In a way, telehealth is like the wild, wild west for rehab therapists. It’s totally new, relatively unexplored, and chock full of opportunity for patients and providers alike. That said, just because therapists are beginning to venture into the unknown, it doesn’t mean patients are ready to follow along. In fact, many patients probably don’t even know that PTs, OTs, and SLPs can provide telehealth—especially because therapy professionals have historically emphasized the in-person, hands-on nature of their care. That leaves rehab therapists in a bit of a pickle. How the heck are they supposed to get patients interested in trying something new—especially when the rest of their world has been flipped upside down?
Now that we’re all physically separated, it’s critical that we make a concerted effort to stay connected. Good communication is the bedrock of successful telehealth marketing—because you can’t market to anyone if you’re not all on the same page.
Notify the general public.
Businesses across the country are closing left and right, and it’s hard to keep track of what’s still open—barring a few staple stores and corporate giants (e.g., grocery stores and Amazon). So, those in your community probably aren’t sure whether you’re open, temporarily shut down, or closed up for good. That’s why it’s mission-critical that you announce—in bright, flashing neon lights—that yes, your clinic is still caring for patients, albeit through telehealth!
If you haven’t already, be sure to update every aspect of your public-facing presence. Got a website? Put an update (or a link to one) in your site header. Have any social media accounts? Update your bio—and publish a post stating that you’re still caring for patients through telehealth (and pin it to the top of your feed so you can continue posting without burying the update). Own a Google My Business listing? Update your clinic’s hours and ensure that your contact information is completely correct.
Keep in mind that current and prospective patients want to know more than the fact that you’re still open. Those who do elect to give telehealth therapy a chance are probably doing so for the first time—so try to give them a rough idea of what it will look like. Dedicate some digital space (whether it’s a page on your site or an infographic posted to Facebook) to providing an overview of your remote services—whether you’re offering telephone assessments, patient portal consultations, or full-fledged live video therapy. (We’ll come back to this!)
Reach out to your current (and recent) patients.
Even more important than communicating with the wider public is staying in touch with your current and recent patients. You’ll probably have an easier time convincing established patients who already trust in you and your services to give telehealth a try.
Start by choosing a medium to distribute your message (e.g., email, phone calls, or direct mail); then, craft messaging that informs your patients about their new options. Announce that you’re still providing care; talk about your new hours of operation (if they’ve changed); list and explain the remote services you can provide (and how patients will benefit from them); and denote whether the services are covered by your in-network insurance carriers (as well as what your patients’ cash-pay cost might be). Reassure patients that you can still help them—even now.
Just be sure to manage your patients’ expectations. You can wax on about the benefits of telehealth (and you probably should), but the truth is that, while telehealth is a decent placeholder for in-person visits, it’s not a one-to-one substitute—and patients need to be prepared for that change. (They can’t look forward to any manual therapy treatment, for example.)
Keep your referral sources in the know.
Patients aren’t the only people who need to know what’s going on in your clinic. Chances are, a significant number of your referral sources (e.g., primary care physicians) are still actively providing care, and they need to know that they can still send patients your way. Contact them and explain that you’re providing telehealth services. Explain how you can help them manage their musculoskeletal patients—emphasizing that you can help free up their time so they can focus on their COVID-19 population.
If you want to go a step further, offer to give them information about your telehealth services that they can supply directly to their patients. For example, you could make a digital pamphlet explaining why remote therapy works—or post a simple FAQ on your website. Make it easy for your referral sources to turn to you during this crisis.
And that brings me to my next point: education. I’ve mentioned this a couple times already: unless you’ve provided telehealth in the past, your patients are totally, utterly unfamiliar with remote or virtual rehab therapy. Unfamiliar things are scary even during the best of times—and these certainly are not the best of times. Education is a great way to allay that fear.
Explain the types of remote services you can provide—and how those services benefit patients.
The rehab therapy community has been inundated with information about e-visits, telephone visits, virtual check-ins, and all things remote care—but your patients (and likely your referral sources) have not. You won’t be able to convince patients to try telerehab if they don’t understand what it is or why they should want it.
