Homer Simpson introduced the catchphrase “d’oh!” on the long-running cartoon sitcom, The Simpsons, in 1989. It’s arguably one of the most recognizable catchphrases in American pop culture. So much so, in fact, that the Oxford Dictionary of English added the word in 2001. Defined as an informal exclamation “used to comment on a foolish or stupid action, especially one’s own,” “d’oh” is the most fitting—and safe for work—reaction to committing a major fail.

“D’oh” is even more fitting when you, well, fail to recognize your own failure. And unfortunately, when it comes to physical therapy marketing, practice owners and managers are often the last to know about their practice’s mistakes. That’s because marketing is not only tricky, but also the subject of a lot of bad advice, especially in fields like physical therapy, where marketing isn’t people’s primary area of expertise. Still, as a business decision-maker, you need to grasp marketing concepts well enough to gain and retain patients.

So, how do you generate quality physical therapy marketing ideas, execute them, and avoid “d’oh” moments? The first step is to recognize the mistakes—before you commit them. Here are three big ones:

1. No Website

A small minority of folks in the PT industry have railed against websites, arguing that:

  • they’re too expensive to build and maintain,
  • they’re unnecessary for service-based businesses with physical locations, and
  • people don’t search for PT providers online, because PT is a referral-based business.

All of that is bull—and I think most PTs agree with my sentiment. And yet, there are still plenty of rehab therapy practices out there without websites. So, let’s solve that: If your practice doesn’t have a website, get one—stat. (And by website, I don’t mean using a Facebook page as your website. While you should absolutely have a Facebook page, it should exist in addition to your website, not act as a replacement for it. So, get your own website on your own domain.)

Website Must-Haves

When creating your website (or examining your current website), make sure the site checks the following boxes:

  • It’s mobile optimized. This means the site adjusts to all devices and screen sizes, including mobile. Nowadays, all website templates are designed this way, but if you have an older website, your template may not be. To check, run your URL through this Google testing site.
  • It includes your business’s name, address, and phone number (or NAP) as well as email address (if available), locations, and business hours. Bonus points for listing the name, address, and phone number within the footer of every page.
  • It lists the services you offer and the types of care and injuries/conditions you specialize in.
  • It has a clean design (no clutter or crazy fonts); it looks balanced; and it’s representative of your brand.
  • Every link, button, and navigation bar works. Broken links are bad news when it comes to Google!

2. Few or No Reviews—or Worse: Only Bad Ones

People reference online reviews to help them choose just about everything—from restaurants and HVAC repair companies to plumbers and, yes, even healthcare providers. In fact, according to Expertise.com, “as many as 90% of customers check online reviews before making a purchase.” So, if your practice lacks reviews, there’s a good chance prospective patients are choosing your competitors instead. And if your practice only has bad reviews, then you’re definitely losing prospective patients to those competitors.

If you have few or no reviews, then it’s time to amass some—not only because your prospective patients want reviews, but also because Google does. This WebPT Blog post outlines how to amass reviews and collect testimonials for your website. It’s a double-whammy of easy-to-follow advice. Plus, it includes a free testimonial release download; that way, you can be sure you’re following the rules of the HIPAA road, too.

If you only have bad reviews, things are a little trickier, because the first step is a big one: fix what people are complaining about. Do people dislike your customer service? Your style of treatment? Your wait times? Whatever they’re unhappy about, you’ve got to address it immediately. It’s only when you fix what’s broken that you’ll see an improvement in your reviews. Lastly, once you’ve resolved these issues, respond to the reviews and let the authors know what you’ve done to make things better—and encourage them to give your practice another shot.

3. Zero Focus on Current Patients

All too often, businesses get so caught up in their efforts to acquire new customers that they forget to retain the ones they already have. Now, you may be thinking, “But, I’m a rehab therapy provider; I achieve amazing outcomes every day—my value should speak for itself.” And you’re not wrong; providing exemplary patient care is the biggest factor when it comes to patient retention. In theory, happy patients will rave about your quality services and their healing progress to friends and family. Hopefully, they’ll also write you reviews (after you ask them to, of course). However, word-of-mouth marketing—while effective—can be a slow-go in terms of both reach and effect. So, what else can you do to retain your current patients?

Patient Engagement

It’s a fact: engaged patients achieve better outcomes at lower costs, and there’s an array of reasons why. One key reason, though, is that they see their treatment through to the end. To better engage your current patients, consider the following:

Genuinely communicate with your patients.

During a patient’s treatment, talk to him or her about the tests you’re conducting, the notes you’re taking, and the exercises you’re having the patient do. Avoid being overly clinical, though. Make sure the patient understands what you’re saying, and encourage him or her to ask questions. Furthermore, as Erica McDermott points out in this blog post, collect patient-reported outcomes data and share “progress information at every session to foster the patient’s engagement and active participation in his or her care.”

Enhance the patient experience.

It’s no surprise that the more time patients spend waiting for their appointments, the less satisfied they are—regardless of the quality of care they receive. And yet, providers don’t always dig into the waiting room experience. But, that’s absolutely where you should start; then, you should scrutinize every step of the patient visit. After all, little improvements throughout the patient’s journey can make a big difference in how patients perceive, and engage with, their treatment.

Leverage technology.

Of course, the patient experience doesn’t end when a patient leaves your practice—and neither should your engagement efforts. This is where technology can help in a big way. For example:

  • Automatic appointment reminders provide a simple way to reduce patient no-shows. Even the most engaged patients can be forgetful, so use your scheduling tool to send such reminders via text and email.
  • Home exercise programs (HEPs) are crucial to ensuring patients achieve their treatment goals, but HEPs can also be engagement conduits—especially if your HEP software includes emailable content.
  • Patient relationship management (PRM) software is growing in popularity, especially in large private practices and hospitals, where studies are already finding that PRM software improves patient-doctor communication and makes patients feel more involved with their treatment. PRM software provides mechanisms for:
    • engaging patients through HIPAA-secure electronic communication—like automated emails (e.g., emails automatically triggered based on patient information like birthdays, last visits, missed visits, and known injuries/conditions) and in-app messaging, and 
    • monitoring and tracking patient satisfaction—via Net Promoter Scores®, for example.

(PRM software not in the cards for your practice right now? Check out this blog post on HIPAA-compliant email marketing strategies and this blog post on how to collect NPS in-clinic.)

Address patient churn.

Let’s face it: occasionally, patients bail on treatment. The reasons why, though, aren’t always clear, which makes patient churn a difficult problem to fix. While EMR software can notify you of lost patients and PRM software can help you identify trends in dropout rates and implement retention solutions, there are several ways you and your staff can address churn on your own. I recommend this list of pointers.

Homer Simpson has said “d’oh!” enough times to land the catchphrase in the dictionary, but our beloved cartoon dad isn’t all mistakes. In fact, he’s achieved some pretty incredible things, including winning a Pulitzer Prize, going to space, and saving the town of Springfield from a nuclear meltdown—twice. So, even if you’re committing a few—or several—d’ohs with respect to your practice’s marketing, you can always turn things around and achieve some big marketing whoo-hoos.