I recently came across this PPS Impact Magazine article in which author Paul Gough, BSC (HONS), MCSP, SRP, HPC, makes the case for why physical therapists should never sell themselves—but instead “turn this notion on its head and make the ‘selling conversation’ about [patients] and the destination that they want to get to.” In other words, instead of selling your credentials, CEUs, years of experience, and awards, Gough recommends that you focus your “selling” energy on helping patients realize how you can help them reach their functional goals. After all, he says, “If the conversation is about you, you lose their interest and you lose a potential patient.” While I agree with the sentiment of Gough’s argument, I’d like to expand on several of the points he makes—and offer a few counterpoints.

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It is about you—and your patients.

I wholeheartedly concur that rattling off a list of your latest accomplishments or awards isn’t going to do much to win over patients; however, I do believe that in the current healthcare environment—especially in the US—physical therapists must get comfortable with the notion of selling themselves. Specifically, they must embrace selling the value they bring to their patients. And contrary to the title of Gough’s piece, I believe it is about you—you and your patients, that is. We’ve been taking ourselves out of the equation for decades now, acquiescing to the role of ancillary practitioner, which is why many patients still see us as providers of add-on services—and many payers see us as costs to be managed rather than valuable members of the healthcare community. It’s also worth noting here that as it stands, most patients—at least in the states—don’t really know what physical therapists do, which is why 90% of patients who could benefit from seeing a PT don’t end up receiving our care. That’s tragic; and it’s a problem that only we have the power to remedy.

So, it’s about time we added ourselves back into the care equation—by not only recognizing what we have to offer, but also getting really good at communicating it. For clinic owners, this type of mentality is imperative to bake into your company culture. After all, in order to best represent your company, everyone on staff must understand their own value as well as the value your practice provides overall.

Embrace the sell.

I get it; most of us got into this profession to help people—not to be businesspeople—and sales often gets a bad rap. But that’s only because we’re thinking about selling in its most crude form: convincing people to buy something they don’t need. That’s not what we’re talking about here; instead, we’re talking about getting to know your patients as individuals—as well as your referral sources and payers for that matter—so you can decide together whether the value you provide is a match for the value they want to receive (i.e., how well you can help patients reach their “final destination” and have a positive experience along the way). The only way your audience is going to be able to make an informed decision, though, is if you communicate (i.e., sell, position, market, or however you want to phrase it) what you have to offer in a clear, well-thought-out manner.

But, sell with integrity.

That’s selling with integrity. It isn’t pushing, intimidating, or hard-balling; you’re not making promises that you can’t deliver on. You’re selling in the sense that you’re presenting your value proposition and letting the other person decide whether or not they see value in it, too. You’re selling through storytelling—for example, by highlighting a patient’s remarkable progress and the role you played in it—and essentially sharing your value without having to actually spell it out. If it’s a match, great. If not, no worries. Depending on the situation, it may never be a match, because not every patient is going to be the right fit for you. Or, it could be a match but you’re just not connecting yet, in which case you could take the information you learned from the exchange and fine-tune your value proposition to make it more relevant next time—or perhaps adjust your delivery.

Know thyself.

So, how do you recognize your value? You get to know thyself, specifically by understanding what you’re exceptional at. Do you have a passion for treating patients post-ACL surgery or a penchant for helping geriatric patients avoid falls—and do you have the risk-adjusted outcomes data to prove how good you are at it? Is your communication style one that connects with the younger generations—or are you adept at making seniors feel heard and keeping them engaged in their care? Which patients do you absolutely love spending time with—and what do they have in common? In other words, identify your ideal patient, because that’s who will receive the most value from you. Now, that’s not to say you should limit your patient pool to, say, only total knee replacement patients between the ages of 60 and 80 who have a die-hard passion for succulent gardening, but you may want to beef up your marketing campaigns to target more patients who fit your ideal.

Own your strengths—and understand your weaknesses.

And knowing who isn’t your ideal patient is just as important, because if you don’t have the experience or expertise to successfully treat high-school soccer players, for example, then taking on those patients could end up not only underserving them, but also damaging your reputation with patients, payers, and referrers alike. And that’s bad for everyone involved, including our profession. Instead, play the long game; build your network with other healthcare providers—even other physical therapists—in your area, so you can leverage each other’s skill sets, thus ensuring every patient receives the best possible care every time he or she interacts with the system. Talk about providing value in a way that’s relational—not transactional. And if you do want to serve a population you aren’t yet adept at treating, consider stocking up on high-quality CEUs in that area—or bringing in another therapist who has the skills necessary to round out yours. Whatever you do, just don’t let your desire to increase your patient volume cloud your judgment about what’s truly best for your patients, your practice, and the profession. That’s where selling—especially indiscriminate selling—becomes problematic.

