Growing Your Private PT Practice After Losing Physician Referrals

Is it possible to grow your practice and increase the number of patients you see after losing physician referrals?

Faced with declining referrals, this is a common and valid question among private practice physical therapy clinic owners. 

PTs across the country are seeing a decline in physician referrals. The Journal of General Internal Medicine reported a 54.5% decrease in physician referrals to PT from 2003 to 2014. For those of us that lean heavily on referrals from physicians for business, this essentially means that more than half of our new patients have vanished.

To worsen matters, many physicians have opened up their own PT practices and now refer in-house. HOPTs and POPTs practices like these are making it hard for private practice PTs to keep their doors open. Unless we seek additional ways to bring patients into the clinic, current declining trends leave very little hope for the future of private practice. 

Going Beyond Physician Referrals for Private Practice Growth

Grow Your PT Practice

Physician referrals are just one of three ways a private practice owner can get new patients. And since referrals are going down, we have to put more effort and focus into the other two ways, which are past patients and going straight to the public.

Every patient you treat has the potential to help you grow your practice, either by reactivating as a patient because of a new injury or by referring other patients to you. This is true regardless of the status of direct access marketing in your state. You don’t need legal permission or special requirements to market to existing or previous patients, which makes this option even more attractive to practice owners. 

The other way is marketing directly to the public. All 50 states now have some form of direct access that allows you to market to the general public without a physician referral. And in the face of declining referrals, it’s becoming more important than ever to elevate these other two options for growing your practice. 

The Challenge of Growing Without Physician Referrals Is All in Your Head

Overcome a drop in referrals

So what’s stopping us? For most private PT owners, the answer is twofold—and completely in your head: skepticism and lack of know-how.

If we look at PT as an industry, historically, we’ve followed a linear referral model. As far back as the 1910s, when PTs were reconstruction aids during WWI, we were interwoven with physicians and relied on their referrals. Now that those referrals are going away, most PTs are unsure of how to replace them. 

Physician referrals were handicap for us. We didn’t have to go to our past patient list and learn how to ask for referrals or reactivations. We didn’t have to go direct to consumer because physicians kept us flush with patients. This was truly a luxury that almost no other type of service professional has, and now, we’re forced to figure out how to survive on our own.

What Can You Accomplish with Direct Access Marketing?

Interestingly, as physician referrals started declining, the rise of direct access started rising. This availability of going direct couldn’t have come at a better time as more PTs started thinking about how they would fill the void of losing physician referrals. 

I’ve seen first-hand how direct access marketing can not only save a declining practice but also grow it significantly. In November 2008, I received about 154 physician referrals at my single location practice. No one physician represented more than six of those referrals—we were a very diversified clinic and had over 100 referring partners. At that time, three hospital systems were buying up about 90% of referral sources—including most my referrers. We had five POPTs practices within a three-mile radius, and the competition just kept coming. 

Fast forward to last year, where physician referrals accounted for just 11% of our patient volume. 

What happened?

The short version is this: We grew from 300 visits a week to 600 visits a week and went from three full-time teams to 5.5 full-time teams. Plus, we opened two additional clinics. Our clinical director in our third clinic outgrew the space within three months. Now, one year later, he’s hired two full-time PTs, a full-time PTA, and is preparing to hire a marketing director. He’s been profitable every month since his second month—and did all of this with no prior patient list (on account of being a new clinic) and very few physician referrals. He had to go direct to consumer across the board and gained fast, effective results. 

We’re not alone in this. Breakthrough has worked with over 800 practice owners in all 50 states (1,200 owners internationally) going direct to the consumer using Facebook and Google ads, workshops, and other outlets to produce results like the ones we experienced at Madden PT.

The Benefits of Going Direct to the Patient

Going directly to the consumer comes with benefits that go beyond keeping your schedule full. Consider the following: 

  • Influence payer mix. Go to the companies that have the best insurance and show a willingness to work with those companies.
  • Build Authority, Celebrity, and Expertise. Earn respect in your community and become the local expert for physical therapy. 
  • Take control of clinic growth. Physicians don’t control your practice’s profits—you do! Going direct means getting patients when you need them and helps you better control your business’s future.
  • Higher graduation rates. You can work with patients who want to be there versus patients whose doctor told them to come.
  • More value in your practice. Higher graduation rates and more visits contribute to a better image and healthier bottom line.

Learn with Breakthrough

You don’t need a marketing degree to successfully go direct to the consumer. There are tons of resources available online to help you learn how to connect with prospective patients and grow your practice. If you want to learn more about marketing a PT practice, check out a few of the resources available on our site.

PT Virtual Summit Breakthrough April 2020

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