This is the first of a five-part series written by BuildPT and Vantage Clinical Solutions founder Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, which first appeared on MultiBriefs.
You know the issues.
Corporate healthcare. Locked-up referral sources. Physician- and hospital-owned physical therapy services. Closed insurance panels.
Pick your reason, but one thing is clear: The ability to rely on a consistent pipeline of clientele through your door is a changing game at best. At worst, it’s a game that’s getting harder to win.
Regardless of the business — retail, manufacturing, tourism or physical therapy — a customer pipeline is the lifeblood. Without it, there’s no survival. Period.
Creating this pipeline in healthcare used to be easy. Shake some hands, buy some food, say “yes” a lot. As long as you provided quality care, referral sources would drive patients through your door with little question.
Then, it all changed. Somewhere along the line it became harder to make money in healthcare, and the game changed. It became a volume game, and one in which s/he who could control the decisions of the consumers — directing them toward services that can generate a profit — wins.
As a valued and growing part of the healthcare system, physical therapy landed amid the profit radar, and our ability to count on passive referrals from other healthcare providers has all but vanished.
So we lose now, right? Not even close.
As our value increases within the healthcare system, we should expect our competition to increase. It’s the law of the land in business, and we are not immune. In all honesty, we’ve been a bit slow on the uptake as we now sharpen our competitive claws, but it’s most certainly not too late. There’s competition for the physical therapy space for a reason — a five-letter word called “value.”
Our game-changing strategy is to focus on building front-line ambassadors of physical therapy. Healthcare consumers, despite the intentions of corporate and integrated healthcare solutions, are empowered and savvy. They love life and anything that will help them enjoy it.
Enter physical therapy.
We help people live better lives. Lives with less pain. Lives with more activity. Lives that adapt to myriad and unfortunate circumstances that get in the way. We are providers of life, hope and emotion. What’s sexier than that?
But the eyes must be on us.
While we find ourselves frustrated over the fact that so many in healthcare are competing for our space, I’d ask that we step back and focus on a process that will not only lead consumers to our door, but will also build PT ambassadors in our communities — ambassadors who are loyal and vocal about the value we provide.
In this series, I will outline five steps that will allow you to embed and own physical therapy value within your community. Focusing on one step at a time is critical, as working out of sequence will lead to confusion, which leaves the door ajar to the tactics of our larger competitors.
The five steps in the process are:

  1. Awareness
  2. Engagement
  3. Education
  4. Conversion
  5. Amplification

The first step is awareness.
We all want to make the sale. Schedule that new evaluation. Get that return client back into the clinic. Earn a visit from a family member or neighbor.
But the sale comes later.
Before you can sell, you have to be known. Top-of-mind known. “I know that name” known. Known through channels your market uses and which you can exploit.
Awareness includes strategies which, despite any initial aversion you may have, are not focused on selling. Awareness strategies are solely for purposes of introducing a name or concept to the market in a way that allows it to become familiar, comfortable and trustworthy.
Awareness strategies can encompass virtually any marketing channel under the sun. However, there are a few cost-effective and readily-implemented channels conducive to physical therapy practice such as social media, email, press, community involvement and advertising. (Note: I’m not a huge fan of advertising due to the expense, but it’s a viable channel for those with the budget.)
Awareness is all about impressions. Eyeballs.
A timely analogy is that of the political campaigns that occur early in an election cycle. Does a candidate lead off with complex policy descriptions, or does he or she focus on simply being everywhere? Candidates know they can never earn the vote (make the sale) unless they are first top-of-mind aware.
Physical therapy consumers cast a vote as well, though in the form of a scheduled appointment. Hence, our strategy benefits from a strategy not far from the same mark.
There is no specific timeframe for achieving awareness, so it’s a bit like baking from a recipe and a bit like baking by smell. Knowing when to move your focus to step two —engagement — can be quantified by looking at impressions data (number of impressions, email opens, email clicks, social traffic, etc.), but it’s also something that requires an ear tuned to the market and the channels you are using to reach it.
In the next part of this series, I’ll introduce Step 2, the concept of engagement. After all, eyeballs don’t buy your service, they just allow one to know it’s there.