Once upon a time, in the fee-for-service healthcare environment of yesteryear, rehab therapists used fruit baskets, gift cards, coffee runs, and catered lunches to drum up new business from local physicians and other providers—and it worked. While you still may have some luck increasing your referral numbers by sending your favorite MD a basket of his or her favorite snacks, there’s a good chance all those goodies will get you nothing more than a thank-you note. After all, in today’s value-based healthcare paradigm, referring providers need more than an expertly cut chocolate-covered pineapple spear on a stick; they need objective data that demonstrates your ability to provide value to their patients. Without that, how can they be sure their patients will receive the best care—and that they’ll get paid?

Curious as to how you can increase referrals from physicians? Read on to learn why data is the key to modern referral marketing—and how you can strengthen referral relationships by establishing yourself as a referrer, too.

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Collaborative care and bundled payment models are the new normal.

As I mentioned in this post, “Most referring physicians want to know more about you as a provider—like how you’re going to make their patients better, faster. After all, when a doctor refers his or her patients to your clinic, your clinic then becomes part of that patient’s overall experience.” And your actions reflect heavily on that referrer. This type of symbiotic relationship is especially important given the regulatory/reform initiatives that are pushing providers to collaborate—and in some cases, share financial risk and rewards—with one another. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for rehab therapists to successfully operate as true independent entities. And if they’re really putting their patients’ best interests first, they wouldn’t want to practice on an island, anyway. In this new healthcare paradigm, you must build and maintain relationships in order to not only get paid, but also ensure each patient receives the right care from the right provider at the right time.

CJR is one of many emerging alternative payment programs.

This type of collaboration becomes even more of a necessity once providers of different disciplines band together to assume financial responsibility for patient outcomes as part of a bundled payment model—a model such as Medicare’s Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) program. Because CJR initiates in the hospital—with patients receiving total knee or hip replacements—hospital administrators are being especially careful about which providers they refer post-op patients to. This is understandable given that their hospital’s reputation—and financial solvency—now depends on the final outcomes their patients attain. And those patients need rehabilitative therapy in order to recover. As the stakes keep increasing, so does the need for hard evidence demonstrating that the therapists hospitals refer patients to are actually performing. That’s where outcomes data comes into play. And I’m not talking about just any outcomes data; I’m talking about data from outcome measurement tools that are recognized and respected by healthcare providers across the patient’s care team—data that’s organized into reports and graphs that foster clear understanding and actionable insights. In other words, referrers need to see proof in the form of objective data that demonstrates the quality of your care.

And all of them will require good data.

Even if you’re not planning to participate in CJR, rest assured there will be another wave of bundled payment models—and then another. Just ask Becker’s Healthcare author Tamara Rosin: “Bundled payments are emerging as an increasingly important element of the healthcare industry's shift from volume- to value-based care, as CMS seeks to lower healthcare expenditures and providers aim to achieve the triple aim: providing the best possible care at the lowest price and improving the overall health of a population,” she said. While the models themselves may differ, one thing will remain true for all: success will require quality data, excellent data analytics, and software systems with the ability to seamlessly exchange that information (a.k.a. interoperability).  

It’s time to up your game.

With all of that in mind, let’s talk strategies for upping your referral marketing game in this new era of health care:

1. Collect—and share—meaningful, tailored data with each potential partner.

Impress your colleagues with more than your knowledge of local coffee shops by doing a deep dive to get to know their patients’ demographics—and diagnoses. Then, use your outcomes data to create a tailored presentation that addresses how you and your practice are best suited to help those patients. As I touched on in this post, “primary care physicians are usually more interested in patient perception measures (e.g., pain and satisfaction), whereas orthopedic surgeons tend to gravitate toward functional PROMs.” That means that most—if not all—spine surgeons will know about the Oswestry; but PCPs might not.

2. Step up in your role as a care coordinator.

Now that every state allows for some form of direct access, rehab therapists can begin to step away from their previous roles as adjunct providers and into their roles as care coordinators. As WebPT’s Brooke Andrus explained in this post, the physician-therapist referral relationship isn’t nearly as cut and dried as it once was. Because patients in most states can now see a therapist  first, therapists can market directly to patients and then refer their patients out—when necessary. And that changes the dynamic of the relationship dramatically. After all—as I wrote here—therapists are no longer “buttering up physicians with treats in order to score referrals.” Instead, “you’re developing a mutually beneficial relationship between two healthcare professionals on equal footing—one that ultimately ensures exceptional patient care.” Now, doesn’t that sound better?

3. Take a unified stance for your profession.

It’s clear that service- and fee-based healthcare models are rapidly being replaced by more collaborative and cooperative models of care—specifically, ones that reward a diverse team of healthcare professionals based on the value of the services they provide to a particular patient. In order for rehab therapists to take advantage of these changes, they must position themselves as the go-to providers for rehabilitative care. That’s going to take a unified, nationwide marketing and communication effort to ensure that the physician and hospital communities—as well as patients themselves—understand the impact that PTs, OTs, and SLPs have on patient care. As WebPT President Heidi Jannenga has been saying for a while now, “If we don’t start actively shaping the perception people have of physical therapy, we run the very real risk of propagating the long-held misconception that PT is just a commodity—not a profession.” And the same holds true for OTs and SLPs.


Have you incorporated data into your referral marketing efforts? If so, how has it gone? What have you learned? Tell us your experience in the comment section below.

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