7 Steps to Creating a Solid Referral Marketing System

Most physical therapists today would like an endless stream of direct access patients.  While this is a nice idea, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to increase your number of new patients if you are not developing physician referrals.

If you’re ready to expand your patient base, then it’s time to create a solid referral marketing system. But before you can get started, you’ve got to make sure that the patient experience and your clinical expertise are worthy of referrals. Once you’ve refined those areas of your practice, you can feel confident about asking physicians to refer their patients to you.

Ready to get started?

Let’s cover how to create a referral marketing system that works best for your practice.

#1 Set Goals

The first step to creating a solid referral marketing system is deciding what your practice goals are. Here are some questions you need to answer:

Are you a new startup trying to create an initial patient base or have you been in the game for a few years and want to try to generate a few additional referrals?

If you’ve been in business for several years and currently have physicians that refer to you, this is a great opportunity. Your goal is to get doctors that send 2-3 new patients per month to send just 1-2 more.

Do orthopedists refer out or do they own their physical therapists?

Physician-owned physical therapy services, or POPTS, is the business arrangement whereby the orthopedist(s) have their own physical therapy inhouse. It’s not easy to get them to refer out because they will lose the revenue they generate from treating their own patients. (This is a huge ethical issue more on that here. If they own their services, they refer more (reference). Doctors are a powerful group with big money, a strong lobby, and a public perception of doing what’s best for patients…not always the case).

  • Are their GP, internal medicine, sports med, and/or physiatrists in private practice?
  • You need to know if they can refer out or if they are required to refer to their employer (i.e. a hospital that owns them).
  • How many new patients or additional new patients can you see (i.e. what’s your capacity)?

Knowing this along with your cancellation rate gives you an idea of your maximum capacity and helps establish the number of new patients you need to reach those goals.

If you don’t have referring physicians, then you’ll need to obtain a list of referring physicians from an online database service.  Here’s a good resource for that https://leads-app.infousa.com/Physicians/Selections

#2 Analyze Your Referral Data

Once you define your goals, you’ll need to determine how your referral strategy can and will help you reach your goals. Download a list of all of your referring physicians over that last year.

Look at the data. What does it tell you about your target doctors and patients? What kinds of patients come from these doctors and how often?

Answering these questions will help you determine what your ideal patients and referring physicians look like. This is the first step toward drawing up a strategy for referrals.

Next, identify the number of patients each doctor refers to. Who refers the most? How many do they refer per week/month? These are the ones who know the most about your practice, who send patients to you most often, and who believe in your services.

Finally, sort your list and determine who are the top referral sources. These are the referring physicians you never want to lose. They may keep your practice in business. Always assume your competition is whispering in their ear trying to take referrals away from your practice. You should spend the most time on this group.

Next look at the next group of doctors. Maybe they send 1 or 2 per month consistently.  This group is aware of you but doesn’t send many. Your goal is to try to get them to send 1-3 more each month.

Finally, you have a group that sends one or two patients over the course of the year. This group is the last segment you spend time on. The patient may have been the one that chose your practice.  In other words, the doctor may have not referred to you. Therefore, you don’t spend a lot of time with this group…initially.

#3 Equip Your Referrers

In Step 2, you determined which of your current referring physicians would be ripe for providing additional referrals. Now, you just need to give them the tools to be successful. A big part of equipping them to do the job right is to educate them about the value of a. referring to physical therapy and b. why they should refer to you.

One easy way to accomplish this is to visit their office and provide educational research about the value of referring to a physical therapist in the first place. The recent article published in NEJM is something you could easily print out, add a post-it note to it, that says “I thought you might be interested in this,” and hand it directly to the doctor. I also suggest you highlight key parts of the abstract so he/she can scan it.

If you cannot, put it in an envelope and write something on the outside of it like, “Dr. Smith, I thought you might be interested in this new research…”

Second, repeatedly showing up in their office, providing materials with your logo on them and your name, are good reminders that you are there for them.

#4 Next You Need to Differentiate Your Practice from the Competition

Once you remind them of the research that supports referring their patients to physical therapy, then you need to make sure they know what makes you different from the competition — in many cases, they’ll know this just by interacting with your you and the experiences patients have an report back to them.

Some ways to differentiate your practice are:

  1. Your expertise – board certifications & specialties
  2. Your location
  3. Your reputation
  4. Your clinical outcomes
  5. Hours of operation
  6. Communication
  7. Customer service
  8. Your fees
  9. Types of insurance you take
  10. How quick you can get a patient into your office

Don’t forget to tell your referrers what types of patients you are best at treating (also from Step

Last, make it easy for your referrers to send their patients to you.  Referral pads, business cards, rack cards, and brochures can help. A QR code that patients can scan and those patients to your website is helpful too.

#5 Take Action & Ask

It’s time to put your plan into action. Grab that list of ideal referrers and reach out. Remember: your physicians may be motivated in different ways, so if you see that part of your strategy is falling short, don’t hesitate to change it!

If you are talking with a front office person or any other support personnel, then you need to ask lots of questions.  As the saying goes, you have one moth and two ears, use them proportionally.

One way to pique the interest of the receptionist is to tell them that you are an expert at treating the spine or extremities.  Follow this up with a complex question, one that requires the receptionist to ask someone in the back office to get an answer. You might say, “My board certification was in the treatment of spondylopathy. Who does Doctor Smith refer to when patients have spondylopathies?”

Here’s another tip that’s equally important. Include the idea that you provide a “new treatment” to add curiosity.  Medical staff are interested in providing referrals to clinicians that provide new treatment options (high-intensity laser comes to mind).

