Physical therapy is all about getting patients better and sending them on their merry way—not keeping them around for months on end. It’s what sets us apart from many other movement and fitness specialists, but it comes at a cost: we must continually think about how to get new patients in the door. Times are changing, and some of the methods that used to work aren’t proving as effective these days. Spending tons of time and money on physician marketing might not do the trick, and tables at community events are hit-or-miss.

These days, savvy practice owners are exploring more non-traditional approaches to attracting new patients. This article explores five of them.

1. Open houses

One unique approach is to host an “open house,” where you invite potential patients into your facility to learn about the equipment, clinicians, and service offerings. Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L, the owner of Rehab U Practice Solutions, has used plenty of unconventional approaches to help facilities attract new patients—and the open house model is one of his favorites.

Salazar once had a client who was expanding into a larger facility. While this was exciting, it was also risky, because there was a chance the location change would cause some patient attrition. Salazar’s team helped this clinic create a new menu of offerings that included a wellness program and other self-pay options. Then, they organized an open house—which featured a fall prevention clinic—in the facility’s new space and had the clinicians and staff promote it as much as possible. “The event was pretty well attended, and it immediately brought in new clients to the clinic,” explains Salazar, noting that many attendees immediately signed up for the wellness program, while others returned to the clinic at a later date to address their therapy needs. “The event was so successful for this clinic that they now do it a couple of times per year,” he says.

Pro tips: 

  • Extend the invite to current and former patients. The more, the merrier—so be sure to open the event to all patients—past and present—as well as their guests.
  • Develop a system to collect RSVPs in advance. Your open house will be more successful if you can properly plan to account for parking, food, and other event logistics.

2. Injury clinics and information sessions

Your target audience may have no idea that you even offer a particular service—or that you serve a specific patient niche. For example, say you’ve started amassing word-of-mouth referrals from new moms who are getting back into running, and you’d like to make this a specialty focus at your clinic. 

You can lean into this niche by hosting an information session that walks new moms through the process of easing back into their running routines after various delivery methods. Similarly, an outpatient neuro clinic might host a clinic for caregivers who want to learn more about keeping patients with Parkinson’s Disease independent with bathing or self care.

Pro tips: 

  • Understand the community you aim to serve. While it might seem appealing to run a clinic for rock climbers or yogis, you’ll want someone on your staff to be actively engaged in these communities so they can truly speak the language of these active and knowledgeable patient populations. 
  • Don’t let attendees forget about you. These clinics are usually free or very low cost, so to ensure they translate into more patients in the door, you’ll want to leave a lasting impression. That way, attendees will remember you when they need PT or OT. Encourage attendees to join your email list and follow your social media accounts. Or, get creative by handing out magnets, tip sheets, or branded exercise bands to keep your clinic top-of-mind.

3. Specialized clubs

One way to get more patients in the door is to build community around your clinic. You can do this by creating onsite clubs that serve the needs and interests of your target patient population(s). If you’re an outpatient neuro facility, you might want to create a stroke club where those who’ve had CVAs can meet and work together on accountability, communication skills, and exercises. 

Conversely, if you serve an active and fit community in an ortho setting, consider organizing a triathlon training club and allowing members to use your facility equipment as they train together for races. You can also host fitness challenges and provide guidance and injury prevention services as athletes train for the big day.

Pro tips: 

  • Consider monetizing these clubs to make them a core focus of your business. Depending on your patient population, it might make sense to charge a membership fee for these clubs. But be careful; some folks might balk at any type of participation cost. Do some advance user testing and market analysis before you make any announcements!
  • Create incentive programs. You can also build in incentives for members who do ultimately become therapy patients at your facility. For cash-based patients, this might come in the form of a discount. For those using insurance, you could offer a free auxiliary service (e.g., massages)—or a free t-shirt, piece of adaptive equipment, or recovery log. Tailor these freebies to your audience.

4. Informative and inspiring content

In this day and age, most PT clinics have some sort of online presence—whether that’s a website or a social media profile. It could be simple or sophisticated. It might even feature an appointment-booking tool—or some therapy blog posts. But according to Salazar, if you want to get the most out of your online presence, you need to be intentional and thoughtful about it. “A website should just be the baseline,” he explains. 

Salazar recommends making use of digital marketing assets—such as informational videos with links to other valuable content (e.g., video exercises). Viewers can opt in to get these freebies, which then funnels them into your email list. You can then send a series of emails inviting these potential patients to book a free 15-minute consult with a clinician on your staff. The clinician would then complete a brief screening and provide recommendations to the prospective patient.

Pro tips: 

  • Use targeting methods to get the right eyes on your content. Whether you target specific search terms or locations via search engine optimization (SEO)—or you target specific patient populations via Facebook or Instagram ads—your efforts will be more successful if they’re directed at the people who are best suited for your service offerings. These methods are great for helping you stratify your target audience based on location, interests, and demographics. 
  • Follow up after free consultations. When a prospective patient receives a free consultation, don’t just let him or her go and hope he or she will come back for treatment eventually. Instead, provide a few recommendations on what the patient should do next. This is an especially effective approach for cash-pay providers who may offer differently priced packages. “It always makes sense to offer options, because it increases the chances of a prospective patient becoming a paying patient,” Salazar says. He recommends offering three or four options to address each patient’s specific issues.
  • Tailor your content to the type of patients you want to attract. Keep education level, socioeconomic status, and activity interests in mind when you develop written, audio, or visual content. And consider what types of content people consume based on those factors. Whether it’s a video channel with pre-run stretches or a blog post detailing injury prevention strategies for swimmers, try to speak to your niche audience.

5. Sports leagues and meetups

Office sports teams aren’t just great for bonding; they can also be great for attracting new patients to the clinic. Consider joining a league where you’ll find lots of weekend warriors (think basketball, ultimate frisbee, softball, or volleyball). Then, get team t-shirts made with your clinic logo on the back. 

If you want to be less in-your-face about the whole thing—or you can’t get your coworkers’ buy-in—you can also simply join a meetup or club and mention that you’re a physical therapist. 

Pro tips:

  • Craft your messaging with your clinic’s own flavor. For example, you can be comically self-aware by putting your website on your shirt, along with something like, “Treating softball league victims since 2009!”
  • Strategically join leagues, clubs, or groups that will attract your ideal patients. If you want to treat hikers, look into a hiking meet-up rather than a softball league. 

Why do these tactics work? 

Salazar notes that the move to a consumer-driven model has empowered patients to take advantage of direct access. Marketing directly to consumers helps build trust between patients and practitioners—which in turn alleviates some of the risk that consumers feel when they invest in something new. Salazar explains: “Prospective patients are worried about the risks they are taking when they pay for your services.” They may think:

  • What if PT doesn’t work?
  • What if I don’t like the clinic?
  • What if it’s a waste of my money/time?

“All of these risks go away when the clients have a chance to meet you/your staff, experience a taste of your capabilities, and have real interactions with you,” he says.  

What are some tactics that have helped you get patients in the door? Please share your words of wisdom in the comments!

Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways.