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Using Tricare’s Pilot LBP Program to Promote a “PT-First” Message

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How to leverage the insurance provider’s confidence in physical therapy using the three elements of effective marketing messaging

By Peter Decoteau

Physical therapists are great at taking care of people, bringing value to their patients’ lives by helping them heal and move without pain.

Unfortunately, we are not so good at explaining this value to everyone else outside of the clinic. It’s heartening, at least, to see one major insurance provider getting on board and recognizing the incredible benefits of early physical therapy treatment.

Tricare, the insurance system that provides coverage for US Military members, retirees, and their families, recently rolled out a pilot program that aims to increase the use of “high-value” treatment for low back pain. In essence, Tricare is offering free physical therapy for individuals suffering from low back pain in an effort to track use and benefits of early physical therapy treatment as an alternative to dangerous medication or costly surgery. While the pilot program is currently only running in 10 states, it demonstrates that insurance providers are finally starting to acknowledge the benefits of addressing common injuries – in this case, low back pain – with physical therapy as a first point of care. These benefits extend beyond better outcomes and less risk for patients, they also represent lower costs for insurance providers and the potential for less time off from work due to injury.

As advocates and representatives for physical therapy, now is the time capitalize on this momentum and use it to amplify the broader value of physical therapy as a first-option for anyone experiencing musculoskeletal issues. After all, who better to reinforce this messaging than the United States military? The keys to leveraging this momentum lie in the applying the three elements of effective marketing messaging: Clarity, Consistency, and Frequency.

CLARITY

Clarity refers to how easy your main message is to understand and act upon. While a memorable slogan and catchy jingle may stick in someone’s head for a few days, without a clear and actionable message neither will do much by way of driving business.

Your first goal in crafting marketing messaging should be to distill key points into brief, easily understood bits of information with a clear call to action. This is especially true with something that can be as convoluted and misunderstood as healthcare. A great example of the importance of this step is reflected in how we as an industry tend to talk about Direct Access. We all know that taking advantage of Direct Access laws can help save patients time and money while improving their outcomes, and yet the utilization of these allowances remains fairly low. This is due in large part to a lack of good, clear messaging about the existence of Direct Access and the benefits of using it. Even the terms most commonly used when referencing these laws – “Direct Access,” “self-referral” – don’t mean much to the general public.

In this instance, to improve the clarity of the message, the terms themselves need to shift towards clearer and more universally understood language (for example, “No doctor referral needed”) and the message needs to be hyper-focused on the benefits of leveraging this allowance, such as saving time by being assessed by the experts first and saving money by potentially bypassing the need for costly tests and specialists.

The approach in using Tricare’s pilot program as a way to promote a broader “PT-first” message should be similar, with the added benefit of being able to point to a large federal program as an example of shifting perspectives on musculoskeletal care. This means using Tricare’s own data and reasoning to drive your marketing messages about physical therapy as a first point of care, including improved outcomes, lower costs and less reliance on dangerous medications. Once you’ve done your research and distilled your key messages, the call to action is clear: if you’re experiencing muscle and/or joint problems, do what the US military does and get physical therapy first!

CONSISTENCY

Consistency of messaging often goes overlooked, either because it seems redundant or because there’s a lack of consistency in the messengers themselves (how often do we see messages drastically change depending on who’s creating them?), but repeating yourself is not lazy or redundant – it’s the best way to make sure your messages stick.

What consistency does not mean is using the same content or copy over and over again. Instead, once you’ve refined your key points into clear, actionable messages, you should look for various methods and means to share them in a way that retains the core ideas. For instance, your campaign may be focused on saving patients both time and money, and to get that message across you may look to produce a series of video clips, a blog post, a media pitch and some simple, message-focused graphic elements. In this example, the headlines and two or three key ideas will remain the same throughout these materials, but the content itself will shift to fit the medium.
This is why clarifying your messages at the outset is so important: it provides a roadmap for messaging that allows you to preserve consistency across platforms, and even to diverse audiences.

FREQUENCY

People often conflate frequency and consistency, but in practice they are two similar methods of achieving the same end: to increase “recall” – the ability for a person to instantly remember a brand name and message – among an audience. In essence, when used together, consistency and frequency can be extremely effective at making sure your messages stick with their target audiences.

Whereas consistency refers to the thematic content of your messages, frequency refers to the amount of times you’re able to get that content in front of the intended audience. After all, 10 different messages served to the same person is just as impractical as a single message served to 10 different people just once.
Once you’ve clarified your ideas and found a way to create consistency among message, media and platform, the step to ensuring frequency is to make sure you’re getting in front of the right audience. Much like the example provided above, if you’re putting a budget behind your campaign, your targeting should be specific enough to reach the same people multiple times, but broad enough to not reach the same people too many times. As an industry standard, a frequency of three to six times per person is considered best-practice, while a frequency of up to 10 times is favorable.

For content that doesn’t require a budget and/or reaches a less targeted audience (social media content, website content, media pitches, etc.), the frequency lies in how successful you were at establishing clarity and consistency – your ability to clearly convey the same core ideas in a variety of ways. In this way, a person may, within a week, see a video, news article and graphic all clearly communicating the same key message from the same brand name, thus increasing frequency and improving recall. The anticipated end result is that, the next time that individual is experiencing low back pain, their brain will immediately defer to your name and your messaging. 


Peter Decoteau

Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at peter.decoteau@ptsmc.com.