Direct access marketing is opening some pretty big doors for private PT practices. In most places, PT practices can market directly to patients rather than waiting on referrals from physicians, which gives you a whole new customer base to tap into. But new potential also means new codes to crack.
The term “direct access marketing” alone can stir fear because it’s new and different. Doing something different means changing what you’re doing, and change is uncomfortable and scary!
But change is also necessary if you want to get different, better results in your PT practice—namely, increased patient satisfaction and higher revenue.
Let’s take it step by step so you can understand where we are with direct access marketing and recognize the value it can bring to your practice.
In the past, private PT practices were dependent on physician referrals. If you failed to build good relationships with doctors and hospitals, you didn’t have a shot at keeping your doors open. That’s not easy work, given how busy doctors are and the overwhelming number of practices and providers to market to.
Direct access marketing is breaking these boundaries and creating a direct path to the patient in the process.
Currently, all 50 states have some form of direct patient access, but many states remain limited.
But despite the headway that’s been made, only about 10% of practices are actively seeking patients directly. Web PT tested this by calling 50 clinics in Arizona, a state that’s had direct access since the mid-1990s, and asking if they could make an appointment or if they needed a physician referral.
Here’s the clincher: 45 out of the 50 clinics they called said they needed a referral, even though they could have taken the patient directly! That’s like saying, “Hey, we’d love to have you as a patient, but first, you need to go spend time and money with a physician.”
This is a huge market that most practices are underutilizing—don’t you think it’s time to stop ignoring it?
Direct access marketing isn’t just a way to get more patients through your doors, though that’s enough reason to shift focus. Practices that are already using direct marketing notice changes in the type of patients they treat as well as the impact these patients have on their teams and culture.
Here’s a look at the top success drivers of direct access marketing:
You walk into the examining room with a new patient. “What brings you here?”
“My doctor told me to come here.”
That’s a weighty sentence.
This is a standard scripted scenario you’ve heard a hundred times. That patient is saying that the doctor chose this course of action; not the patient.
Now, let’s say you walk into an examining room, and instead of the patient following the doctor’s orders, they say something along the lines of, “I’m having shoulder pain, and I saw your Facebook webinar on rotator cuffs and thought you could help me.”
Which patient do you think you’d rather treat?
There’s a huge difference between “my doctor sent me here” patients and “I’m choosing to be here” patients.
Patients that are following a doctor’s directive aren’t in your office because they want to be treated by you. They didn’t choose to have you solve whatever problem they are facing.
Patients who do choose to be there are typically more invested in their care. They’re confident in your abilities to help them—otherwise, they would go somewhere else. They keep up with their visits and do the home exercise program. And they also know that if their care were to plateau, the accountability would fall on them; not you.
That’s the type of patient that graduates PT—the one who has a better connection to you and your practice as well as an overall better experience.
When patients get that optimal experience, it opens a direct referral source that isn’t dependent on physicians.
Are you hunting in your practice, or are you being hunted?
Before direct access marketing became widespread, most private PT practices were largely hunters. We were chasing referrals by catering to doctors and trying to get just five minutes with them because that was our only lifeblood.
It’s exhausting to operate this way—not only for the PT but also for the team. Acting out of desperation for referrals isn’t healthy for the team culture and ultimately doesn’t allow your players to perform their best.
But being sought out by patients rather than clamoring for doctors’ attention flips the script.
When patients have a choice, they overcome the barriers of time, money, and distance. They want to be in your practice and will do what it takes to get the care they need.
As patients start coming to you on their own, authority and community become natural byproducts. They position you as a valuable service and information provider in your area that they can confidently refer others to.
Think about what that does to your team morale. Imagine the pride your front desk, PTAs, and marketing team feel when patients are actively seeking you out. It’s the makings of a significant culture shift that will ultimately be healthier and more productive for everyone on your team.
Now, if you’re crushing it with physician referrals, there’s no need to stop doing it. It’s working for you, it’s bringing in revenue, and your team members feel confident that the office doors will be open and the lights will be on the next day. You can still add direct access marketing to your mix to grow your practice even more.
But if you’re breathing heavy chasing the time-consuming, brain-draining work that it takes to get referrals, you’ll be glad to know that referrals aren’t your only option to grow a thriving practice.
The most recent IBIS report broke down PT practice expenses and found that, on average, practices spend 1.2% of revenue on marketing and 19% on a category labeled “Other,” which is mostly bad debt.
What would it take for you to switch those numbers?
While I don’t believe that we have to invest 19% of our revenue in marketing, investing more than the current 1.2% would help combat the percentage that’s currently going toward debt.
YOU are your best investment, and putting more money into your opportunity to grow gives you a way to take control of your patient flow.
Tuning up your marketing vehicle crash-proofs you against insurance changes and physician-owned or hospital-owned PT practices. If you need more patients or are adding PTAs, just give it a little more gas to keep going. If you’re booked eight weeks out, ease off the accelerator. Your vehicle is still running in optimal condition, but YOU’RE controlling the speed and direction—not insurance or other practices.
For many practices, direct access marketing is an end-all solution. However, there are a few considerations you need to be aware of.
The first is a low graduation rate, which is usually because of holes in your sales funnel. If you have a large influx of patients coming in but not completing care or meeting their goals, this is a problem.
Direct access marketing focuses on plugging this leaky funnel before you start bringing in direct access patients.
The second pitfall is a misconception on automation. There’s a mentality that you don’t have to do anything with automation, but the reality is that there’s still work to do. For example, Madden PT recently hosted a rotator cuff workshop, and we used print ads, online advertising, and direct mail to fill our seats. We had to call those patients after they registered, which is a ton of work.
Automation brought the leads in. We had to host the workshop, schedule appointments, and handle those leads with care. Hands-off automation is a fallacy that must be remedied quickly if your marketing is to survive.
And finally, the front desk assumes a greater role beyond order taker. In the old model, your front desk person had a script for when they received an order from the physician.
In the direct access marketing model, the front desk needs to have the people skills required to handle calls directly from patients. This requires more thought and action to get people excited about PT and confident they’ve made the right call.
Direct access marketing is the future of private PT, especially if all 50 states adopt some allowance of direct patient access. The priorities will be to systematize your marketing as much as possible and ensure your team is prepared to handle not only the big, scary changes but also the valuable financial and cultural results that come with direct access marketing.
Want a closer look at how direct access marketing works? Sign up for our next free online training!