The ways physical therapists use to attract new patients to their practices have changed a great deal in the past few years. Physician referrals used to be a dependable source of new patients, but physical therapists can’t count on this channel as much. Although providers may be less inclined to recommend physical therapy because cutting health care costs is a major focus of organizations operating under the Affordable Care Act, therapists may not be able to attract enough physician referrals to grow their patient base as much as they would like. If this is the case, you need other ways to encourage independent referrals to continue growing your practice.
The challenges of physician referrals
Many patients don’t realize they have a choice in where they seek physical therapy, according to a report from the American Physical Therapy Association. Due to the rise of physician-owned physical therapy clinics, doctors may be more likely to refer patients to these practices rather than inform them of other options in the area, which isn’t always in the patient’s best interest. External facilities are more likely to work with patients with complex conditions that need to be treated over a longer period of time. Although there are laws to regulate self-referring, the APTA notes it’s difficult to monitor.
Physical therapists need to network with referring physicians to secure a consistent source of referrals. They can ensure physicians have a clear understanding of the types of services their clinics offer. However, this may not always be enough. Even though the economy is recovering, people are still concerned with health care costs, which may make people less likely to seek care they need. In addition, health care consumers are becoming more aware of their options when seeking treatment as a result of being more aware of their personal financial obligations. Although physician referrals are still important, therapists need to promote their services in their communities to increase the size of their patient bases.
How to get referrals beyond physicians
Even though physician referrals are important, physical therapists need to vary their referrals sources to make sure they are getting enough business. In cases when a physician’s practice doesn’t have an associated physical therapy clinic, referring nurses may do a Google search from the therapy provider that is closest to the patient. Without promoting a clinic to other facilities, it may be more difficult to attract referrals.
Physical therapists need to focus on diverse sources of referrals.
There are a few things to keep in mind when seeking referrals from these types of professionals. Referrals aren’t a one-way street. Anyone you partner with may expect you to recommend them as well, if a patient inquires about yoga or a new gym, for example. In addition, you can’t just call gyms, massage providers or chiropractors and ask for referrals. You need to build relationships with them, and it usually pays off to meet with these professionals in person rather than conducting meetings over the phone. Large-scale promotional materials, such as banners, may be seen as a branding tool rather than a way to secure a higher number of referrals. Placing ads in industry publications may not generate the return on investment you want. This type of marketing needs to be based on relationships. The time commitment of pursuing physician referrals compared to the number of new patients therapists are actually able to secure may not make it worth the effort. However, there are other relevant professionals you can cultivate relationships with to ensure you have a steady patient pipeline. Chiropractors, massage therapists, yoga instructors and personal trainers may work with people suffering from chronic injuries or pain who could benefit from physical therapy.
Encouraging patient referrals
Another great way to increase referrals from a source beyond physicians is to find ways to ask for word-of-mouth recommendations from current patients. Health care reforms have opened up choices for where patients seek care and boosted access to information. Many consumers are far more active in their own care plans than they were a few years ago. Patients likely won’t refer people they know without some type of incentive. If you have a strong personal relationship with patients, you can ask. You can consider offering discounted sessions for patients who refer people to your practice.
Physical therapists need to do what they can to attract new patients to their practices. While physicians still play a role in referring people to your clinic, you can’t depend solely on them to drive your business. Physical therapists should be proactive about bringing in new business. Building relationships with other professionals outside of medicine makes a big difference.
This article is brought to you by PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. PREFERRED is the nation’s leading payor management services network. Our expertise is working with physical, occupational and speech therapy practices – from single clinics to multiple clinic locations.