Earlier this week, WebPT President Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC/L, and guest host Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, hosted a webinar designed to help physical therapists learn the art of discovering—and selling—their value. While PTs have historically shied away from sales, in today’s evolving healthcare ecosystem, it’s absolutely imperative that all providers—and especially specialists such as rehab therapists—excel at positioning the benefits of their services in such a way that resonates with patients, payers, and referral sources. At the end of the presentation, Heidi and Tannus tackled several questions from attendees. Scroll down to read some of the most commonly asked questions and their answers.
What are some examples of things we could offer to get large networks to refer to us instead of their own physical therapists?
The key to convincing any referral source—be it a large healthcare network or an individual physician’s office—to refer patients to your practice is to understand the referrer’s needs and align your value proposition to address those needs. Considering the pressure that most healthcare networks (especially hospital systems) are under to improve quality outcomes while reducing costs and readmissions, emphasizing the positive outcomes you’re able to produce for your patients—supported by objective outcomes data, of course—would be a great place to start. From there, consider the unique patient experience you provide that other physical therapists in your area don’t. For example, do you provide your patients with a secure messaging platform to reach their providers between sessions? Do you offer the very best HEP technology that fosters greater engagement and higher plan-of-care compliance—and thus, better results? Have you established yourself as a respected thought leader in your community so that the large network would benefit from being associated with you? Or, perhaps it’s your service offerings—aquatic therapy, for example—that set you apart from other practices. There are plenty of ways to deliver value that willentice referrers to send their patients your way; just make sure you’re effectively communicating it.
Is it a good idea to set up payment plans for patients who can’t afford to pay upfront at every appointment? If so, should we notify patients that those plans are available before they begin treatment?
Yes, when it comes to mitigating the impact of cost, payment plans can be highly effective. Furthermore, it’s important to be proactive about communicating your policies. For example, you may want to publish them on your website. That way, any patients who could take advantage of them have the opportunity to do so. That said, some payers—including Medicare—have strict rules around copay collection, so make sure you are aware of those rules before you set up a payment plan with a particular patient.
If we don’t take a patient’s insurance, should we do a courtesy-file for them and then collect from them upfront?
When it comes to claims processing for out-of-network payers, you essentially have two options:
- You can file on behalf of patient within your billing platform as a courtesy.
- You can provide the patient with receipts that he or she can use to file claims with his or her insurance.
Either way, be sure to communicate your processes upfront so there aren’t any surprises. And if you do file claims on behalf of a patient, you should absolutely collect the payment upfront.
Additionally, we strongly suggest making your collection procedures uniform across the board. In other words, it’s important to use the same fee schedule for every patient. For tips on setting a fee schedule in your practice, check out this blog post.
How can I get patients to see me if I don’t take their insurance? I’ve gone out of network with many payers.
It all comes down to providing value. The most important thing to remember is that patients often think of providers who don’t accept their insurance as being cost-prohibitive. But, that isn’t always the case. So, if a patient reaches out to you to ask whether or not you accept a particular insurance—and you don’t—don’t terminate the conversation with a cut-and-dried answer. Instead, open the discussion to learn more about that patient’s particular needs, so you can align your value proposition to address them. Perhaps you don’t take a particular insurance, but if a patient has a high out-of-pocket deductible—and you offer more individualized care that often requires fewer visits than an in-network practice—then your services may be more affordable in the long run. But, you’ll never have the opportunity to present that to a patient—or even begin to build a relationship—if you don’t expand the conversation beyond whether or not you accept a particular insurance.
Ultimately, every time a patient calls your clinic, it’s a branding opportunity for you that goes beyond that specific patient at that specific moment in time. After all, he or she may need your services in the future or have a family member or friend who does. And if it turns out that you’re not the right provider for a particular patient, you can use that opportunity to refer the patient to another provider in your network—thus strengthening your referral relationships and ensuring that every patient receives the best possible care at a price point that is comfortable for him or her. That’s just another reason why it’s important to establish solid relationships with other professionals, because it elevates our entire profession. At the end of the day, it’s all about creating quality care for the patient.
I don’t practice in a direct access state. Is it really worth it for me to market to patients?
First and foremost, every state in the US has some form of direct access to physical therapy services, so we would challenge you to review your state practice act—or our direct access guide—to learn more. While your state may not offer unlimited direct access, patients across the country can now receive, at minimum, a PT evaluation without a physician referral—and that’s a fantastic place to start. After all, research has demonstrated that the faster a PT patient receives care, the faster he or she recovers—and the fewer expenses he or she incurs. Even if you practice in a state that doesn’t allow you to provide treatment without a referral, seeing patients first puts you in the driver’s seat with respect to their care. If it turns out the patient can benefit from physical therapy, then you can refer him or her to a PT-friendly physician in your network to obtain a referral. And if not, then you can refer that patient to a provider in another discipline, thereby strengthening your referral network and reputation. All of that is to say: It’s imperative that physical therapists expand their marketing to reach patients directly—no matter which state they practice in. (To read more on this subject, check out this Founder Letter.)
