The COVID-19 pandemic has been bad news for physician referral marketing and networking—and now, many PTs, OTs, and SLPs are wondering how the heck they’re supposed to build those relationships when they can’t simply drop in on their favorite referring providers. But here’s some good news: networking with physicians isn’t much different now than it was before the pandemic hit—despite social distancing and other precautionary measures keeping folks apart. To that end, here are five strategies rehab therapists can use to market to physician referrers during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Update your existing strategy with COVID-19 in mind.
Before you dive in, it’s important to review your current referral pitch and decide how you can adjust it to account for the pandemic. While the building blocks of your referral marketing strategy should remain largely the same, there may be opportunities to make it more timely considering the current healthcare landscape.
Your clinic’s reputation is probably the most important facet of marketing your practice—and that’s especially true now. We’ve mentioned before that having a large number of high-quality online reviews makes your practice more visible to potential patients on search engines, but reviews can also be a great asset when marketing yourself to physician referrers. After all, it’s one thing to tell folks how great you are at being a physical therapist—and another to have the reviews to prove it.
In addition to gathering reviews, be sure to collect and update your patient testimonials. If you use a tool to measure patient satisfaction or patient loyalty—Net Promoter Score® (NPS®), for example—you can easily identify your happiest and most loyal patients and ask them to provide a testimonial for the services they received from you during the pandemic. You can then feature those testimonials on your website and social media profiles—and share them with potential referrers.
Revisit your clinic’s value prop.
You should have already had a value prop before the pandemic, but there’s a good chance it has changed—even if only slightly—in light of COVID-19. The reviews and testimonials you’ve generated during this time offer the perfect tool for figuring out what differentiates you from your peers in the COVID-19 world. Consider the following questions:
- What does your practice bring to the table that others don’t?
- Are you doing anything to go above and beyond in ensuring patient safety?
- How are you making your care accessible to vulnerable or high-risk patients?
- Why should a physician—or any other referral source—send their clients your way?
- Are your patient outcomes exceptional?
- Do you have lower-than-average patient dropout rates?
Solidifying your answers to these questions will help you convince physicians that your practice is the best choice for their patients.
Craft a referral pitch.
Once you identify your value prop, start researching local physicians. Specifically, seek out physicians whose patients would overwhelmingly benefit from your specific PT services—and ideally, who contract with the same payers you do. Find out how the pandemic has affected their organizations—from hours to staffing to payer mix. (You can glean a lot of this information by reviewing practice websites or, even better, by sending a short and sweet check-in email to your past referring physicians to see how things are going.) Then, craft a patient-centric pitch that:
- demonstrates your value prop;
- explains how you can meet their current needs and serve their patients;
- is supported by data; and
- accounts for pandemic concerns.
Also, as you craft your referral pitch, communicate how your practice is:
- keeping patients safe (e.g., by explaining your infection control protocol), and
- continuing to achieve excellent patient outcomes (even through telehealth).
Be genuine and empathetic.
The past few months have taken a toll on everyone in the healthcare community. Use this shared experience to build genuine connections with fellow providers. Most importantly, aim to be overwhelmingly human. After all, a kind-hearted question or check-in on the physician’s wellbeing can go a long way.
2. Host a virtual event.
The way people connect has changed drastically over the past six months, with people limiting in-person social interactions and relying on video calls as a substitute for face-to-face meetings. This has certainly proven challenging when it comes to networking—especially if you were always more comfortable making office calls in person. However, it has also unlocked a unique opportunity: hosting virtual events.
If you’ve historically hosted events in your clinic to draw in potential referral sources, consider hosting a virtual conference, info session, or town hall meeting instead. You could use the first portion to teach something valuable to attendees and the second half to facilitate dialogue about patient needs during the pandemic—and how the people on the call could collaborate to meet those needs.
3. Invite referrers to an online happy hour.
Let’s face it: as great as virtual events and video calls have been during the age of COVID-19, many of us are feeling a little “Zoomed out” right now. Furthermore, heightened stress levels mean many providers are in need of some serious R&R. So, instead of asking referral sources to attend a more formal business meeting, consider hosting a casual digital get-together instead. Invite some of your colleagues or physician peers to a virtual happy hour, and keep things light by playing games or shooting the breeze.
You can put a moratorium on “shop talk” if you wish, but it may be more beneficial to let the conversation flow naturally. After all, COVID-19 has placed a massive burden on all healthcare providers, and it’s a great opportunity to talk to physicians about the issues they’re facing in the clinic. Then, shoot them a follow-up email a day or two after the happy hour to thank them for coming, and include something along the lines of, “I was thinking about the issue you mentioned, and I might have a solution.” Try to approach this the same way you would following an in-person networking happy hour, and again, be genuine with your intentions.
4. Offer to author a post for the provider’s blog.
These days, many physician practices and hospital systems have their own blog to help build their thought leadership and improve their search engine optimization. That said, sometimes the ol’ idea well could use an outside perspective. Try reaching out to these providers and asking if they’d allow you to write or co-author a blog post or two for their website. Not only will this enable you to build rapport with the provider or practice—and showcase your expertise—but it’ll also get your name out to an even wider audience online. (Need help deciding what to write about? Get some inspiration from this post on awesome PT and OT blog ideas.)
5. Ask how you can be of help.
Finally, make yourself useful. The pandemic has created some unique hardships for every practice, and supporting one another is essential to getting through it all. So, reach out to your peers—through email, phone call, or video chat—to check up on them, see if all their needs are being met, and if there’s anything you can do to lighten the load. Even if all you can offer is a venting outlet, they will undoubtedly appreciate the sentiment.
Ultimately, physician marketing during COVID-19 isn’t too different from any other time. Just remember to be sincere—and safe—and your efforts will not go unrewarded. And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to let us know in the comment section below!