"I want to get more physiotherapy patients.”
Professionally, I’m a physiotherapist and in 2015 I bought a clinic. The clinic was already operational and had two existing staff. Within two years of taking over the clinic from the previous owner, the clinic’s sales had doubled and staff members increased to eight. An analysis of patients visiting our clinic every month revealed that an average of 25 new patients visited our clinic in 2015 and this number had risen to 60 in 2017. To help others who may be struggling to get new patients to their clinic, I have share a few tips that have helped me get to where I am today. In this article expect to find practical tips and examples, things you can actually apply and get results. Here’s what you need to do:
Today, the internet has become the major source of getting referrals. Search engines, especially Google, are major drivers of referrals. Search engine optimization is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or webpage. Search engines are not able to read and understand content in your website. It uses clues to determine if your website has the information the searcher is looking for. Keywords used are particularly useful to search engines. I took a survey of all new patients and asked them the words or phrases they might use to find our clinic online. I was able to discover some terms and phrases I had not considered such as: ‘Saturday Physiotherapy Brisbane’ and ‘Physiotherapy massage north Brisbane’. I later created specific webpages using these keywords. I included the keywords in the webpage title, descriptions, images and content section of the business. This method dramatically increased the number of new patients who discovered our clinic online.
Photography & video
Physiotherapy is a personal profession and patients will often do a lot of research before choosing a health professional. They need to know they can trust you. They want to be confident in your advice and don’t want a weirdo touching their bodies. Personally, I hate looking at myself in photos and would normally avoid putting my pictures online. In the process of trying to get more patients to my clinic, I found myself posting more images and videos on my website. I even hired a professional photographer to take lots of building and practitioner photos.I went to the extent of posting more pictures than even nearby competing clinics. Despite the fact that we revealed even some old and ugly sites of our clinic, to my surprise, we instantly saw the number of new patients increase. New patients felt like they were already familiar with our clinic and its practitioners before they even came. They were more comfortable and confident in the services we provide. I learnt that people are more scared of the unknown. It is important to let patients have a feel of your clinic and the best way to accomplish that is using images and videos.
When I purchased the clinic it already had a few emails in its email list. I had always had a low opinion of email marketing; I compared it to spam marketing. I guess this was because I personally hate to be bombarded with marketing emails. However, when email marketing is applied correctly, it can be a very good way of keeping in touch with patients. I recommend sending educational emails. I sent emails that gave informative content about injuries that people are interested in. I found myself positioning myself as an expert in the eyes of a patient. I wrote in a style that was both professional and engaging and it proved to be very effective. The more information I gave, the more my services became in demand. Don’t be afraid to give away too much content, the more you give the more you’ll receive.
Reverse engineering patient demand
Oftentimes, a physiotherapy clinic will introduce a new service and try to sell it to its patients. Although this seems like a normal thing to do, the patients should always come first. You should be asking patients what they want and then fulfilling that need. For example, in our case, patients asked if Sunday physiotherapy sessions could be made available. People injured over weekends, those with busy week days as well as those with tight Monday schedules would greatly benefit from Sunday sessions. I hated working on Sundays and my wife knew that if I did, it would be completely out of my character. However, based on patient requests, I went ahead and introduced the service. We found that there was a huge demand. 12 months later, I now have three weekend physiotherapists and have seen a significant increase in the number of new patients. You should let your patients tell you what they want and if it’s something you can do, take action.
Being a physiotherapist and business owner, I find the term ‘loss leading’ the correct term to explains this concept. Not every service or product needs to be profitable, especially if the alternative is having no patients at all. A number of physiotherapy students came to my clinic asking for work and I decided to employ them on weekends to offer massages. If I took into consideration their hourly rate and the time it took to supervise and train them, I’d have realized that there probably wasn’t much money to be made and would have never employed them. However, the effect that this had on the business was priceless; the activity level in the clinic increased. There was no longer a feeling of silence and loneliness in the building. In addition, it attracted people who were looking for a cheap appointment and a portion of these people later became physiotherapy patients. I was not able to keep a record of these people but I suspect that some of them became loyal advocates for our services in their respective communities.
