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New Grads' Guide to Alternative Referral Sources

by Kevin Prue

If you read our last article, then you took the first step to building your practice through physician referrals. However, as a cash PT clinic owner, I don’t actually focus my attention on marketing to physicians. While I value the relationships I’ve created with a select group of physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, the concept of a cash PT practice can sometimes be a road block to gaining referrals from these traditional avenues. Therefore, I rely largely on alternative referrals.

Using Direct Access

As a profession, physical therapists have worked hard at creating direct access, and we continue to fight for less regulations in certain states. It would be a disservice to our profession and our patients to let this underutilized avenue for patients to seek physical therapy services go to waste. I don’t know about you, but those numbers bother me, and I think it’s important to change the public perception and understanding of physical therapy. So in order to do this, I’ve started reaching out to alternative physical therapy referral sources to help grow my practice, and also change the public’s understanding of physical therapy and direct access.

Who are these Alternative Referral Sources?

Since physical therapists have direct access, an alternative referral source can be anyone. Anyone who has family, friends, co-workers, or clients can send you patients. Don’t forget about the most important alternative referral source: your current and previous patients. In my cash physical therapy practice, approximately 60% of my new patients come from word of mouth referrals from previous patients. I get another 30% from other alternative referral avenues like personal trainers, coaches, and Google, while the final 10% come from what we consider traditional physical therapy referral avenues like physicians. While these ratios may be a little different in a traditional insurance based clinic, there is no reason all physical therapists shouldn’t be marketing, networking and communicating with individuals from all professions. Not only does this help you get new patients and build a caseload as a new grad, it also helps the profession by promoting direct access, conveying the value of physical therapy, and it may even impress your boss as you bring in loads of new patients into the clinic.

But It's Not My Responsibility to Keep the Clinic Busy!

Getting new patients is the life blood of any clinic. Whether you are a business owner or new grad just starting out in a huge clinic, it’s important that you help bring in new referrals. As a business owner, this is vital to keeping your doors open and paying your employees. As a new grad, you need to remember if you aren’t seeing patients, then the clinic isn’t making money, which means you may not have a job. There are thousands of new grads looking for jobs every year, so taking initiative by helping bring in new patients not only confirms you are vital to the clinic, but you may even be a good candidate for a promotion.

So how do I Get More Patients?

Network, communicate, engage and show the value of your services. By networking with other professionals, you can build relationships that can lead to referrals down the road. Don’t go up to everyone and tell them that you are physical therapist and please send me patients. Instead, get to know the professional, present an idea or way that your services can benefit their clients, and be open to helping other professionals grow their client base. For example, when talking to a yoga instructor, discuss the benefits of mobility in preventing injuries and how you may need a good yoga instructor to refer patients to once they are no longer coming to see you in the clinic (I avoid saying "complete" or "discharged from physical therapy" because this implies the patient should forget everything we’ve been working on). Explain in detail what we do as physical therapists, and physical therapy doesn’t mean just doing a few exercises and getting some modalities. Mention that patients don’t necessarily have to be in pain to see a physical therapist; perhaps they have a mobility deficit that isn’t allowing them to participate fully in yoga which we can correct. By educating potential referral sources, we can expand the market of potential patients that can benefit from our services.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when trying to get new patients is targeting current and former patients for referrals. If you can provide a great service gain a patients trust, they will certainly be more likely send you their friends and family members. Once you have built up a good relationship with your patients, ask them to spread the word. I ask every patient after their last visit to help me grow my practice by telling their friends and family about me. Usually every patient responds by telling me a story about someone they know who is dealing with this ache or that pain, and they would be happy to give them my card.

So as you can see, getting new patients is important to the sustainability of any physical therapy practice. As professionals, we shouldn’t solely rely on physician referrals. Think outside the box a little, and connect with people. It may take a little time, but you should be able to grow your caseload if you are willing to put in the effort.

Kevin Prue, PT, DPT, CSCS is the NGPT community cash pay expert!
He has already written about cash pay PT practice works.


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