Best Practices

How to Market Your Specialty PT Services

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How to Market Your Specialty PT Services

by David Forbes

Strategies to promote your specialty services

It’s an all-too-common dilemma: Your physical therapy office offers an array of specialized services—women’s services, specific sport–related rehab, or senior services, for example—that should be generating several reliable additional revenue streams for your practice … yet you’re stuck on the sore-shoulder, sore-knee treadmill, seeing the same old general physical therapy cases day after day.

You may be stumped as to the cause. You know the demand for these special services is out there. And not all of your competitors have the training or equipment that you do to offer these services, so competition isn’t the reason.

But how do you turn your specialized abilities into more patients who need these services coming in your door?

Put simply, you have to communicate to your prospects and referring doctors that you offer these special services. You know all the benefits you can offer to these niche patients: Greater mobility. Faster recovery. A pain-free life.

But do your prospects know? Communicate—that is, market—the benefits you offer that your competitors do not. This is known in marketing as your unique selling proposition. Do this and you are likely to break the dam and bring plenty of these patients into your practice.

Here are some easy steps you can take to make your specialized PT services start to pay off for you:

Put Your Message Where Your Prospects Are

Sport-Specific. Interested in getting more running-injury cases (ACL tears, Achilles injuries, shin splints)? Putting your brochure or card in running stores or athletic shoe stores is an obvious choice.

But also try hiring a student to hand out your brochure at 10K runs, half-marathons, and marathons—but after the race, of course. No one wants to carry a brochure while they run, and you’re not going to make any friends if your brochures wind up littering the racecourse.

The main benefit to you is, you’ll get your message in front of prospects when they’re most likely to be thinking about your services. You can be sure that a runner limping across the finish line after running 26 miles is thinking about physical therapy services at that moment. (Or, they will be after they catch their breath and have a drink of water.) Wait near the refreshment table. Politely offer your brochure and briefly describe how you specialize in running injuries and can help ease their pain and rehab their injuries quickly.

You also could include a special first-visit discount, available only to entrants of the race. Saving money is a great incentive at any time, even more so in a slower economy.

Do you want more baseball-related injury cases? Consider offering free physical therapy services to a local high school or college team.

You get the idea. Go where your prospects are, and use your imagination. Yes, it takes time and effort, but that’s why it’s an opportunity for you to get ahead: Most of your competitors won’t do it. Take the initiative, and you are likely to have the field to yourself.

Attract More Seniors. Locate gyms that allow only members aged 50+. (This is a growing trend in gyms that is sure to increase as fitness-conscious Baby Boomers age. Use it to your advantage.)

Find physicians who specialize in geriatric medicine. Approach these physicians in person. Face-to-face contact works better than a phone call. Were they busy when you visited or not in? Find out when they will be in, and reach them at that time. Be respectful but persistent.

When you do get to meet with the physician, dwell on how his/her senior patients will feel better much faster because of your specialized expertise and that any referrals will be a top priority in your office, and assure the physician that you and your staff’s caring treatment will make the referring doctor look good.

Notice you don’t just say you’re an expert; instead, explain how your expertise benefits the referring doctor: His/her patients will heal faster. Seniors will be glad they came to your office. The referring doctor will look good to his/her patients.

This is selling the benefits, a key element of successful marketing. Answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” in all your marketing, and you’ll be well on the way to greater success.

Don’t assume the reader, especially a busy physician, will make the mental leap between “Expert PT Specializing in Seniors” and “My senior patients will receive expert treatment, be a top priority, and be very happy if I send them to this PT. Referring to this PT will enhance my reputation.”

Attention spans are short. Put all those great benefits you offer right in front of your prospective referring doctor’s eyes, and you’ll stand out from your less marketing-savvy competitors.

Relax! There’s a Much Better Alternative. Does asking for referrals make you nervous? If you’re like many practitioners, you’d rather get a root canal with no anesthetic than visit physicians’ offices and ask for referrals.

