For most physical therapists, marketing is a challenge. We went to physical therapy school to become expert clinicians, not marketers. This makes sense, because primary goal as physical therapists is to be good clinicians and provide outstanding patient care.
In the real world, we come face-to-face with glaring deficiencies in our marketing skills. We learn as we go along, make expensive mistakes, invest thousands of dollars in expensive seminars, copy our competitors and past employers and try different strategies to market practice without knowing exactly what works best. The mistakes we make may not be apparent in the short term, but can cost us significantly over the long run.
a) ‘Controlled communication’ with patients and prospects.
Patients should be considered as a mass of individuals looking for direction. As a physical therapist, you must constantly remind patients about the importance and the need for physical therapy. They are extremely likely to forget about your services. Out of sight is out of mind. The average patient will forget about you as a physical therapist, or their need for physical therapy intervention unless they are reminded about the benefits of physical therapy two to three times a month. This reminder can be in the form of e-mail communications, phone calls, letters and public events or seminars. Most physical therapists consider this form of consistent patient communication as a tedious, exhausting and expensive process. This cannot be further from the truth. Contact with patients can be a powerful, inexpensive and automatic marketing process that can significantly leverage your efforts to reach the maximum number of individuals in the least amount of time.
Do not be complacent and assume that you patients will always remember you and come back to your clinic. There are competitors and other businesses (including other professions) that are standing by to sway the patient away from your clinic. This may be happening right under your nose and you may not know it. If a patient is made to feel ignored or disrespected, all it takes for them is one phone call to switch providers. Patients are easily lured away.
b) Inability to manage repetition, quality and frequency of communication.
The average prospect or patient must hear about your clinic and receive high-quality, relevant information from your clinic at least 10 times before they consider you to be a primary provider. I recommend two to four ‘contacts’ each month with your patient list, so you can control and gently sway the masses in your favor. Consider an e-mail newsletter, printed report, downloadable audio interviews with other physicians, information packed voice broadcasts to patients, seasonal greetings, birthday wishes, gift cards for your most valued patients, and courtesy phone calls made by you or your receptionist. With the right type of planning, it’s easy to identify at least a dozen events and occasions that justify some form of contact every year.
c) Relying on one form of media for communication
Don’t just rely on the phone call to communicate with your patients. If you have a patient or a prospect list, communicate with them. Using different forms of media to communicate with the same list on a regular basis, and you will notice different prospects and patients raising their hand to ask for your services. Different types of media connect with specific individuals in the same target market. E-mail has been found to connect with the younger, more tech savvy audience. The traditional phone call works well with middle-aged and senior individuals. A fax is an excellent way to get through to busy professionals and company executives. Regular mail, postcards and flyers effective for all individuals, but tend to be the most expensive.
d) Failure to leverage the list of existing patients
One of the least expensive ways to boost patient referrals is to call your patients. By calling patients once a week, you build a strong personal relationship with each of them. Each patient feels like they are special, and they reciprocate the feeling. It takes less time and effort to generate a referral from an existing patient or a past patient, as compared to a referral from a cold prospect. You are communicating with the narrower market, one that has already used your services and knows you or your clinic on a personal level. In addition, these patients will have a need or no somebody you has a need for the services that you provide. Physical therapists should spend less time and money chasing new business and new patients, and more time working on the base of existing patients.
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