So, what is a physical therapist? Ask around and I’m sure you’ll get a variety of answers—everything from a physical terrorist (or someone who inflicts pain and torture) to a glorified masseuse. I mean, we’ve all heard some variation of these responses before, right? And yeah, it’s sort of funny. It might even make for some great comedy if Jay Leno asked people on the street: “What is a physical therapist?” during a “Jaywalking” skit. But perception is reality—and 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.

This is even more important right now in the midst of a rapidly changing healthcare environment. Today, direct access to therapy is shifting from being the exception to the rule, which means patients can come through your doors at any time—no prescription or referral necessary. In essence, direct access eliminates the middleman, but having no middleman changes the game. Historically, we’ve relied too heavily on physician referrals and too little on our own abilities to generate business. We still depend on physicians and insurance companies to sell our strengths on our behalf, which means the general public has a very limited perspective on what we actually do. And that’s not going to cut it anymore. Sure, referrals are important, but we are moving into a new age of healthcare—one that gives the consumer more decision-making power. With direct access, we must learn to market to a different audience: consumers.

But before we can market our individual practices—or our individual specialties—we first must identify who we are as a profession and how the services we provide benefit our current and prospective patients. We must brand private practice PT.

Now, some of you might be thinking: I know what PTs do; I know who I am; my profession does have a brand. I’m challenging you to examine those notions from the perspective of the masses. Do general consumers really understand the meaning of descriptors like “doctorate-level musculoskeletal expert” or “neuromuscular expert”? Do they know what we mean when we say we “enhance function” or “transform society”?

The short answer is “no.” And furthermore, those aren’t very emotionally compelling descriptions. To make a real connection with our audience, we have to reach them on an emotional level. We have to identify their pain points—literally—and address them. So, what problems are we prepared and equipped to solve for prospective patients? What are some feelings we want people to associate with the PT brand? Who do we want seeking our services? Is it patients suffering from chronic pain, those who’ve sustained an injury, or those who think they’ll have to live with low back pain for the rest of their lives? I believe it’s all of them—so  how then do we brand our services to appeal to the entire consumer base?

We stick up our noses at the tactics of some other professionals. But dentists, chiropractors, and personal trainers have all done a better job branding their professions than we have of ours. (Case in point: Blue Cross recently released data showing that eight out of ten back pain patients are seen by chiropractors.) Scoff all you want, but the average consumer knows what those professionals do and when their guidance should be sought. If we can’t say the same for ourselves, we certainly shouldn’t be looking down on their methods. Instead, let’s borrow some.

Now, I didn’t learn anything about branding and marketing in PT school (a topic worthy of another blog post). It was only after launching my own company—and recognizing the changes occurring in our industry—that I started to see how we can apply basic marketing principles to benefit our profession as a whole.

Last week, I spoke at the Physical Therapy Business Association’s iPT2014 conference in Newport Beach, California. The common thread of the discussions we had there rings true for PTs everywhere: We are at a critical juncture in our profession and we must adapt and be willing to change—or else, frankly, we’ll be left behind. So with that, let’s put ourselves in a position to compete. Let’s make ourselves so visible that when people think of, speak of, or experience back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, or surgery recovery, they think of physical therapy—immediately—and know exactly where to find a private practice PT within their own community.

This challenge might sound like a tall order, but we can do it if we operate as a unified force. Of course, achieving a goal as ambitious as branding an industry takes time—and education. That’s why this month’s blog and webinar theme is centered entirely on marketing and sales. We here at WebPT are on a mission to equip you with the skills and tools necessary to propel this incredible profession forward. (On that note, be sure to check out the cool images we’ve made available for your use as part of our #GetPT movement. You can find them in this blog post.) But as I said before, we must work together, so please, add your voice to the conversation. What do you envision for the future of PT? How should we brand our private practice PT? What marketing, sales, or general business skills would you like to learn? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • D’Oh! 3 Major Physical Therapy Marketing Fails Image

    articleSep 18, 2017 | 8 min. read

    D’Oh! 3 Major Physical Therapy Marketing Fails

    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 …

  • The 3 Immutable Laws of Direct Access Marketing Image

    articleOct 15, 2014 | 8 min. read

    The 3 Immutable Laws of Direct Access Marketing

    It took expensive membership dues, countless lobbying and volunteer hours, and 25 years, but we finally did it: Direct access to physical therapy services is now available in all 50 states in at least one form or another. It wasn’t easy, so it’s important to take a few moments to celebrate our achievements and raise a glass to all of the passionate physical therapists and physical therapy advocates out there who made it happen. Okay, time’s up—and …