Hire a practice representative to do the visiting for you. A good practice rep will foster and develop relationships between your practice and nonreferring practices (and strengthen relationships with current referrers). He or she will meet with key personnel to discuss all the great benefits to the referring doctor of sending patients to you, build rapport with potential (and current) referrers’ staff, and, properly trained, can return several times your investment in terms of new patients and revenue for your practice.

Very important: Whether you go in person or send your practice rep, promise referring doctors that patients they refer to you will be a top priority to you and your staff, and make good on that promise. Make time to see these patients—quickly, even if you’re fully booked. See these patients at their convenience, too, even if you have to stay late or skip lunch. Treat them with the utmost courtesy and respect.

And thank the referring doctor. Every time. As you know, keeping your referrers loyal to you is vital to your continued success.

Don’t forget their staff members. The most overlooked and unrewarded source of professional referrals, for all your services, is a referring practitioner’s front desk staff. Smart practitioners know it’s the people at the front desk who can really generate referrals.

They hand out your card or brochure. They give directions. They call to set up the appointment for the referred patient. And they often select the PT to whom the patient is sent.

How Can You Increase the Likelihood That They’ll Strongly Prefer You?

Of course, you should call and send them a thank-you note. But what tangible token of appreciation should you send? Coffee mugs and desk clocks with your name and number are appropriate for some, but what about your “A” referrers? They should be given something special for their multiple referrals.

Smart idea. Flowers and fruit baskets as well as tickets to a show are OK, but they aren’t long-lasting—nor do they keep your name (and expression of appreciation) in front of your potential referrer. There is a strategy, however, that meets all of the criteria for reinforcing front desk referring behavior.

It’s the personalized, perpetually filled flower vase, a small ceramic vase imprinted with “with sincere appreciation, from (your name).”

Then arrange with a local florist to keep a lovely fresh flower (rose, gardenia, orchid, etc) in the vase for as little as $3 to $5 per week. By having your front desk periodically call referring front desks for “quality checks” on the florist, they’ll have an excuse to talk with the staff, inquiring about them and their families. And by your staff bonding with them, you’ll ensure you’re the professional to whom they’ll refer most frequently. It’s only natural.

Do you offer elective therapies? Maybe you offer therapies where you bill the patient directly and no insurance is involved. If so, all direct-to-consumer marketing can work for you. Of course, the return on investment has to be satisfactory. That’s a fancy way of saying make sure you’ll make more than it costs you.

Example: Direct-mail postcard costs average $0.92 per postcard. Let’s say you’re planning three drops of 10,000 cards; that will cost you $27,600. Experience tells us your response rate will be about half of 1%, or 50 responses. Assume half of these will actually come in for therapy—that’s 25 patients. If your average patient value is $2,000, you’re making $50,000 on a $27,600 investment. That’s great, except if you have an additional 40% overhead, you’re barely breaking even.

Do some simple math before you spend your hard-earned marketing dollars, and you’ll have much greater success with your marketing. Plus, you’ll sidestep a lot of traps along the way.

Read “Will Work for Referrals” in our October 2007 issue for tips on increasing referrals.

Caution: There is another reason direct-to-consumer marketing may not make sense. Even when your patients have direct access to you—that is, they don’t need a physician referral—you may still want to hold off on direct-to-consumer marketing. The reason: Medicare and most insurance plans allow only one or two treatments and then they require a physician referral. Consider your typical patient’s situation carefully before investing in direct-to-consumer marketing.

You’ve taken the trouble to become an expert in the specialty PT services you offer, and the patients who need these services are out there. They need you. You have a chance to help these patients and strengthen your practice at the same time. So don’t let your specialty services remain a secret. Communicate to potential referrers (and potential patients) that you offer these special services, and especially all the benefits they’ll gain by referring to you (or coming to you), and you’re certain to see more of these more interesting cases coming into your practice and more dollars going to your bottom line.

David Forbes is senior marketing writer for Practice Builders, a private-practice health care marketing firm in Orange, Calif. He can be reached at, or (800) 679-1262.