The “When” and “Why” of Physical Therapy

Physical Therapists with patients

Attracting new patients to your practice has never been more critical

By Daniel Luczka, PT, DPT

It has never been more important than now to make sure you are attracting patients to your clinic as efficiently as possible.

The profession of physical therapy has gone through some major changes over the years unbeknownst to most consumers (i.e., Direct Access). As health care professionals, we need to evolve with the times. Right now, the public views paying for physical therapy treatments as a “grudge buy.” They go to physical therapy because their doctor told them to go. As providers with Direct Access, we need to change how we attract patients, starting with when we first approach them. By going straight to consumers rather than waiting for them to come to us, we can change their perspective on the value of physical therapy before they even step through our doors.

Changing the Customer Mindset

A study by Fritz showed that 7% of individuals who go to their primary care physician for back pain are referred to physical therapy.1 What are the other 93% of people doing? If they are not seeing a physical therapist (PT) early on in their treatment, they may be over-utilizing medications, injections, and surgery. How do we get a portion of the 93% to pursue physical therapy for their back pain? The answer is by changing their view of a PT from a “grudge buy” to someone they happily seek out first. This process is the key for avoiding drop offs and having patients finish their entire plan of care.

There are many different ways to market directly to the public (e.g., online, community events, etc.) but let’s focus on the message we should be advertising. If we advertise that a PT can help with back pain, they will wait to see their primary care physician first and only 7% will come see us because their doctor advised so. Instead, we need to market that seeing a PT can not only help their back pain, but seeing us first will give them the results they care about. Educate the public on the benefits of not delaying their treatment and that timing matters. The sooner they see us, the quicker they will get back to doing what matters most to them. Besides telling them when to see us, we must tell them why they want to see us.

The public does not come to us so we can increase their shoulder range of motion; rather, it’s so they can play in their recreational activities with their friends. They don’t care about improved joint mobility; instead, they are focused on sleeping through the night, pain-free. Most individuals do not understand what a “systematic review” means, but they connect with the emotion from a testimonial. The testimonial shares how an individual felt and the experience they had with the physical therapist to make them feel their best and get back to their active life. Make sure the why is the focus and you are the facilitator to it. Their reason for searching for help is that they want to play pain-free with their grandkids, get back to their running club, and see their friends. It is essential to tell the public we can solve their problem and we do it through physical therapy. Individuals are more likely to act on something with which they have an emotional connection. By focusing on the impact on their lifestyle, they are more likely to come to physical therapy first instead of waiting to see their primary care physician.

If the public learns that we can get them back to their sport, playing with their children, or get a good night’s rest without tossing and turning, they will choose to see a PT first. We can then help a portion of the 93% of people who do not get referred to physical therapy for back pain. Make your message clear, let them know when they need to see us (first) and why they should see us (to get them back to the active lifestyle they want). If a patient believes you can get them back to where they want to be, you will be their first stop.


1 Fritz JM, Childs JD, Wainner RS, Flynn TW. Primary Care Referral of Patients With Low Back Pain to Physical Therapy. Spine. 2012;37(25):2114-2121. doi:10.1097/brs.0b013e31825d32f5.

Daniel Luczka

Daniel Luczka, PT, DPT, is the founder and president of InstaCare Physical Therapy in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at

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