Brrrring! Just like that, my phone rings, and on the other end of the line is a new patient inquiring about an appointment—a new patient sent from my number-one referral source. This source requires no pandering, office lunches, or thank-you letters, and it will refer hundreds of new patients to your practice, too. Who is it? Dr. Google, of course.

Dr. Google is the referral source I have to thank for the majority of new patients who contact my practice. I receive the other half of my new patients via word-of-mouth referrals from current and former patients. How do I know this? Because I have this question on my patient history form: “Who can we thank for referring you to our practice?” The top response is, simply, “Internet,” with the number-two spot going to “Google.” And with Google commanding 67% of search traffic, the people who wrote “Internet” most likely used Google to find me.

What About Physician Referrals?

I learned the hard way; marketing directly to physicians is not the answer. Most patients referred by physicians expect to use their insurance. My physical therapy practice, however, is 100% cash-based, and when physician-referred patients call me, that’s usually the deal-breaker. Additionally, many physicians do not refer patients because they either own their own physical therapy practices or they have the mindset that they “would refer patients if only you took their insurance.”

So Why Not Try Print Advertising?

I also tried paid advertising, but the benefit-to-cost ratio was not there, and I really do not have the ability to compete with large orthopedic practices or hospital-based therapy centers for advertising space. Large-scale “brand” advertising campaigns could bankrupt a small (or micro) business like mine and is better left to large corporations.

Identifying a Target Audience

My practice has been built on the principle of serving patients who are looking for a high-value healthcare provider to help them address their problems. These people are invested in bettering themselves and many are looking online for information about health, wellness, and local healthcare providers. A lot of these potential patients also are dissatisfied with traditional therapy and/or have not improved with, or do not want to resort to, medications or surgery. These are the people who are looking online for alternative solutions to the traditional model that has been placed in front of them.

How To Create a Relationship With Dr. Google

The only thing Dr. Google wants in return for a referral is good-quality, original content. That starts with your website and blog. Dr. Google will really think you are important when you:

  • Create unique content and post it to your blog or website
  • Write guest posts for other websites
  • List your business information on local directories and those related to your industry
  • Educate people using the free video service, YouTube
  • Help people learn about your business by building a Google for Business page
  • Use Google Maps to show people how to find you

I have spent a significant amount of my time and effort making it easy for patients searching online to find my practice. It’s the one thing in marketing that I can control. Potential patients often find our Google Business listing and call after reading our reviews. They also may find our website, read about how they can benefit from our services, learn about my philosophy, and—perhaps most importantly–see how other patients have benefited from our services on our testimonials page. It is then that they will contact us via phone, email, or our online contact form.

In short, you can maximize your referrals from Dr. Google by taking your passion for educating patients and translating it into quality online content. Just be sure to include a link to your website and make your contact information easy to find. You may be surprised at how many of your new patients write “Dr. Google” as their referral source on their intake forms.

This is direct access marketing in practice!

Aaron LeBauer, PT, DPT, LMBT, owns LeBauer Physical Therapy, which is a 100% cash-based physical therapy practice in Greensboro, NC. He is a presenter at the upcoming Ascend business summit, where he’ll deliver a talk titled “Building Value For Patients In The Cash Pay Model.” Find him online at, where he enjoys sharing his experiences in cash-based physical therapy and helping other therapists find freedom in practice.

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