Over the past few months, we’ve examined marketing from every angle—from referral marketing to marketing a cash-based practice. But before we move away from this theme, I want to bring it all back to the heart of why marketing matters: it enables us to deliver our message—and promote the value we, as rehab therapists, provide—to the patients who need us most.

All too often, practices churn out patients like products on an assembly line—treating them quickly, and then sending them on their merry way, never to be seen again. Any PT who’s worked in an environment like this can attest to how exhausting and demotivating it is, and ultimately, that evolves into a disconnection with the patient. But what happens when practices start focusing on winning patients over throughout the entire customer lifecycle instead of constantly pulling them in and spitting them out? It’s no surprise that patients have better outcomes when providers form genuine connections with them—but the patient isn’t the only one who benefits. In fact, engaging with patients throughout the entire course of care (and beyond) actually increases overall revenue—and that’s a win-win in my book.

But, where to begin? Well, it starts with developing thoughtful strategies for each specific stage of the patient care journey:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Retention
  3. Reactivation
  4. Evangelization

So, let’s dive into some patient marketing and engagement best practices for each phase:

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Acquisition

In terms of marketing, this is the stage that undoubtedly receives the most attention—and for good reason. After all, you won’t be in business long if you can’t get patients through the front door. Historically, PTs have relied heavily on physician referrals as a means of acquiring new patients. However, as our musculoskeletal competitors—chiropractors, massage therapists, and the like—have stepped up to the plate and positioned themselves as the go-to professionals for pain and mobility issues, they’ve cut a lot of those would-be referrals off at the pass. On top of that, patients are increasingly taking their health into their own hands without first consulting their physicians—which has left many referral-based practices clamoring for an ever-dwindling stream of referrals. And that, to me, is a tragedy—especially after our hard-fought battle to achieve direct access rights in every state. As I mentioned in last month’s founder letter, “in relying too heavily on MD ‘middlemen,’ we’ve inadvertently made ourselves virtually inaccessible to the rapidly growing population of patient-consumers.” And that’s why, now more than ever, it’s crucial for PTs to market ourselves directly to patients as the first-line providers I know we are.

Put your practice front and center on Google.

Search Engine Optimization

When you run a keyword search on Google for, say, “physical therapists in Phoenix,” the first set of results on your search engine results page (or “SERP”) will be paid advertisements. Following the ads, you’ll most likely see local search results scattered on a map. These—along with the general search results that display below the map—are organic search results, which are results that advertisers haven’t paid for. This is where search engine optimization, or SEO, comes into play. According to the marketing experts at Moz, SEO is the “practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” So, here are a few strategies you can use right now to improve your search rankings, as adapted from this WebPT webinar:

  • Use keywords in your website copy (e.g., “aquatic therapy Phoenix, AZ”).
  • Make sure your NAP—that is, your clinic name, address, and phone number—is consistent anywhere it appears on the Internet.
  • Make your website’s page titles aesthetically pleasing.
    • Bad: Clinic ABCD Part 1
    • Good: Physical Therapy | Your City | Your State
  • Get rid of garbled URLs.
    • Bad: mydomain.com/73989302029939/ad-2312/adf3ddd2
    • Good: mydomain.com/aquatic-therapy
  • Write page descriptions that clearly explain what your practice does and what the page is about.
  • Use Google Analytics to see which pages get the most online traffic—and from where.
  • Use Google Search Console to get status updates on how Google sees your website, including site errors and information on the keywords people use when they find your site.

Of course, staying on top of all of this can become a bit cumbersome—especially when you’re already busy running a practice. That’s why my team created WebPT Local, an EMR-agnostic tool that automatically improves your clinic’s SEO, making it easier for potential patients to find you online. (You can learn more about Local—and all the ways it’ll boost your practice’s online presence—here.)

Paid Ads

Similar to SEO, pay-per-click—or “PPC”—advertising refers to what appears on search engine results pages. But, instead of organic results, PPC results are those paid ads that appear at the very top of the SERP. It’s also one of today’s most popular forms of online advertising, and it can really do a lot to get your clinic noticed by potential patients. It’s especially effective in rehab therapy, because most practices haven’t caught on to paid digital advertising—so you’ll have very little competition.

Solicit reviews and testimonials.

When you’re trying to reel in new patients, online reviews are your ace in the hole. The more positive reviews a practice has, the more prospective patients it’ll attract. This also means that a practice with a lot of negative reviews (or no reviews at all) will have a much harder time attracting new patients. According to a 2018 survey from BrightLocal, 78% of people trust reviews as much as a personal recommendation. The same survey also found consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before they feel they can trust a local business. This means you not only need positive reviews, but you also need a steady supply of them. And to get those reviews, you need to:

  • track patient satisfaction—or even better, your Net Promoter Score® (NPS®)—to ensure you’re delivering a great experience, and
  • tap your happiest, most loyal patients (i.e., those with the highest NPS scores) for online reviews and testimonials.

You can also use testimonials and reviews in your other marketing materials (e.g., your website, social media profiles, and brochures). But before you do, make sure you have the patient’s written permission. (You can download this handy patient consent form to speed this process along.)