Using Google analytics, I am able to track visits to our clinic’s website. I’m also able to see webpages that were most viewed and pages that converted to sales. Most of all, it shows a list of queries that patients search for as well as the portion of searches that result to visits to your website. It is a tool I use to find keywords, which I talked about under SEO, that are relevant to my services. After finding keywords, I either create new webpages or optimize my existing pages. You will not get instant results but over time your website visitors will steadily increase. Statistics on time spent on a page are also useful as they help you get a feel of the bounce rate. A high bounce late could mean that you either have shallow content or poor website design. Ensure that your website is easy to navigate and the quality of content is high.
It is a fact that some patients are more influential than others. I found people working in hairdressers, schools, gyms, and sports teams to be the most influential. I took extra time to perfect the services delivered to these people which in turn resulted to a lot of new patient referrals. To be precise, a lady working at a local school sent 10-20 new patients. Identifying influential people early will prove very rewarding. Giving them the best physiotherapy care will pay off in the long term.
Clinic appointments are much easier because they require less effort. They are easier to organise and the practitioner does not need to travel. After I started home based visits a few years ago, I realized that they attract patients who have more severe injuries. I found that I developed a deeper connection with these people and many became long term clients. If you haven’t tried doing home visits, you should try them. They can help you get new patients.
Aged Care Packages.
The government of Australia has two (2) major aged care packages:
A) Home care Packages.
B) Commonwealth Home Support Programme.
both of which can serve as lucrative clinic referral options. The highest plan makes $50,000 AUD available to the patients' case manager and not just for physiotherapy and podiatry. The plan covers all home services, including home nursing, showering and related wellness activities.
To access these referrals, you must build relationships with the home care co-ordinators, i.e. the “gate keepers”. They often work for large registered organisations, typically aged care companies like Ballycara (https://www.ballycara.com/). These co-ordinators often outsource care, paying physiotherapists and podiatrists to perform services. Often times, new clinic owners use home care contracts (e.g. 1-2 days per week of service) to pay the bills while building their business. A good strategy to follow.
The two home care assistance packages differ greatly; you can read my other blog to find out more details.
My background includes working in a large general practitioner (GP) super clinic. There, I worked very closely with GPs and consider them to be friends and valued colleagues. Which is why private clinic owners gravitate towards them, physio owners included. To this day, other physios discuss their businesses with me, and confess that their main recruitment strategy is “meeting with doctors”.
Certainly if done well, you can get heaps of valuable referrals from GPs. However, if your approach isn't planned out well, it can also lead to disaster.
When working within the large super clinic, I witnessed companies provide lunches to doctors on an almost daily basis. Great sandwiches and tasty cakes, for sure. In exchange for the free meals, there was an expectation that doctors would eagerly learn about the company and remember them for later.
Be forewarned, though. Doctors are quite aware of what physiotherapists and podiatrists have to offer, and, as busy professionals, are initially going to be very skeptical of your advances.
I’ve asked GPs if lunches influence their decisions to direct referrals. Interestingly, one doctor replied,
“It usually means they’re not doing well, so I’m less likely to refer.”
Make sure to include both personal and professional parts of your life story.
Research the doctors before attending, so that you know their interests and can gauge whether you can hold their attention.
Unfortunately, there are no cookie-cutter guidelines for doctor visits, because every situation is different. Therefore be prepared - don’t just arrive and expect that they will send you patients by simply showing up. You're taking up their valuable time, so you need to make it worth their while.
Sports teams at all levels need quality health professionals. They are generally large community-based, semi-professional, or professional organisations that can provide beneficial exposure for allied healthcare practitioners via multiple referrals.
However, there are a few holes in this strategy. Yes, the team will send you a few patients, which is better than what you’d normally get working Tuesday and Thursday evenings, not to mention Saturday
Unfortunately, my experiences with football clubs in particular is that they want (and feel they deserve) free treatment. There isn't a culture of paying for health services, so if you go the sports route, you must set expectations at the appropriate price point before accepting individual athletes, let alone entire teams.
Helping people should be the priority of all health practitioners, but don't forget that you are a business with real expenses (e.g. rent, fuel) to cover. Make sure you bill patients for treatment received.
As an aside, physiotherapists and podiatrists often work together in sports environments, and with time, develop mutually beneficial relationships. Hence, the bonus of networking with other practitioners also exists in this case.
I hope you found the information shared in this article helpful. I will continue to put out more useful content in this area. Are there other practical techniques you have used and have had some success with? Please share, we’d like to hear your views.How to book an appointment?