I love hitting the links on a beautiful Saturday morning and watching all of the brave souls who decided that this would be the weekend they’d take up the amazing game of golf. They show up on their first day with the most expensive shoes, the nicest logoed pro gear, the fanciest new drivers, and the latest techy golf gadgets. Perhaps they find these items give them an added boost of confidence—or maybe they think these material goods will up their game. Whatever the reason, these folks go into battle hoping their shiny new equipment will give them the edge they need to succeed. Unfortunately, though, most quickly learn that their arsenal of gear doesn’t improve their ability to stay under par—or even on the green.

Physical therapists tackling patient marketing for the first time can fall into the same (sand) trap. Before they even tee off, they buy brand new email marketing systems, SMS text messaging programs, some social listening software, and analytics engines to boot. Unfortunately, as in the game of golf, it’s the Indian—not the arrow—that’ll determine whether you hit a hole in one or end up in the bunker.

Are you one of those clinic owners who’ve gone buckwild on marketing gear? If so, you may find yourself wondering when and how to use it. After all, the last thing you want to do is annoy your patients to death with too many emails. While I may not be able to fix your golf game, I can mentor you on the principles of patient marketing. Here’s how to craft a winning patient engagement sequence.

Prior to the First Visit

As is true with everything in life, first impressions are critical. When you’re prepping a new patient who has never received physical therapy, be prepared for a ton of questions, like:

  • “What should I wear to the first visit?”
  • “What is physical therapy going to be like?”
  • “Is this going to hurt? I heard that PT can be painful.”

Each of these questions provides a great opportunity for your clinic to add value for the patient as well as set the tone for the first visit before it even happens. After all, the more comfortable patients are when they come in for their evaluations, the better their experiences will be.

Action Item

Write a blog post—or add a page to your site—with a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) for PT newbies. Then, craft an email with a link to this FAQ and send it to each patient before his or her first visit.

Working with a PT veteran?

Sending a “what to expect during your first PT visit” message to an experienced patient—or worse, a patient who has seen you for PT in the past—makes it look like you don’t know your patients. Remember, automated emails can backfire if you don’t account for context. Luckily, you already have all of the fancy marketing systems you need to segment patients in an intelligent  way (i.e., divide them into groups based on certain criteria, like new patients versus current patients).  

The First Visit

When a patient arrives for an initial evaluation, it’s time to commence the next critical piece of the patient engagement puzzle: selling the plan of care. Studies by our friends at Strive Labs have shown that 30% of new referrals drop out within the first three visits. To combat this trend, make sure the patient understands:

  • what the treatment plan is,
  • what he or she should expect over the course of treatment, and
  • what goals you’re trying to hit along the way.

Obtaining patient buy-in at this stage will:

  1. Ensure you and your patients work together throughout the treatment process.
  2. Assure your patients that they have a stake in their outcomes, thereby increasing the likelihood of patient compliance throughout treatment.

Action Item

Thoroughly review the plan of care with the patient, and ensure that he or she understands exactly:

  • what to expect from treatment, and
  • what his or her responsibilities are outside of the clinic (i.e., completing a home exercise program).

Mid-Treatment

With great power comes great responsibility, and this is the phase of treatment in which it’s important to exercise restraint. Many people have a tendency to go all out with their marketing efforts and gadgetry here—but when someone is coming and seeing you face-to-face three times per week, that person doesn’t want to receive generic, templated e-newsletters from you every other day. In fact, patients don’t want endless communication from their PTs at all—unless it’s relevant to their treatment.

Action Item

Focus on delivering strategically-timed communication that encourages compliance and celebrates treatment milestones. Appointment reminders are an appropriate messaging tactic at this stage, but make sure you include your logo within your appointment reminders and deliver them via your patient’s chosen method (e.g., phone, email, or text). If a patient prefers to receive reminders via email, be sure to set up your campaigns to match that preference. If your system allows it, provide your patients with a way to respond to reminder messages. Oh, and make your emails feel as human as possible. Yes, I know they’re automated, but nobody likes to get messages from a sender named DONOTREPLY.  

Another type of appropriate messaging at this time: personalized emails celebrating patient milestones. Is your patient putting in extra effort or progressing faster than expected? Send him or her a note of encouragement. Your acknowledgement and praise go a long way toward renewing patient buy-in and compliance.

After Discharge

High-five! Your patient has completed his or her plan of care. We all love when patients leave healthy and happy, but the only way to get a true handle on patient satisfaction is to launch a satisfaction survey, which will:

  1. Reveal which discharged patients are most likely to recommend you.
  2. Give you valuable insight on areas in which you can improve.

Action Item

Launching a satisfaction survey is only half the battle. Now you’ve got to capitalize on the results.

Got happy patients?

For those patients who rated you highly, you have a few options for outreach. Send an email or text to thank the patient for his or her feedback and make one of the following asks:

  • Request a review on Google+ or Yelp. Patients who are very happy usually have no problem writing a few kind words.
  • Invite the patient to participate in a wellness program or another local initiative associated with your clinic. (This could result in additional revenue for your clinic or an opportunity to expand your community-building efforts.)
  • If your clinic has a formal refer-a-friend program, invite the patient to participate in it.

Regardless of which outreach option you choose, make sure you’re selective. You don’t want to destroy someone’s goodwill by asking him or her to do all three things at once.

Got not-so-happy patients?

If a patient rates you poorly on the satisfaction scale, respond with a message that lets the patient know:

  1. you received his or her feedback,
  2. you’re sincerely sorry and appreciate the honesty, and
  3. you’re taking steps to improve.

Sometimes, the simple act of responding can disarm an angry patient. You should take the opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into a forgiving one and—more importantly—to turn the interaction into a learning experience.

No matter which marketing gear you put in your stockpile, the key to success lies not in the gadgetry, but rather in the strategy. Focus on when during the treatment process you can add value to ensure patient engagement. Always think about what your patients need at any given moment, how you can help them get better, and ultimately, how you can enhance their experience. Every time you log in to blast an email or bulk-text your patients, consider your audience and question your message’s value to them. With those lessons in mind, you can work your way toward a perfect patient engagement sequence. Who knows, your strategic skills might come in handy—somehow—on the links. At least, that’s what I tell myself every Saturday morning.


What tools do you use to engage and communicate with your patients? Do you have examples of emails that work well at your clinic? Share your thoughts below in our comments section.