If you’ve been in business for a while now, you undoubtedly have several go-to strategies for marketing to physicians with the goal of generating physical therapy referrals. Even if you’re just starting out, you may have a few ideas up your sleeve. Either way, some of your physical therapy marketing strategies will work better than others. But, here’s a question you may not have considered as you formulate and execute those strategies: are you doing things that actually align with who you want to be as a healthcare provider—namely, a master- or doctorate-level neuromuscular expert capable of serving as a primary care provider—or are you simply going through the motions in an effort to repeat what may have worked in the past? Health care is changing. With that in mind, isn’t it time your referral marketing methods changed, too? Here are some fresh strategies for appealing to physicians:

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1. Ditch the gift baskets and catered lunches in favor of meaningful, tailored data.

If your referral marketing initiatives end with fruit baskets or catered lunches, you may be missing out on a valuable opportunity to demonstrate your, well, value. While everyone loves a free lunch, these gestures are becoming a dime a dozen. In other words, they’re cliched and generic. They tell physicians absolutely nothing about you—other than your choice of local food delivery, that is.

Most referring physicians want to know more about you as a provider—like how you’re going to make their patients better, faster. After all, when a doctor refers his or her patients to your clinic, your clinic then becomes part of that patient’s overall experience. In other words, the doctor is putting his or her reputation in your hands. So, ditch the goodies and spend your time getting to know what kinds of patients that doctor sees: what are their diagnoses? What are their demographics? Then, put together meaningful information about your practice—in the form of outcomes data—tailored specifically to those parameters. Primary care physicians are usually more interested in patient perception measures (e.g., pain and satisfaction), whereas orthopedic surgeons tend to gravitate toward functional PROMs. For example, every spine surgeon will know about the Oswestry, whereas most primary care physicians will not.

2. Own your role as care coordinator.

With the nationwide shift toward direct access, PTs no longer have to be completely stuck in the role of adjunct providers who depend on others for patients, permission, and payments. That means—as Brooke Andrus explains in this post—the physician-therapist referral relationship isn’t nearly as linear as it once was: “pain/injury → doctor visit → referral to physical therapist.” Today, that relationship is a two-way street, with patients in most states being able to see a physical therapist first. That means that you may actually find yourself in the position of needing to refer a patient to another provider—even a physician—as opposed to always being on the receiving end of the transaction. And that makes a big difference in how you should approach these conversations: you’re no longer buttering up physicians with treats in order to score referrals; you’re developing a mutually beneficial relationship between two healthcare professionals on equal footing—one that ultimately ensures exceptional patient care. This is precisely what it means to own your role as a care coordinator.

Wondering if you’ll ever be in a situation that requires you to refer a patient out? Here’s one example from Andrus (you can find more in the full post here): If you’re treating a marathon runner for foot pain that she attributes to a sprain, and, after the initial examination, “you believe a midfoot fracture might actually be to blame,” then you could “recommend that the runner visit a local orthopedist for further examination.” Don’t know any orthopedic providers in your neck of the woods? Andrus suggests that you “make it a point to cultivate relationships with a few select orthopedic providers” for situations just like this one. That way, should those orthopedists ever come across patients who could benefit from physical therapy—and they almost certainly will—you’ll be top of mind.

3. Market your profession—not only your individual practice.

Health care is moving toward more collaborative and cooperative models of care—and so are the ways in which providers are receiving payment for their services. Ultimately, then, the goal is for physical therapists to insert themselves into this type of care continuum and position themselves as the go-to providers for all neuromuscular issues. In order to do that, though, therapists must educate the physician community—and potential patients—about the power of physical therapy on a much larger scale. This goes way beyond appealing to a handful of local doctors.

As I wrote in this article on the importance of cooperation over competition, the PT community stands to gain a lot from working “together in a unified, nationwide effort to market the entire profession (not merely their individual practices)”—and not merely their individual services. In this month’s free webinar, WebPT President and Co-founder Heidi Jannenga warned physical therapists about the danger of being reduced to a commodity because PTs are placing too much emphasis on the CPT codes they bill—not their overall value as healthcare providers, which is rooted in their vast knowledge about the neuromuscular system as well as their unique abilities to develop meaningful relationships and trust with patients. This is the same concern she first voiced in a Founder Letter more than two years ago. In that original letter, Jannenga wrote, “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.”


It’s a referral revolution, all right. Have any of your own strategies for appealing to physicians in this new era of health care? We’d love to hear them—and I bet your fellow therapists would, too. Share what’s worked—and what hasn’t—in the comment section below.

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