member of your community, your branding is consistent, you focus on meeting each patient’s individual needs and concerns while in the clinic, you have an active online presence, and you stay in contact with your patients following graduation. All of these things impact the “guest” experience and create long-lasting relationships, turning patients into raving fans and return customers when the need arises. 

Kristen Gerlach, Mark Nelson, and Steve Ziccarelli are all members of the marketing team at Rehab Management Solutions in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. They can be reached at


1. Mefford, C, Lovett, L. BrandsFormation: How to Transform Your Good Healthcare Practice Into a Great Local Brand. U.S.:Lighthouse Communications; 2010.

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

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