Retention

But, what happens once you’ve got the patient in your clinic? In a perfect world, every patient interaction would occur as follows: you evaluate the patient, establish a plan of care, and guide the patient along the care journey until he or she has achieved his or her goals. In reality, though, this happens far less often than we’d like. In fact, according to WebPT’s own research, two out of every 10 patients drop out of care during the first three visits—and seven in 10 don’t make it to a formal discharge. As a result, practices lose an average of $150,000 a year from patient dropout alone. The worst part? Most clinics overlook patient dropout in lieu of obtaining new patients and thus, are constantly starting the patient journey over from scratch. To compound the financial impact of the dropout problem, it costs a lot more to chase after new patients than it does to retain existing ones.

Proactively address patient issues before they give way to self-discharge.

So, what can practices do to prevent patient attrition? As I mentioned in the last section, tracking NPS is essential to finding your most satisfied patients. But it’s also an incredibly useful tool for identifying your dissatisfied patients—and then using that data in real time to proactively mend those relationships. This is another thing that automation tools like WebPT Reach can help with. Reach sends out NPS surveys to current patients at a regular cadence, aggregates that data into useful analytic reports, and alerts you when a patient is in danger of churning. That way, you can take the steps necessary to rectify the situation—and prevent the patient from self-discharging too early.

Reactivation

As the old adage goes, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Of course, if the patient has completed his or her course of care—and achieved his or her therapy goals—it certainly takes the sting out of saying goodbye. That said, many patients who attend PT will find themselves in need of therapy services again at some point in the future. And when that happens, you want your practice to be top of mind.

Keep in touch through automated email campaigns.

Back in the day, handwritten thank-you letters were essential to keeping providers top of mind after a patient’s last visit. And while there’s certainly something to be said for handwritten notes, most therapists don’t have the time to sit down and write one for every discharged patient. Thank goodness for email! (And by the way, while you may think your older patients are less inclined to use email, studies show that a growing number of seniors are becoming more tech savvy.)

By sending periodic check-in emails to past patients, you increase the chances that those patients will come to you again in the event that they need additional therapy services. In fact, you may even convince those patients to address emerging issues sooner than they would have if they hadn’t heard from you—and we all know that early intervention is the key to achieving optimal results.

Email automation can also help you keep patients engaged during their course of care, thus preventing early patient dropout. Relevant, well-timed emails allow therapy practices to:

  • Connect with patients before their first appointment to collect insurance information and intake paperwork.
  • Engage patients with an interactive, comprehensive home exercise program.
  • Celebrate gains to keep the momentum going.
  • Monitor progress, provide relevant supplemental content, and remind patients to complete their home exercises.
  • Administer NPS surveys throughout the course of care and after discharge.

To make this process as easy as possible, consider email marketing tools like Emma, Constant Contact, or MailChimp. Better yet, check out Reach, WebPT’s rehab therapy-specific marketing software. With Reach, you can

  • create targeted, automated marketing campaigns;
  • amass NPS data and track patient loyalty; and
  • obtain quality online reviews.

The best part? Clinics that use Reach have been able to decrease early patient dropout by up to 20% and increase patient referrals by more than 5%, all while reducing work for clinical and administrative staff.

Offer wellness services.

Even patients who never need physical therapy again may find themselves on the hunt for other niche services related to mobility and function. So, if you haven’t hopped on the wellness service bandwagon, there’s no time like the present. Not only are ancillary services a great way to bring in additional cash-based revenue, but it’s a sound strategy for bringing patients back to your practice after discharge. After all, they already trust you as a care provider, so they know you’ll be a great choice for other health-related needs.

Another idea is to offer past patients an annual musculoskeletal wellness checkup as a proactive approach to avoiding further injury in the future. You could even create customized messaging for different types of patients. For example, if you’re a sports therapist who treats a lot of golfers, you could send an email in late spring inviting those patients to get their swing in gear for the summer golfing season by scheduling a checkup with you.

Evangelization

The final stop on the patient care journey is all about turning patients into your biggest advocates—or as we like to say at WebPT, “raving fans.” Not only are practice evangelists your most reliable sources of repeat business, but they are also key to generating new patient referrals. In fact, I’d say they’re more valuable than any other type of marketing or advertising you could do.

Cultivate a positive reputation through word of mouth.

Not only are these patients happy to provide testimonials and positive reviews, but they’re also the most likely to share their experience at your practice through word of mouth. And in the land of marketing, word of mouth still reigns supreme. In fact, according to a study conducted by MarketShare, word-of-mouth marketing boosts the effectiveness of a marketing strategy by up to 54%.

Think about it: when you’re looking for a new healthcare provider, if you’re like most people, you probably (1) hit up Google for reviews of nearby practices and (2) ask your friends, family, and coworkers for recommendations. And when people have a strong sense of loyalty to a provider, you can see it on their faces and hear it in their words—and that likely gets you excited about that provider as well.


In any service business, winning over your customers and building loyalty is an ongoing endeavor—even after the patient has left your care. And loyal, lifelong patients are the most valuable ones you can have. Not only will they be repeat customers themselves, but they’ll also sing your praises publicly and thus, help you generate even more new patients. Keep that process going, and you’ll have happy, loyal patients for life.

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