Anyone who has spent time fishing knows the feeling of hooking what you think is the “big one” only to find it’s a “catch and release” fish once you’ve reeled it in. While it’s good to know that the time spent baiting the hook has paid off, ultimately the angler’s code dictates that you throw that fish back so that it can continue to where it belongs (or end up on another fishing hook if it’s unlucky.)
Trying to bring in new patients can be like fishing: while you might find yourself reeling in your ideal patients, there are plenty of times when you’ve got patients on the line that aren’t the right fit for your practice. And unlike fish, your obligation is greater than just throwing them back.
While patient marketing has come a long way in recent years, it’s still an inexact science for most rehab therapists. And nothing can limit your ability to grow your practice more than a slew of patients that, while in need of care, aren’t the ideal client you’re looking for. But how can you prevent marketing to the wrong patients? To get you started, here are ten marketing strategies for therapists looking to attract the right patient to their clinic.
1. Many of your patients drop out before completing their course of care.
To be fair, patient-provider mismatch isn’t the only reason patients leave therapy before the end of their established plan of care. Sometimes, they simply improve quicker than the provider expected—which is great. However, as WebPT Co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer Heidi Jannenga mentioned in this founder letter, “two out of every 10 patients drop out of care during the first three visits—and seven in 10 don’t make it to a formal discharge. As a result, practices lose an average of $150,000 a year from patient dropout alone.” And if your patients frequently self-discharge before they achieve their goals, that’s a pretty good indication that something’s not quite right.
2. You’re struggling to get new patients through the door.
The stream of new patients coming to your practice will naturally ebb and flow like the tide, but if there’s more ebbing than flowing, then that could be a red flag. It’s possible your marketing campaigns aren’t reaching an audience that needs your specific set of services. Alternatively, it could mean you’re not adequately positioning your services or specialties to your referring physicians, thus leading them to send you the wrong patients. To correct this, you’ll need to:
- take stock of your offerings and assess your strengths (which you can easily do by tracking patient outcomes),
- incorporate that information in your marketing materials (e.g., website, blog posts, social media, and brochures), and
- share these details with your referral sources.
3. You have very few positive online reviews—or a plethora of negative reviews.
They say “No news is good news”, but when it comes to patient reviews, that couldn't be further from the truth. Feedback is essential to know where you stand with patients—good, bad, or otherwise. That said, if very few patients are ready and willing to leave positive feedback, or you see a lot of critical comments, you should take that as a sign you need to make changes.
Regardless of how you feel about what patients are saying online, it’s a best practice to take the time to respond to as many comments as you can (and preferably all, if possible), paying special attention to addressing detractors and their concerns or complaints. But how can you sift through the positive and negative reviews in a manner that is not time-consuming or infuriating?
Marketing and patient relationship management (PRM) platforms offer a solution for rehab therapists—provided that rehab therapists are willing to make use of the data they collect. On the positive side of things, WebPT’s 2023 State of Rehab Therapy report found that marketing and PRM software were the top digital solutions being considered for adoption over the next two years. However, that excitement is tempered slightly by the report’s finding that marketing data remains undervalued and underutilized by many rehab therapy practices, with only 35% of the nearly 6,000 survey respondents reporting that they incorporate marketing data into their practice.
Hopefully, the adoption trend signals a greater commitment to using marketing platforms and marketing data. After all, automated marketing platforms will assist you in reaching out to your biggest fan base of patients and enable you to mitigate negative experiences and reach new clients.
4. Patients report low or mid-range NPS® scores.
Speaking of feedback, why wait until after a review has been made to get real-time feedback? Use a metric like Net Promoter Score® (which we’re big fans of at WebPT) to gauge the patient experience at various points throughout their care. The NPS score goes beyond measuring just satisfaction, tracking loyalty by assessing how likely someone is to recommend your business or service to a colleague or friend.
Managing NPS scores and turning those into stellar reviews and optimal patient referral types is an area of growing importance for all practices. Our report shows that a significant number of practice owners (28.1%) and managers are looking to implement marketing and PRM software into their practice in the next two years.
5. Patient outcomes aren’t as good as they could be.
That said, patient loyalty isn’t the only metric worth tracking. Tracking patient outcomes is like a one-two punch for effective patient marketing. Not only does it help practices keep tabs on the effectiveness of their treatment, but also therapy businesses with strong outcomes can leverage them as a powerful marketing tool.
During an interview with WebPT, Dr. Brian Rodriguez, PT, DPT, OCS, owner of Utah Physical Therapy Specialists in West Jordan, Utah, explained how tracking therapy outcomes helped his team strengthen relationships with their referral sources: “Our benchmarking data showed that we’re really good with upper extremity conditions, so I have used that to market to local physicians.” Rodriguez also mentioned his intention to use this data to negotiate better payment rates with insurance companies.