  • 3 Things You’ve Gotta Know About Running a PT Practice Image

    articleApr 7, 2016 | 8 min. read

    3 Things You’ve Gotta Know About Running a PT Practice

    As physical therapists, we’re observant. We closely examine movements, attentively listen to patient complaints, and expertly read between the lines. Unfortunately, though, we don’t always give that level of attention to the non-clinical stuff. Because while we’re expert empathizers, we’re not the strongest scrutinizers. And when it comes to business, you need to scrupulously scrutinize. I worked as a physical therapist for more than 15 years, and I spent a good portion of that time as a …

  • Founder Letter: The Real Root of the PT Brand Problem Image

    articleJun 5, 2018 | 11 min. read

    Founder Letter: The Real Root of the PT Brand Problem

    Here at WebPT, we’ve been busy analyzing the results of our second annual state of rehab therapy survey—and it turns out that the patient retention problem is even worse than we thought (and we thought it was pretty bad). According to our data, only about 10% of patients—one in ten—actually complete their entire course of care. And this is only the tip of a very problematic iceberg for our industry—because when we don’t retain our patients, we: …

  • articleSep 6, 2013 | 4 min. read

    Five Best Practices for Referral Marketing

    This month, we’re talking a lot about marketing rehab therapy to consumers. And while that’s an important piece of the marketing puzzle—especially in a world dominated by search engines and social media—we’d be remiss to skip over another key method of generating more business for your practice: referral marketing. To significantly boost the number of referrals you receive, you’ve got to be proactive. So, here’s a rundown of some referral marketing best practices to help drive more …

  • articleSep 25, 2012 | 4 min. read

    Increase Referrals Through Relationship Marketing

    Today's blog post comes from WebPT copywriters Charlotte Bohnett and Erica Cohen. Referrals = new business. And who doesn’t want a little more of that? But the key to boosting referrals isn’t throwing advertising dollars around. It’s about building lasting relationships, both with your patients and community physicians. And how do you do that? Position yourself as an expert, an educator, and most importantly, a person. In short, demonstrate your (and your profession’s) worth. Be Valuable Think …

  • 6 Biggest Takeaways from PPS 2015 Image

    articleNov 16, 2015 | 10 min. read

    6 Biggest Takeaways from PPS 2015

    Last week, I joined hundreds of amazing physical therapy professionals, students, and vendors (including yours truly, WebPT) at this year's PPS Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. Despite the uncomfortable combination of tropical heat and humidity outside—and near-freezing conference rooms inside—everyone was in high spirits. Though I never made it to Disney World, I still felt like I was in the most magical place on Earth, thanks to the inspiring and informative presentations I saw and the thought-provoking …

  • How to Spend Your Clinic’s Marketing Dollars for Maximum Returns Image

    articleAug 17, 2016 | 11 min. read

    How to Spend Your Clinic’s Marketing Dollars for Maximum Returns

    As author and marketing guru Seth Godin says, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.” If you want to stand out in the rehab therapy marketplace—and potentially grow your clinic—then spending money on marketing is essential. But, to ensure a maximum return on investment, you’ve got to carve out—and carefully manage—your physical therapy clinic’s budget. Knowing where to put those dollars can …

  • Founder Letter: 3 Ways to Become a Better PT, OT, or SLP in 2019 Image

    articleJan 8, 2019 | 11 min. read

    Founder Letter: 3 Ways to Become a Better PT, OT, or SLP in 2019

    It’s official; we’ve closed out 2018 and are stepping into a brand-new year. While I don’t recommend saving up those important intentions and resolutions for the kick-off of a new year, it does represent a potent time to release the things that no longer serve us—and embrace more of what does. In the past, I’ve used this occasion to put out some predictions for the year to come—and I’ve done that again here —but right now, I’d …

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