Keeping your practice in front of the right eyes
With the achievement of direct access to physical therapy services across the country, the recent rage has been to focus a great deal of marketing directly to patients. After all, they are the people seeking your services. That makes great sense when we consider the benefits of going directly to the consumer.
However, since the vast majority of patients enter the health care system through a physician, you still need to market your services to those physician referral sources to gain access to all those potential patients. So, what marketing practices to physicians will get you the biggest bang for your buck?
Marketing Strategy Foundation
We can assume you have done some level of marketing already so we will make some assumptions about your marketing efforts so far. Let’s assume you’ve developed some type of marketing plan and defined your niche area of practice.
Let’s also assume you have done some type of analysis that compares your services to the competitors in your area. Included in this competitor analysis is an assessment of the market to identify services you offer that are still needed in your area. If you have not done any or all these so far, you must begin there.
With those assumptions in mind let’s see what you might do to boost patient referrals from the medical practices near you.
Identifying Potential Marketing Targets
First, identify the five largest primary care practices in your area. This is important since so many patients with neuromusculoskeletal problems see their primary care physician first and, quite often, those providers don’t really know or have the tools to help treat these patient complaints.
If you have not already, you should develop handouts or brochures you can send or leave behind with the office when you visit. They must be brief and full of pictures but contain enough to accurately describe your practice. The brochure should be no more than a page long. These can also be given to any patients referred to you from the MD’s office to help those patients understand what services you can offer them.
If you have data like Net Promoter Scores, Patient Satisfaction Scores, or Outcome scores you should include that in your written literature. It is valuable for people to see how well patients do when they are treated in your practice.
Set up a Face to Face.
With your printed material ready and your data gathered and analyzed, you are ready to set up a face to face meeting. Ideally, you want to meet with the physician but you may have to meet with a practice manager or medical assistant. That’s often very good since they are the ones actually directing the patient to specific physical therapy services. The physician’s support staff often has more influence than you realize.
In your meeting, you should not start by talking about what you do. Your initial objective needs to be about getting information regarding their challenges in managing some patient’s care. You are also looking to learn about their practices in referring patients for rehab services. Who do they refer to physical therapy care?
You may be very surprised to see how little the medical staff understands about the types of patient’s physical therapists regularly treat. Your first visit may involve a great deal of education for the physician and staff.
Take this opportunity to set the tone of how you can help them manage various patients where you have expertise. This is where a strong practice identity and knowledge of your practice niche is highly valuable. One question many like to ask on these visits is: “What type of patients do you see that you are challenged to manage?” This opens the conversation for you to discuss how you can help them solve the issues these patients present.
It is also important to ask about the physician’s level of satisfaction with the type of PT service his/her patients have had in the past. Do not take this as an opportunity to bash other practices but do use this information to learn what has not worked for that physician so you can direct your efforts in a way that meets their needs.
Relationships are Key
Relationships are the thing in health care. Of particular importance in the relationship is the development of trust. Referral sources need to trust you. There are numerous paths to establishing that trust, but in the end, it must be about them believing what you say because you consistently deliver on what you say.
Equally important is the requirement of making them look good. Referring a patient to you is part of the physician’s treatment plan. When that turns out well the physician’s decision to refer is shown to be correct. Obviously, this is good for the patient and creates greater trust between the patient and the physician. In turn, that strengthens the relationship between you and the physician.
Don't forget to keep track
If you’re not tracking your efforts then it’s impossible to know if your efforts are fruitful. On a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis, you should check to your referral counts. Are you getting more referrals from those you have invested in marketing to? Pulling such information should be fairly easy from your EMR/practice management system.
With this information in your hands, you can make decisions to manage your future marketing efforts. You may choose to move onto other targets or continue investing where you are seeing results.
The bottom line
Marketing is never a one and done. You need to do periodic re-checks with your referral sources to be sure you are still helping them effectively and their patients are happy. This can include regular face to face meetings or periodic phone contacts.
Another effective ongoing referral source marketing is the demonstration of gratitude such as giving a shout out to the physician through your social media or sending periodic hand-written thank you notes to the physician. These are very powerful for keeping the relationships alive and strong. Who doesn’t appreciate a very personal touch like a handwritten note?
One last thought, the best marketing is great patient care. When a patient has a great experience with your office and therapists, they will broadcast that to their friends, family and physician. To help achieve that great experience the patient must feel your entire staff cared about helping them and did their best to solve their problems. When that happens you create strong, long term relationships with your patients and physician referral sources.