The physical therapy industry has seen more than a few ebbs and flows when it comes to consolidation. However, as WebPT President Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC/L, pointed out in this predictions post, consolidation is currently on the rise—and more and more independent practices are being absorbed into larger systems. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly challenging for the remaining small-to-medium-sized practices to obtain enough physician referrals to compete with big physical therapy companies and large health systems. After all, physicians who are part of a large system are, understandably, referring patients to PTs who also are in that system.

Thus, relying solely on physician referrals is no longer a sustainable business practice—and independent PT practices would be wise to embrace a marketing mindset that’s focused on the patient. And because of direct access laws—and the fact that patients are behaving a lot more like consumers—this type of marketing strategy can be highly effective. With that in mind, here’s what you can do to reach prospective patients before they ever step foot in a physician’s office—and thus, protect yourself if and when your referrals run dry:

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1. Take advantage of direct access laws—regardless of your state.

It’s true; unrestricted direct access laws only apply to a handful of states. But, some form of direct access to physical therapy exists everywhere in the US, and the number of states that provide unrestricted access is growing. That means that most physical therapists—regardless of where they practice—can at least provide an initial evaluation for a patient without a physician referral. From there, you’ll be able to decide whether the patient will benefit from your services and:

  • Provide treatment immediately (if your state practice act allows it and the patient’s insurance covers it);
  • Work with a PT-friendly referring physician who’s already in your network to expedite the referral process before beginning treatment; or
  • Refer the patient to a provider in another discipline that you believe would be better suited to treat that patient (and simultaneously strengthen your network).

Regardless of which option you choose, though, you’ll be in the driver’s seat of that patient’s care as you assume the role of a care coordinator—a role that PTs are uniquely qualified to fill for patients with neuromusculoskeletal issues.

2. Communicate your value—and support it with data.

With the proliferation of high-deductible health plans, patients are shouldering more of the financial responsibility for the cost of their care. Thus, when it comes to making healthcare decisions, patients are acting a lot more like consumers, in that they’re not only doing significantly more research (specifically, online research) about their treatment options, but also evaluating the perceived value of those options. In order to connect with prospective patients—and get them in the door—you must know your value and be able to communicate it in a way that resonates with your patients (via a channel they’re already using).

Given that the majority of patients are performing their healthcare research online, that’s a good place to start: be sure that you optimize your online presence with a professional website that includes organic, relevant keywords and a clear-cut value statement that you can support with patient testimonials and outcomes data. (Hint: A plethora of positive reviews on popular review sites such as Yelp, Google, and Healthgrades is incredibly beneficial, too). Then, ensure that everyone on your staff understands the value your practice provides, too, so whoever is speaking to a prospective patient—or referral source (because you’ll still want to maintain relationships with referrers)—can communicate that value and tailor it according to audience.

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3. Prioritize the patient experience—and patient engagement.

The Triple Aim of healthcare reform has put the patient—and his or her experience—at the very center of health care. And rightfully so, as a positive experience can improve engagement and, consequently, outcomes. While we all know that the patient experience is important, it can be tricky to quantify—especially with less-than-sensitive satisfaction surveys that don’t provide much in the way of meaningful data. Instead, consider working Net Promoter Score (NPS) tracking into your practice’s operational processes. That way, you’ll be able to easily identify which patients are happy with your services and loyal to your practice—and which aren’t.

From there, you can work to remedy specific issues in real-time, improve the overall patient experience—thereby creating more happy, loyal patients who are more likely to use your services again—and encourage those happy, loyal patients to serve as brand evangelists to sing your praises online. That’s a surefire way to bring in new patients and increase revenue. (Hint: EMR-integrated PRM software such as WebPT Reach can help you automate the entire NPS and patient engagement process, making it super-easy to differentiate your clinic from your competitors and, as a result, boost revenue.)

4. Don’t stop at discharge.

Given that every year, half of adults experience an injury or condition that could benefit from the skilled intervention of a physical therapist, there’s a good chance that your current patients will need your services again—or, at the very least, know someone who does. Thus it’s imperative that you continue to connect with patients in a way that keeps you top-of-mind well after discharge. You can do this by providing highly valuable and uber-relevant content like:

  • well-written articles about preventing a recurring injury,
  • nutritional advice to support functional fitness goals, and
  • regular updates about available cash-pay wellness services and clinic news.

Just be sure to verify the patient’s current email address before he or she leaves your clinic at discharge (and double-check that you have written permission to communicate with him or her via email on file). And only send past patients content that’s valuable and relevant. Sending anything but may lead those patients to unsubscribe from your email list—and turn away from your practice for good. (WebPT Reach can help with this type of patient engagement, too.)


With increasing regulations and decreasing reimbursements, it’s no wonder that many private practice physical therapy practices are merging with larger organizations. While this may change the topography of the healthcare landscape—at least until the tide changes again—there are things you can do right now to ensure your private PT practice not only survives, but also thrives, the most important being connecting directly with your patients.

How are you handling the consolidation trend that’s impacting the industry? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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