Is direct access available in my state?
Yes. As noted above, some form of direct access is now available in all 50 states. If you're curious about direct access law in your state, be sure to check out this guide—as well as your state practice act.
A problem we have with continuing education courses is that we don't always know the quality of the course until we go. Do you have any recommendations for courses or companies to look at?
We highly recommend our own platform, WebPT CEU. That’s because WebPT CEU not only offers 1,000 hours of on-demand, accredited content, but also provides an expansive, continuously-updated library of topics that are approved by your state and profession. Plus, you’ll have access to these courses and training materials long after you’ve completed them, so you can review them anytime.
Is there a specific HEP software that you would recommend?
Yes! WebPT's newly enhanced HEP includes features such as:
- integrated, secure messaging that allows patients to discuss exercises with, and ask questions to, their therapists;
- built-in notifications and goals to keep patients motivated and accountable;
- step-by-step instructions with video tutorials;
- a feedback mechanism that allows patients to tell providers if an exercise is too hard or too easy; and
- the ability to update exercises and goals in real time.
What is the Net Promoter Score®?
The Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) is a metric that many healthcare providers and businesses use to measure customer loyalty. Customers—or patients—respond to the question, “On a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to recommend this business to a friend or colleague?” The responses are broken down into three categories:
- Promoters: Responses of nine or ten.
- Passives: Responses of seven or eight.
- Detractors: Responses between one and six.
Respondents who fall in the “promoter” category are the patients who are most likely to recommend your services to the people they care about, and they’re also most likely to leave positive feedback about your practice on online review sites like Yelp. So, these are the individuals you should be tapping for reviews and testimonials. Conversely, your detractors are the patients who are most likely to give you honest feedback about ways you—or your staff—can improve your services, so you should pay equal attention to responses from these patients.
Any tips for getting cash-only patients?
Provide value that patients aren’t receiving from traditional in-network providers—and learn to communicate that value. To learn more about attracting cash-pay patients check out this FAQ and this blog post.
I work in a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), so patients are referred internally and insurance is not an issue. But how can I make our physicians/specialists understand we, as rehab therapists, are truly valuable, rather than just a "dumping place" for patients?
Based on your question, it sounds like you’ve already uncovered your value, so the next step would be to communicate it. Just like you would with a referral source—or a patient—build relationships with your in-house physicians and specialists, learn what they view as valuable, and align your value proposition to match. You could also invite a group of physicians and specialists to attend a symposium where you share success stories—supported by outcomes data—about the wonderful work your teams do. Basically, approach it the same way you would an external marketing campaign; this time, it’s simply internal.
Is it true that you can retro-bill Medicare patients if your Medicare credentialing is pending?
We recommend holding Medicare claims for providers who are awaiting credentialing until they become credentialed. For more information on billing for substitute, almost-credentialed, and non-credentialed providers, check out this blog post.
We have not been successful with using our outcomes data as a marketing tool, as referring providers seem to care more about our patient satisfaction scores, which are typically 99% across the board. How can we better leverage our outcomes data?
It sounds like the providers you’re attempting to reach may be assuming that high patient satisfaction scores equal positive outcomes, which isn’t always the case. Keep in mind that there are many pitfalls associated with traditional satisfaction surveys, especially the sampling bias that occurs when practices administer surveys only at discharge, thereby artificially limiting their sampling pool to only satisfied patients. To paint a more comprehensive picture for your referral sources, we’d recommend adopting loyalty tracking—specifically NPS—to supplement your functional outcomes scores.
Many of my clients want to just get evaluation done by me to get my opinion and obtain an HEP. Can I complete an evaluation without obtaining a physician signature and still bill the insurance?
That depends on the rules set forth by the individual payer. However, as we explain here, “Most payers, including Medicare, allow therapists to bill for the initial evaluations necessary to establish plans of care.” That being said, it’s important to determine what the payer considers a “plan of care.”
Could you provide a list of all the links you referenced during the webinar?
Here are all the resources Heidi and Tannus mentioned during the presentation:
- Top of Mind, Top of Search: 4 Ways to Help Patients Find Your PT Practice Online (a free webinar on optimizing your web presence to attract potential patients)
- Knock Out Patient Dropout: 8 Ways to Increase Retention and Revenue (a free webinar offering strategies for retaining patients throughout their entire course of care)
- Optimization: Is Your Practice Lean? (a blog post detailing how to adopt lean business principles in a rehab therapy practice)
- Modern Marketing Decoded: A Guide for Rehab Therapists (a rehab therapy-specific guide to marketing your practice online—including tips for search engine optimization, social media, and email)
- The PT's Guide to Direct Access Law in All 50 States (a compilation of all state-level rules around accessing physical therapy without a physician referral)
- Do You Take My Insurance? (a BuildPT webinar on how to own the value conversation with every patient—even when you don’t take his or her insurance)
Have a question you don’t see listed above? Leave it in the comment section below, and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.