I’ve been discussing the importance of leveraging data to demonstrate the unequivocal efficacy of rehab therapy for a while now. After all, data is objective. It’s clear-cut. It’s obvious—and yes, it continues to be important, whether it’s outcomes data at the practice level or national research studies that prove the benefit of first-line rehab therapy in terms of cost-effectiveness, long-term results, and safety. Yet, it’s clearly going to take more than numbers in a spreadsheet or statistics on a page to change the perception of rehab therapy at scale. After all, while these numbers might mean something to us as rehab therapists, patient-consumers don’t really care. And the truth is, we still have a major rehab therapy brand problem. In order to address that, we’re going to have to reach these patient-consumers where they are—with content that specifically relates to them.

That’s why, in addition to collecting and leveraging data, I’m calling on each and every one of you to collect and leverage patient stories that showcase the power of what you do—not only to prospective patients, but also to the world. There are still so many people who don’t understand what we do and who we serve; well, this is the year we change that. This is the year we use data and patient stories to paint a complete picture of the human impact of our work. 

The more consumers—not to mention policymakers and government officials—who are exposed to the benefits of PT through firsthand accounts of how rehab therapy has changed the lives of their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and constituentes, the more likely they will be to support our profession and our businesses. To put it frankly, the more support we have from real people—real patients—the more we’ll thrive this year and this decade. And to garner that support, we need to share stories that connect, that resonate, that create goosebumps. 

With that in mind, here’s how to collect and use patient testimonials in the most impactful way possible.

1. Establish a process for obtaining patient consent.

Now, I know some of you may be reticent to even consider sharing testimonials due to HIPAA concerns, and rightly so. You wouldn’t ever want to share personal, identifiable information about a patient without his or her written consent, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share anything at all. These stories are incredibly valuable—so valuable that it’s definitely worth taking the extra step to obtain permission to share them. And to make that step incredibly easy, we actually created a testimonial release form that you can download and use with your patients today. That way, you can start sharing their powerful stories ASAP. 

2. Identify patients with compelling stories to tell—and then ask them if they’d be willing to share.

This shouldn’t be too difficult, as most PTs have a laundry list of success stories where their care directly contributed to improving a patient’s quality of life. Now, all you need is a system for taking note of those patients—and (politely and respectfully) asking them to share their stories with the world. 

This is a really great opportunity to get your team involved, too. Consider building a segment into your regular team meetings where each staff member shares a success story. Not only will this help boost morale and keep staff members connected with their overarching purpose—their motivation for doing the work they do—but you’ll also have a great line of sight into who might be able to provide an exceptional testimonial. Net Promoter Score®(NPS®) tracking—basically, patient loyalty tracking—can also help you identify the patients who are already devoted to your practice. Dig a little deeper into your loyal clients, and you’ll likely find some really good story fodder. As a bonus, loyal patients are usually very eager to help you succeed.

3. Shape the story in a way that connects with your audience. 

This is a big one, because not every story will resonate with every prospective patient, referral source, or payer. So, make sure you’re collecting patient testimonials that align with your audience—and then presenting them in the ways that will be most effective. Frankly, every PT should have at least a few testimonials on their website. If you use landing pages (and you should), then include a few more targeted testimonials to connect with that page’s audience. For example, if the page is intended to reach patients who have experienced shoulder injuries, be sure the testimonials are from shoulder-injury patients. Knee injury testimonials won’t be nearly as likely to convert those prospective patients into actual ones, as they’re not relevant to the audience.

Beyond that, if your budget allows, then video testimonials are exceptionally compelling, because they allow the patient to tell his or her individual story in his or her own voice. You can record these on anything from an iPhone and tripod to a professional camera setup, but the most important thing is to make sure that the person you put in front of the camera can emotionally connect with your audience. This may require a few takes and a bit of coaching for particularly shy patients, but trust me, it’s worth it. If you’ve got a bigger budget, then I highly recommend hiring a videographer for a few hours to capture a couple of stories on camera. The quality is often substantially better. If that’s not possible, perhaps try partnering with a local university or tech school that has a videography program to find skilled talent at a reasonable price. In fact, this could make a great class project or thesis for a student filmmaker.

