Tips on Referral Source Marketing Success

Referral marketing

Despite the evolution of our profession we still rely on professional referrals.

By Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS

Our profession has come a long way from the days when we relied only on physician referrals for new patients. With direct access and patient choice, practices now have a decreased need for physician referrals. But that need still exists, and for most private practice physical therapy clinics, professional referral marketing continues to be an important part of the referral source process.

The purpose of professional referral marketing is to effectively and systematically contact physicians to promote physical therapy services and broaden your referral base. The goal is to build lasting relationships, and that takes time. To be successful in getting physician referrals, you must be patient and persistent.

If you’ve ever dropped off information at a doctor’s office or done a presentation over lunch, you know that one visit to a physician’s office doesn’t result in a stream of new patients. Successful referral source marketing is a process.


The first step is prospecting. During prospecting, you should create a list of who you will target, including individual physicians, groups, and specialists. If you have multiple clinics, you can have each clinic create their own lists. These lists can come from online searches and looking at your history of referrals to date.

Pre-Contact Planning

The next step, pre-contact planning, is about qualifying, or ranking, the people on your prospecting list. You can do this by marking each person or physician’s office on the list as a high-value referral source, a high-potential referral source, or an unknown-value source.

  • Established High-Value Referral Sources. “A” level sources are those who consistently send your clinic or practice patients, or who have patients who regularly drop in to your clinic.
  • High-Potential Referral Sources. “B” level sources are those who send you some patients, but nowhere near the amount they could. Maybe it’s a practice of five physicians with only two physicians currently referring patients to you, or a physician who only sporadically sends a patient to you.
  • Nonreferring, unknown-potential referral sources. These are sources that you do not see patients from yet, and so you don’t know their potential. Further methods for qualifying referrals include considering their affinity to your practice, past referral history, location, patient demographics, and payer mix.

Once you have determined which referral sources qualify to market to, it’s time to gather information. Research and record the practice’s or physician’s referral history to date, what kinds of patients they currently send and the demographics of those patients, which types of insurance they take, how far they are from your clinic, their hours of operation, and the education and experience of the physician(s). As you prepare for a visit to their office, think about the questions you want to ask and what you would like to learn. Some questions you could ask include: How does the referral process in the office work? During what hours are the physicians there seeing patients? Are all their physical therapy service needs being met? Finally, determine a reason to visit the office. You could drop off the initial evaluation for a patient you just saw from them, invite the staff to an open house at your clinic, or provide information on a new class you’re offering.

Direct Contact

Now you’re ready for the direct contact phase, during which you’ll actually head over to see the doctor. Obviously, you won’t always get to see the doctor themselves, but that’s okay! Introduce yourself, be honest and authentic, and recognize everyone in the office is important. Ask questions, listen and learn. Work to develop a rapport with everybody in the office while still providing your message. Be sure you have a succinct message to deliver: It can be about the programs you offer, the people and skill levels of your staff, your treatment philosophy, and your outcomes and patient satisfaction numbers.

During the process of developing a relationship with a referral source, consider the many reasons why a doctor refers a patient. The most common reason is habit, but other considerations include location, patient requests, insurance, ease, specialties, access, reputation, personal and professional relationships, trust, the last person they spoke to, their values, outcomes and satisfaction, and professional affiliations.

End your visit with a plan and a reason to follow up with the physician or office, perhaps to drop off a study related to a patient diagnosis the physician mentioned, a patient education tool, or to drop plans of care for patients the office referred the next month. Let them know you’re planning to drop back in.

Post-Contact Review

Post-contact review is when you should take the time to self-assess your visit. Write up what you learned and then your follow-up plan.


The final stage is to follow up. If you told the office you’d do something, make sure you do it! Otherwise your credibility will be lost. This is just the start of the relationship-building process.


You’re trying to create relationships and that means you should be consistent. Don’t be a nuisance but do continue to repeat the cycle and stay connected to offices whose patients you think you can help and provide value to!


For supporting resources related to referral source marketing, please visit the PPS learning center for Marketing 101, Referral Source Marketing—Module 3, presented by marketing gurus Lynn Steffes and Scott Wick.

Michelle Collie

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

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