Are Your Doctor Referrals Disappearing?
The growth of Hospital-Owned or Physician-Owned Physical Therapy Services (or HOPTS & POPTS) means the referral marketing that got many PT Owners where they are today are is no longer viable for a successful, growth-minded practice. But don’t be discouraged! In the US, every state now allows patients to skip the doctor referral and seek physical therapy via direct access. This is great news both for you and for your patients.
“It’s time to break free of the doctor dependence!”
You now have the chance to take control of your own patient growth. That said, doctors and major providers are increasingly wary of PT practices that promote direct access services because whether or not it works, it could reduce their patient volumes. So while marketing direct access PT is a great opportunity for you, your HOPTS & POPTS competition will likely increase if it hasn’t already which means your marketing needs to be top-notch.
Of course, it’s good to do so without hurting your existing referral relationships. Direct access doesn’t mean ditching your doctors, it means making it a goal to become independent of their success.
Below are several tips & best practices for direct-access marketing.
Direct Access = Controlling Your Own Practice Growth
There are 2 questions PT Owners often need clarity on regarding direct access:
“Can I market directly to patients?”
No matter what your state laws are regarding direct access, marketing directly to patients is the only way to control your own growth. In the strictest states, send the patient to a physician after an evaluation with your recommendations. Your physician relationships are likely to improve as you send referrals to them!
“How Much of My Marketing Should Be Direct Access?”
There are a couple variables as far as your budgeting goes, but the best way to measure this is to look at your current patient load. Where are they coming from now? We recommend the following percentages for patient acquisition:
- 60% Repeat Patients or Patient Referrals (using newsletters, referral programs, email, etc),
- 30% New Patients (from your website and local marketing), and
- 10% Physician Referrals.
If you are currently weak in one of those 3 areas you probably want to begin to weight more of your budget there and make tweaks based on what’s working month-to-month.
5 Easy Ways To Market Direct Access to PT
Be A Teacher, Not A Salesmen
Take the point of view that you want to educate your patients about the opportunities available to them directly through physical therapy. You’ve heard of branding your practice, part of this is always communicating as a topical expert. Talk less about you and your solutions, and instead focus on the pain people experience, how it hurts their quality of life, & how easily they can overcome their challenge.
In addition to therapy, people expect you to know more about insurance coverage than they do. This is an opportunity to win their trust and comfort with your practice. Speak to their concerns before they ask by answering common questions wherever you mention insurance options.
- Use headlines that support education versus salesmanship.
- Encourage patients to contact you with questions and/or to verify their ability to be seen without a referral.
- Update the list of the accepted insurance to include “direct access available” or “no referral needed” to let patients know about their healthcare options. Then provide a specific phone number for insurance questions.
- Consider advertising a “3-Step Plan to Living Pain-Free” that tells them how to become a patient.
Discharge Conditions, NOT Patients
Now that patients can come directly to you, it’s time to think of them as life-long customers. Most practices see their patients’ cycles as starting at intake and ending at discharge. While this might be the time that someone is actively in your care, their patient cycle should never end. Once someone is treated by your practice, they should be your patient for life!
So how do you keep someone in your cycle while they aren’t active? Check out this video we put together for some great tips on this topic.
Balance Print and Digital Marketing
Direct access marketing means you have to think about who you’re talking to and how to reach them. Consistency in message and timing plus a balance of print and digital will get you a long way towards financial dependence.
Here are 2 facts you probably already know:
Could you imagine your practice either without any paper whatsoever or with no computers? The key to marketing to patients is balance. Here’s an example:
Direct Access Case Study | BioSport Physical Therapy Adopts Direct Access:
Leo has owned a practice in California for 15 years, built primarily on referrals. Over the last 5 years, he began to realize the very real struggles that come with dwindling doctor referrals and Hospital-owned groups. He knew he needed to change, but had no patient marketing experience.
In January of 2018, Leo started using Practice Promotions for his physical therapy newsletters as well as a new practice website. By March – just 3 months into the newsletter system – Leo’s new patients per month doubled from 30 to 64! Soon after, his website booked over 120 new consultations in its first 4 months.
Invest in Professional Tools & Training
We recently wrote an article on PT Clinic Investments, and this is right up there with the most important ones. Every business owner – or practice owner – needs to learn enough about marketing to make confident leadership decisions. Even if you’re not the one carrying out every task, it’s vital that you understand what is needed to grow your practice.
We highly recommend Breakthrough Physical Therapy Marketing for in-depth, PT-specific training. Many of their customers use our products to carry out their training!
Be Strategic When Discussing Direct Access
This goes back to not endangering your existing referral relationships. You DO want to speak to people in their everyday language such as “no referral needed.” But not every marketing or branded collateral needs to make doctors sound useless. Consider the intended audience of your marketing—is this a resource for both patients and doctors or just patients?
If newsletters go to both patients and doctors, add a small callout box with short headline or sentence that direct access is now available and to call in for more information.
On the other hand, most doctors’ offices do not heavily utilize social media or website marketing. Use these outlets to promote direct access to patients.
The Bottom Line:
Want to build a secure, valuable practice you can be confident in? Market direct access. Take it seriously, invest in professionalism, and be consistent month-to-month. In addition, you’re a PT expert not likely a marketing expert – that’s ok! Be a good business owner and manage someone who is an expert. You can overcome Hospital & Physician-Owned PT and increase your own patients!
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