4. Leverage the stories. 

Once you’ve captured your testimonials either in writing or on film, establish a strategy for leveraging those stories in specific or general clinic marketing campaigns. Just remember that effectively leveraging patient stories isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. Consistency is important, which means you must continually share multiple stories over a significant period of time across as many channels as possible, including—and especially—on social media. As it stands, 37% of US adults use Instagram, 69% use Facebook, and 73% use YouTube. That’s a huge potential audience, most of whom are eager to see human stories. And don’t just post and forget about it. Build a network, develop a hashtag, tag other people, collaborate with other therapists, experiment, track your results, and ultimately, leverage these stories to their fullest. (Effectively using social media to achieve the greatest reach is a bigger topic than I can adequately cover here, but I’ll slate that for another Founder Letter this year. Stay tuned!)

Then, collect new stories and share those, too. That’s how stakeholders will get to know you. And it only takes one high-profile politician—or celebrity, for that matter—mentioning one of these stories on a big enough stage (think national TV) for it to shift the general perception about the value you provide as an individual and the value we provide as a profession. Just one well-told story has the potential to flip the traditional care model on its face and place rehab therapists in a prime position to serve as first-line care providers for our patients. 

Amplify their reach.

So, how do you amplify the reach of your stories? You reach out—to influencers, local media, and even government agencies and officials at the local and national level. For example, you could contact your local congressperson and introduce him or her to your patient (i.e., his or her constituent) who has been positively impacted by physical therapy and will be negatively affected by policies that are detrimental to the rehab therapy industry. Often, putting a face with a story can help make legislation more real—more tangible—for those in power. 

This is especially relevant as we go into an election cycle that will focus heavily on health care, including the opioid epidemic. But, the approach I am suggesting is completely nonpartisan. It’s about people: more specifically, it’s about helping people. Still, when there’s an election happening, we have even more opportunities to be heard, because those running for office have entire media and PR teams working for their campaigns—and those teams are constantly looking for stories candidates can use to help establish their platform as the best platform. So, in addition to reaching out to the offices of current officials, reach out to party and campaign offices, too. You never know who might be willing to take your testimonial and run with it. Still unsure where to start? Check out the PT-PAC website. If you’re an APTA member, you can also receive financial assistance to attend or host a congressional event. Your local PT chapter is also a great platform for approaching state officials.

Not sure what to say when you reach out to media outlets and politicians? Here’s an example email opener that you can copy, paste, and tweak. Then, simply insert the patient story you wish to tell:

Dear [Name],

Despite unequivocal data demonstrating the efficacy, safety, and cost-effectiveness of [physical/occupational/speech] therapy, recent legislation and payment reductions have dramatically hindered our ability to provide medically necessary care to our patients—patients like [patient name]. 

I’ve included [his/her] story below. Without your help—without your willingness to share stories like these—millions of patients just like [patient name] won’t be able to receive the care they need to restore or maintain physical function and achieve a good quality of life.

Please help me spread the word about the power of [physical/occupational/speech] therapy and its undeniable long-term benefits—in terms of clinical results, cost, and safety. Expanding patient access to rehab therapy services is especially pertinent in light of our nation’s opioid crisis, as these services are proven alternatives to dangerous pharmaceutical interventions. 

I would be happy to share additional information and data. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and discuss further. 

Thank you in advance,

[Name] [Patient story]

____________

Looking for examples of great patient stories to drum up some inspiration? Look no further than the APTA’s ChoosePT campaign. Any one of those stories could make an exceptional testimonial to support the importance of physical therapy in the life (and community) of a patient. Drill down into specific conditions, and you could easily use a testimonial like this one to support a campaign to reach more patients with shoulder injuries who may think surgery is their only option—or this one or this one to reach young athletes who may have an opportunity to save their young careers.

Remember, it’s not just one patient whose life is forever altered by our care; it’s that person’s family, colleagues, clients, friends, and community who benefit as well. That’s the point to focus on in this next decade. We’re powerful providers; it’s time we started sharing the stories that demonstrate that power in a way that gets them heard. Let’s do it for ourselves, our profession, and most of all, our patients.