So, create and publicize easily accessible information that walks patients through whatever remote services you’re planning to provide. Explain the benefits of telehealth (e.g., “It’s convenient and safe! You’ll get one-on-one time with your therapist! Studies show that it’s just as effective as in-person therapy!”), and try to tell your patients and referral sources what you’d want to hear if you were in their shoes.
Anticipate questions and concerns—and address them.
Anticipating questions and concerns might sound like a daunting task, but it’s really an exercise in empathy. Consider the things you would want to know if someone asked you to switch from a hands-on, in-person treatment to a virtual service. Using that frame of reference, start by creating a list of questions that you can answer in your marketing materials. Here are some examples to get you started:
- Will telehealth therapy really help me?
- What if using telehealth technology is difficult for me?
- Can I use my phone or tablet for telehealth?
- What if I don’t have a webcam?
- Is my home environment well suited for telehealth?
- Will I get to see my therapist—or will I have to work with someone else?
- Does my insurance cover telehealth?
- What’s my telehealth copay or coinsurance?
- How long does a telehealth appointment last?
- How do I make an appointment?
Now, you’re obviously not psychic, and it’s possible that your patients will ask questions you’re not prepared to answer. That’s totally okay! The idea is simply to educate patients to the best of your ability, addressing their common (and sometimes repetitive) concerns so you can reassure them that telehealth isn’t all that scary.
Differentiation is a key marketing strategy for any product or service—telehealth therapy included. You want to stand out from your competitors, and you need to be able to convince patients that you are the provider best equipped to help them right now.
Provide services that make sense for your patients—regardless of what everyone else is doing.
Telephone service visits might make sense for a provider who serves a Medicare-heavy population, as those patients may struggle with technology and shy away from cash-pay telehealth options. Conversely, a cash-based clinic might want to provide one-on-one, live telehealth visits exclusively. In other words, it would behoove you to sit down, consider your patient population, and draw up a game plan that best addresses your patients’ needs and your clinic’s capabilities.
Think outside the box.
As a rehab therapist, your remote services aren’t limited to clinical care—you could provide tele-wellness services, too. (For the record, I know that telewellness isn’t a real word, but I think it has a nice ring to it!)
Keep in mind that if you do choose to provide remote wellness services, you must abide by your state practice act—and it might not be a bad idea to ensure that your professional liability insurance will keep you covered.
Know your audience.
Consider our country’s current situation. You can largely divide everyone into three groups:
- people who are still working a sedentary job (or attending school) at home;
- people who are still working at an active, on-their-feet job; and
- people who are not working or attending school and are stuck at home full time.
These three groups won’t necessarily want the same things. People who have lost their day jobs or school schedule might feel cooped up—and thus, might crave structured activity (like a high-intensity pilates class). Workers who are spending a lot of time on their feet might crave a meditative, low-intensity way to soothe their aches and pains (like a yoga or guided stretching class). And the workers—or students—who are stuck behind a computer for eight-plus hours each day could probably benefit from posture work or exercises to reduce neck and back strain.
Providing remote wellness services for young children is another beast entirely—but it’s not impossible. An interactive, parent-assisted craft class could help children learn fine motor skills. Speech therapists could tap into the remote wellness market, too—perhaps by holding a public speaking class to help attendees refine their speech and conquer nerves.
Be overwhelmingly human.
If ever there were a time to be careful with your marketing and sales messaging, this is it. Everyone in the country is in the trenches right now—one way or another—and people have much less patience for what they see as pushy or inconsiderate advertising.
The best way to sidestep this problem is to act from a place of compassion, kindness, and empathy. Think about the ways you can genuinely help your patients and make their lives the tiniest bit better, and go from there. Be respectful, and when patients indicate they are not interested, know when to stop pressing the issue. We’re all going through a rough patch, and you don’t want your good intentions to stress your patients out.
These are tough times, and we’re all taxed to the max. All we can do is try our best and—above all—be kind. Good luck, therapists!