Know thy audience.

Once you know what you’re great at, it’s time to learn what your patients value, so you can align your value proposition (and your deliverables) to meet their needs. And the best way to learn what they value is to ask—starting with your existing patients. In fact, during evaluations, you can ask your patients several questions to get at their underlying motivation for seeking care—as well as what they view as a successful outcome. That way, you can refer back to their answers to ensure that you’re meeting their needs throughout the course of care—thus reinforcing your value, reducing patient dropout, and improving patient engagement. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What would you like to get out of therapy?
  • What are the expectations you have regarding this process?
  • What would a successful therapy outcome look like for you?
  • What is the most frustrating part of your injury or condition?
  • How can I best support you throughout the course of care?
  • What are your fears about therapy?
  • What do you wish your last healthcare provider had done differently?

Tailor the message.

While every patient will have individual desires, fears, and definitions for a successful outcome, you’ll eventually be able to identify trends that you can then use to preemptively address prospective patient needs during their first interactions with your clinic—by optimizing your phone conversations as well as your website and social media pages—thereby strengthening your value proposition and bringing in more new patients. Here are a few examples:

  • If your patients value a strong connection with their therapist between sessions, then you could share that you provide patients with access to a secure messaging platform to speak with their therapist outside of the clinic, share progress updates, ask questions, and provide feedback.
  • If your patients value receiving stellar educational content and an interactive home exercise program, then you could highlight the benefits of your top-notch HEP.
  • If your patients value a collaborative team approach to therapy that includes regular check-ins with referring physicians, then you could speak to the great relationships you’ve developed with other healthcare providers in your area.
  • If your patients value social proof, then you could point them in the direction of testimonials on your website or your high ratings on online review sites.
  • If your patients value the knowledge and expertise of their providers, then you could establish yourself as a thought leader and provide exceptional, well-written, well-researched content on your blog and at optimal intervals via email through a patient-relationship management (PRM) platform—as well as point to your advanced credentials and unique qualifications.
  • If your patients value a speedy recovery process, then you could showcase your arsenal of outcomes data proving that the treatment you provide for patients with say, low back pain, produces better results in a quicker time-frame than national averages.

Surprise: All of that is selling yourself; it’s simply selling yourself done well—by sharing your story.

Think outside of convenience and price.

While I can follow the logic of Gough’s statement that the “decision to choose a physical therapist or particular clinic is based on the patient’s perception of whether or not you can get them to their final destination,” I don’t think the airline passenger metaphor really works as a comparison for PT patients. PT patients expect to receive an exceptional experience from their physical therapists—throughout their journey toward reaching their functional goals—and their engagement during the care process has a direct result on the outcome. Airline passengers, on the other hand, take a passive role in their flying experience; they’re certainly not partnering with the pilot to achieve the desired outcome—and their engagement level really has no impact on whether or not the plane lands safely at the desired destination.

Remember that physical therapy is not a commodity.

Furthermore, air travel has become a true commodity, with the perceived value for most passengers coming down to convenience and price. That’s exactly where most airlines focus their sales tactics—and exactly why passengers don’t spend a whole lot of time evaluating the pilot for fit or looking into the kind of experience they’ll receive. Sure, some passengers may have a preferred brand—and there’s a general expectation of a certain level of quality (i.e., not crashing)—but few passengers are truly loyal to a particular airline, let alone have a personal relationship with a particular pilot or crew member (or even a desire to connect with them). In fact, most of us would trade in our favorite airline to take advantage of a sale on another.

Keep brand, relationships, and the quality of care you provide at the center of your value strategy.

In my experience, that’s not the way patients view their healthcare providers in today’s value-based healthcare environment. Today’s patients factor in more than price and convenience when making their healthcare decisions—and the discussion of quality care extends beyond going from a predetermined point A to point B. That’s where your brand; the relationships you develop with your patients and other healthcare professionals; your expertise and experience; and the quality of care you’re able to provide come into play—in a patient’s decision to not only choose you as a provider, but also remain with you throughout the entire course of care. And how could a patient possibly know what to expect from you—or your practice—unless you know your value and how to sell it?

To learn more about the art of selling yourself—including how to discover your value in the five value categories that matter most to patients—register to attend this month’s webinar with guest host Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA. Even if you can’t attend the live event, register anyway, and we’ll email you the recorded version after the live one airs.

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