Physical Therapists Have Become Masters of Adaptation
If there’s one thing we’ve had to become really good at as physical therapists, it’s how to adapt.
The list of changes we’ve adapted to is long. Here are a few:
- The way we treat patients has evolved over the years as new research comes out.
- We’ve incorporated new types of treatment and medical devices into our practice.
- We’ve had to learn how to compete with hospital-owned and physician-owned clinics.
- Every year, we see changes in reimbursement policies and compliance.
One of the biggest adjustments for private practice owners has been the transition from a complete reliance on physician referrals to direct access. As a result, we’ve had to figure out how to balance time spent treating patients with time spent growing and marketing our business.
The technology sector has not always kept up with the changing healthcare sector – in many ways, healthcare gets left behind in the traditional technology sector. Many marketing software platforms are not a great fit for the changing needs of private practice physical therapy.
In this article, I’ll share my understanding of how physical therapy marketing has evolved over the years. This pulls from my own experience as a private practice owner and from what I hear working with hundreds of practices at Breakthrough. I’ll share how I think about physical therapy marketing today and what to look for in physical therapy marketing software. You’ll learn about tools that help you create consistent growth and adapt in our ever-changing field.
The Old Way: Physician Referrals
Over the last decade, customer acquisition in private practice has changed dramatically. When I started my practice in Central Pennsylvania twenty years ago, the name of the game was physician referrals. In order to get new patients, I was driving around to doctors’ offices, visiting physicians several times a week to drum up business.
At my practice, physician referrals peaked around 2008. I was generating 154 physician referrals per month and nurturing 200 referral sources in a year. No physician represented more than 4% of total referrals. I had mastered physician referrals!
The New Way: Direct Access Ends Reliance on Physician Referrals
The next year, everything changed. Between 2009 and 2011, referral sources started drying up as competition from hospitals and healthcare systems increased. At the time, 90% of physical therapists in the US relied on physician referrals and almost none were marketing direct to the consumer — yet.
For decades, the APTA focused legislative efforts on increasing customer access to physical therapy care. And throughout the 2000’s and 2010s, direct access legislation passed widely in states across the country.
While direct access opened up a wider market for practice owners, it completely changed how we had to go to market and acquire customers. We no longer had to rely so heavily on physician referrals. But we had to learn marketing — something they never taught us in PT school.
The Transition to Direct-to-Consumer Marketing in Private Practice
For many, the shift to direct access happened suddenly, over a short period of time. By 2011, I was spending much less time visiting physicians. Like many other practice owners, I was forced to become a student of marketing.
Today, no matter where you are in the country, your practice has to dedicate resources towards marketing.
To help practice owners learn the ins and out’s of marketing, Breakthrough launched the first Killer Marketing course in 2016. We taught skills like email marketing, online advertising, promotions, and how to host workshops. Hundreds of owners and their staff went through the course and implemented its strategies. They implemented tools like CRM, automation, landing pages, and advertising across multiple channels. They captured new patient demand throughout their communities.
But even the best of us have found marketing to become more challenging over time. Privacy changes have made advertising online more complex. It seems like there are always more platforms to learn about. Loads of marketing automation platforms and engagement tools are available, but they’re often overly complex and bulky. Practice owners find they’re not getting their money’s worth because they simply don’t have the staff time or resources to use these tools.
The Future of Physical Therapy Marketing
In his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, Jim Collins presents the flywheel concept. The concept is based on his observation that successful companies found their success in a series of gradual actions that built momentum over time.
Unsuccessful companies frequently launched new initiatives, chasing the shiny object — the one big move — that would transform their business. Successful companies, on the other hand, built momentum over time through a series of repeatable processes.
The main premise behind the flywheel is once you get it moving, it requires very little effort to keep it moving. It builds on itself.
At Breakthrough, we believe the future of physical therapy marketing will be built around a flywheel that enables private practice marketers to create repeatable processes that: Attract patient prospects, convert them, and measure the results.
This is how we think about private practice marketing today and in the future.
1. It Starts with Attraction
When marketing our practices, first we must Attract potential patients with our advertising.
One of the most effective ways to buy market share in an area is to begin with online advertising. Specifically, Facebook, Instagram, Google, and YouTube. (I’m not seeing consistent, repeatable results on other platforms…yet).
Rather than just advertise for the sake of advertising, we see direct-response campaigns working the best. This allows for full coverage of all awareness levels, from unaware to solution aware to aware of your practice.
This includes capturing the information of ad responders so we can communicate with them over time and nurture the relationship potential. We do this with proven landing pages and compelling offers.
2. Next, We Convert
Once people respond to our ads, we must have processes to convert them from ad responders to a plan of care.
Back in 2011, when I started posting YouTube videos, we started receiving emails and phone calls literally from all over the world – 5 continents – requesting more information, etc.
After a few months of trying to answer every one, with frustration setting in, I simply started to ask, “When can you fly to Harrisburg?” It was a big ask. And it started to work.
The lesson: conversion is the key. Marketing activities, generating patient demand, are not worth 2 cents, without conversion.
Conversion can include automation (and increasingly does). However, all roads eventually lead to a human-to-human conversation. It’s worth your while to master this as an organization.
How do we do that at Breakthrough?
It starts with Lead Management. If you’re truly generating patient demand – and the ad responses that come with it, sticky notes and spreadsheets aren’t going to cut it. There’s too much wasted time…too many dropped balls. That’s where Lead Management saves the day. Your staff will know exactly who to call or email and when. You’ll be able to update a contact with one click and automatically send reminders.
Then we have email automation. Email automation done well provides value, establishes your authority, celebrity, and expertise, and ultimately increases the likelihood that the lead has a human-to-human conversation with your practice. Included in the automation are pre-built email sequences you can pick and choose from to save time on follow-up.
Rounding out conversion is Two-Way Texting. Why? Some people prefer email, others are collecting thousands of unread emails in their inboxes. Almost all who don’t prefer email will respond to a text message. We want to get through.
3. Finally, We Need to Measure It
As this Attraction and Conversion is happening, we must Measure what is happening, so we can do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
This means ROI Intelligence. Which platform are we advertising on that is generating the most plans of care? Where are we having drop-offs or leaks in our processes?
Benchmark Insights – What’s a solid conversion rate in a workshop? What % of the First Appointments (free screens, IEs or Discovery Visits) result in a plan of care – broken down by each clinician? These are variables we want to benchmark so you know where to focus your energies.
Training and Coaching – What are the workshop closes that work the best? What should we say to the registrant who’s already tried PT and failed? This is where a collection of best practices start with a coach walking you through the learning curve.
As your team improves their skill sets and competencies, you buy more market share, and the cycle repeats, beginning with Attraction. This is the exact process I’ve used to open our new locations and build to 5 full-time clinicians within 18 months (now 3…almost 4 times).
The Attract / Convert / Measure flywheel is the key to consistent growth. The flywheel will be the backbone of private practice marketing today and in the future.