6. You have high staff turnover.
When things are amiss in your practice, you risk losing more than just your patients; there’s a good chance your employees will eventually hit the road as well. And right now, our industry cannot afford to lose any more staff with executives in the 2023 State of Rehab Therapy report citing that they lost an average of 11.4% of their workforce in 2022— a 2.4% jump from 2022’s report findings.
Of course, a practice could lose employees for any number of reasons but, staff retention and hiring the right staff for your clinic has a direct effect on your clinic’s ability to attract the right type of patient to your practice.
7. You don’t engage with potential, present, and past patients outside of the clinic.
There’s a lot to be said for digital and print marketing, but let’s face it: a sure-fire way to know you’re marketing to the ideal client is to get out in the community and interact with them face to face. And the best way to do this is to meet your patients in spaces they prefer to be. Here are a few examples:
- If you specialize in fitness and sports medicine, attend and sponsor local sporting events.
- If you wish to work with student athletes, consider reaching out to local schools or gyms to work out a partnership.
- If your main focus is geriatric care, work with local senior living complexes or senior centers and offer a class on maintaining mobility.
8. You rely solely on digital marketing.
These days, it seems like people are touting the importance of digital marketing everywhere you look—and for good reason. After all, according to Pew Research Center, “77% of online health seekers say they began their last session at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo,” and that number will probably only increase as seniors become more and more tech savvy. However, the best marketing plan employs a combination of the following strategies:
- Digital Marketing
- Digital marketing encompasses everything from email to search engine optimization to social media. And in the age of the Internet, these tactics are must-dos. However, if you only market online, you may miss opportunities to reach people with less access to the Internet—such as seniors, lower-income individuals, or people living in rural areas.
- Print Marketing
- This strategy includes brochures, flyers, and ads in local publications or newspapers. While digital marketing is king these days, print is still an effective way to reach those folks mentioned in the previous section who may not necessarily use the Internet on a regular basis.
- Referral Marketing
- Even if your practice is entirely cash-based, marketing to physicians is crucial because it helps you reach patients who rely on their doctors for referrals. But physicians aren’t the only ones who can send patients your way. Consider reaching out to businesses that work with the kind of clientele you want to attract. For example, if you’d like to bring in more workers’ compensation patients, you should reach out to employers in sectors where the risk for musculoskeletal injury is high (e.g., warehouses, construction companies, or hair salons) and offer free educational classes or complimentary assessments.
9. You can’t describe your ideal client.
Before you even attempt to market your practice, you’ve got to build a buyer persona—or in this case, a “patient persona.” If you don’t have one yet, grab a pen and paper and write down the answers to the following questions:
- How do your ideal patients spend their time?
- Why would they seek physical therapy?
- What kinds of physical therapy services do they need?
- Where do they go to get information about PT services?
This information will tell you exactly how—and where—to market your services. For instance, if your ideal patients are teenage and adult athletes, you know they probably:
- spend time at local gyms, athletic facilities, or schools;
- seek therapy to address injuries or stay in optimal shape;
- need services that won’t take too much time out of their busy schedules; and
- are very comfortable using Google and social media.
For these types of patients, you’ll want to (1) stick primarily to online marketing and social media marketing, (2) seek opportunities for gym and athletic club partnerships, and (3) emphasize how therapy can help them bring their A-game in your marketing messaging.
10. You don’t have a search engine strategy for local searches.
As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of people seeking a new healthcare provider online start at a search engine (with Google being the most prominent). In order to grab the attention of these scrupulous healthcare consumers, you have to rise to the top—of the search engine results pages (SERPs), that is.
And being at the top is a big deal because, according to this study from Advanced Web Rankings, “more than 67% of all clicks on SERPs go to the top five listings.” With that in mind, here are a few SEO strategies to help you rank better for local searches:
- Make sure your clinic’s name, address, and phone number are consistent everywhere they appear online. (e.g., social media profiles, Google listing, clinic website, and review sites).
- Keep your page titles 50-60 characters long so that Google doesn’t cut them off in the results page.
- Try to include the keywords you want to rank for in your page titles, URLs, and meta descriptions.
- Leverage pay-per-click (PPC) ads or Google ads.
Furthermore, make sure your rehab therapy website properly communicates the type of conditions you’re equipped to treat and the modalities you specialize in. Blog posts can be an effective adjunct to your website to highlight some of the reasons a potential patient may choose your private practice clinic.
If you’re catching a lot of patients—but throwing back more than you keep—then it’s probably time to rethink your marketing efforts and strategy. In addition to the advice above, consider leveraging technology like Reach (WebPT’s physical therapy marketing software) and Local (WebPT’s online visibility and reputation management tool). By using these tools to create an effective marketing strategy, you’ll be reeling in the right patients in no time—hook, line, and sinker.