Word of mouth marketing is an incredibly powerful tool. To understand that power, all you have to do is think about the trust you place in a recommendation from a friend or colleague.
Word of mouth works…until it doesn’t
Still, as many physical therapists in private practice know, word of mouth can be pretty fickle. And without a systematic approach, its inconsistent results leave way too much to chance.
Most PTs just starting out in private practice feel pretty good about their word of mouth marketing results. You had loyal patients who followed you to your clinic, and the early buzz for your practice seemed promising. It was probably those patients who helped spur you to open your own practice in the first place. Their enthusiastic, grateful feedback told you, “I can do this on my own.”
Fast forward a few years, and word of mouth often isn’t delivering the consistency that private practice owners need. And many PT practice owners never really evolve beyond a passive approach to word of mouth—working really hard to deliver outstanding care and crossing your fingers patients will leave you great reviews, tell their friends about you, and return.
That leads to a shaky version of word-of-mouth marketing that’s nearly impossible to control, or to deploy strategically as part of a plan for growth.
Word of mouth got you launched and on your feet in private practice, but for it to be consistently useful, predictable, and profitable to you as you grow, you need an action plan.
It starts with patient engagement
You hear a lot these days in the physical therapy world about “relationship management.” We call this Patient Engagement.
Patient engagement isn’t merely a transactional process. It’s about creating relationships with your patients for life through consistent, information-rich, authentic communication that builds trust.
In my work over the years, with hundreds of private practice owners, I’ve developed a model for patient engagement that can work with whatever PRM (patient relationship management) tools you’re currently using—or help you develop your own system for staying connected to your patients. The Patient Engagement Model doesn’t dictate what PRM tools you use. It does show you the processes that help foster trusting bonds with your current and potential patients, from before the time they’ve chosen to work with you (pre-engagement stage), through their tenure as patients in your care (active engagement stage) to after discharge (post-engagement stage).
Through experience with thousands of patients and plenty of rigorous testing and analysis, I’ve also learned what marketing strategies align best with each stage—and how to leverage a strong patient engagement system to deliver word-of-mouth marketing results you can count on.
Your goal? To create consistency and predictability for patients, every step of the way.
Creating strong, durable relationships with patients—the kind of relationships that lead consistently to referrals—is about more than delivering excellent clinical care. It’s about giving patients all the support, information, and resources they need, to gain their trust.
The pathway to that trust? Clarity. The big question to ask yourself is at any point in the patient engagement lifecycle is this:
“Where in this process can I create clarity for the patient?”
Delivering clarity matters in all the phases of patient engagement. For successful word of mouth marketing, it’s absolutely critical to deploy clear communications during the active engagement phase—which starts at intake.
Working with your team to help them develop effective communication skills is of fundamental importance, as a part of your marketing strategy—and I’ll talk in more detail about this essential work soon. (Remember, it begins with that first call to your front desk.)
There are also key points along the path of patients’ active engagement when specific types of communication can transform the clarity of their experience—engendering trust and increasing the chances they’ll not only stick with you, but bring others to your doors.
4 Areas to Improve Patient Engagement:
- After intake, before evaluation
This is the ideal time to send an email that lets new patients know you’re excited they’ve chosen to work with you and give them all the information they need to prepare for their evaluation. It’s also the place to answer questions about all the non-clinical points of contact patients will have with your practice, from payment to scheduling to cancellations. This message is most effective when it comes from you, the practice owner.
- After the initial evaluation
This is prime time for confusion and uncertainty to set in. Patients have so many questions after initial evaluations—and most of them don’t get asked. You have a tremendous opportunity here to deliver clarity, just when your patients need it most. Answer the most common post-eval questions in an email that lets your patients know what to expect from their post-evaluation experience. Some patients will feel better, and others will feel worse. Prepare patients for both outcomes and let them know what steps they can take if they feel poorly. Have this message come from your evaluating therapist.
- At the 5th visit
Reach out to check in with patients to make sure they’re being helped by the care they’re receiving, and get clued in to any potential problems arising. This check in—best delivered by the treating therapist—is tremendously effective in reducing cancellations, no shows, and drop outs.
- After a successful discharge
These patients have had a bonding experience with you. You helped them out of pain, and into a better quality of life. Now is the perfect time to ask for a Google Review. If you don’t ask for what you truly need—their positive review—you’ll continue to get cookies and brownies (not patients).
It is important to ask for a review. Make it easy for them to follow through right from that email, by including instructions and links. Don’t be shy about getting specific: let them know how much you’d appreciate a 5-star Google review, and share with them the power that a review has to make it easier for other patients in need to find you. This message is best delivered by the treating therapist, with whom the patient has developed a real bond.
This won’t be the last your patients hear from you. Soon, we’ll look at the marketing tools that keep you connected to patients after they’ve left active care—and before they begin care. But these are simple, inexpensive, effective steps you can take right now to give you substantially more control over your word-of-mouth marketing.
Starting to integrate your word-of-mouth marketing strategy with your patient engagement process lets you take full advantage of the opportunity to generate consistent referrals from the people who know, trust, and like you—your active patients. At the same time, you’re giving those patients the communication and support they need during their treatment. The results? Better treatment outcomes, fewer dropouts, and patients who are more likely not only to refer others to your practice but to return themselves.
It’s an all-around win-win for patients and for PT practice owners, for clinical outcomes and business success. And it creates the relationships for life that are the bedrock of successful PT practices.
For PT private practice owners, there’s a lot on your plate that’s outside your expertise, systems and strategies for marketing, hiring, patient engagement. It can lead to questions, confusion, and overwhelm. To talk through your questions, schedule a Strategy Call with me today!