Other questions you want to find the answer to are:

  • Who does Dr. Smith refer to?
  • Who decides where the patients go? If the answer is that the doctor or referring staff member picks from a list, then you simply ask, “How do I get on that list?”

I’ve observed a number of physical therapists and salespeople (commonly and errantly called marketing people) have a nice conversation with a doctor but fail to ask for referrals. This is very important to do.  When the time is right and you’ve established that you can provide value, simply say, “I’d like to see more of your X patients. Can you send me a few more so I can?”

#6 Recognize Your Referrers

People loved to be recognized for good deeds, and referring to your practice should count as one of them. When you thank and recognize your referrers, you further solidify your relationship with them. You can send a simple card for every patient that is referred, a gift of nominal value to avoid breaking legal anti-kickback regulations, and make sure that you provide timely, short and scannable progress and discharge reports..

#7 Track Your Progress

Once you’ve got a few weeks under your belt, it’s time to analyze the results and adjust accordingly. Take a look at the numbers: how many referrals have come in? What process worked best? In what ways can you make changes to your strategy to realize more ROI?

The Bottom Line

Patients coming to your clinic via direct access is a good thing; but, remember: adding more new evaluations to your schedule allows you to provide not only patients but doctors conservative, natural treatment options.

As you implement your referral marketing strategy, you might have to make several changes before you nail down a plan that really works. Be open to that, and remember to keep not only the patients’ experience but also your referring physicians’ experiences at the forefront of your efforts.

Need More Training?

E-rehab.com offers a program call More MD Referrals – Physician Sales & Marketing Training. If you have questions about this or any of our other services. Don’t hesitate to contact us at 760-585-9097 or email David Straight, DPT at dave@e-rehab.com.

Physical Therapy Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing – Part 1

There are Two Types of Physical Therapy Marketing: Inbound & Outbound Marketing.  This is Part 1 of my 4-part series: The 3 Steps of Inbound to Boost Your Physical Therapy Reputation and Build Confidence in Your Community

Marketing strategies for your private physical therapy practice can be categorized in a number of different ways, but the two primary groups you’re likely to hear more about than any others are inbound vs. outbound. These terms relate to the main direction that your message is being sent, and can be defined as follows:

  • Inbound marketing: any tactic that attracts readers and draws them in to your practice; this includes social media posts, opt-in emails, search engine optimization (SEO), blogs, and other types of website content.
  • Outbound marketing: any tactic that is directly sent out to a wider audience, including referring physicians, current/past patients, and patient prospects; social media advertising, print advertising, newsletters for referring physicians, and other types of outreach all fall under this category.

Moz created a good graphic that contrasts inbound versus outbound marketing:

Source: Moz

More on Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing, or “pull marketing,” is all about executing smart strategies that will lead individuals who may be in need of physical therapy to your practice’s website or social media page. Once they’ve found you, the goal is to keep them there long enough to show who you are, what you’re all about, and why you have the solutions to their problems—even if they aren’t necessarily looking for these solutions. How do you accomplish this? With brilliantly crafted content, of course.

One way to break down your content plan is by following three steps that were originally defined by Hubspot.  Those are attract, engage, and delight.

Here’s how:

Step 1 – Attract

Bringing web browsers to you is perhaps the most difficult step, simply due to massive number of pages on the web and sheer improbability that the right person will find your website. This is why it’s absolutely imperative that you utilize SEO strategies for all content hosted on your website. By utilizing smart and specific SEO terms that apply to your target audience—like “physical therapy in Smithville or Springfield physical therapists,” for example—you’ll significantly increase the chances of someone identifying your website when doing a search for those terms.

You should also aim to utilize SEO strategies (i.e. including keywords and links back to your website) in all of your social media posts to help with your search rankings.

Step 2 – Engage

Once someone has made their way to your website or social media page, you need to give them a good reason to stay there. For an individual who has an injury and is looking for a physical therapist specifically, this means showing them what you offer over your competitors and why you’re the best practice in the area for their needs. For a reader who isn’t even aware that physical therapy is right for them, this means highlighting the numerous benefits of therapy that will solve their problems.

Blog posts that describe the wide variety of conditions you treat are essential for engagement, but you should also need to have additional content that conveys your commitment to your community, your authority, and your expertise—like “About Us”, FAQ, and Mission/Vision/Values pages—that tell your story and boosts your reputation.

Step 3 – Delight

If you’ve executed the first two steps successfully and have fully engaged a reader, then he or she may go on to choose your practice and schedule their first appointment. This is great, but it’s not the end of the story. Assuming the patient does begin treatment, you’ll also need to delight them throughout their course of care to keep them engaged in their plan of care, progress, and outcomes.

Targeted emails/SMS messages that patients can opt into are effective at this stage to show patients that you care and want to ensure their experience with you is positive. You can send surveys and newsletters through email that keep the engagement level high and continue to direct your patients to your website and social media platforms, which will reinforce your message and show them they’ve made the right choice. Hosting large volumes of informative content on a variety of topics will also reinforce your position as a trusted authority on physical therapy and general health.

Inbound Marketing – Planting the Seed that You are There for Them, Even if They Aren’t Ready to Use Your PT Services Yet

Inbound marketing can be seen as planting a seed and then waiting for it to sprout, and the better your strategy, the higher the chances this will occur. It offers some advantages over outbound marketing, but we believe it’s most effective to utilize both approaches.

Read our next blog for a closer look at outbound marketing.

If you need help with inbound physical therapy marketing for your  practice, simply click here to schedule some time with us.

Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan

Creating a Physical Therapy Marketing Campaign for 2019

When done correctly, a marketing campaign has the ability to resonate with your patients long after it’s out of the spotlight. A well thought out campaign will make your practice memorable and influence the patient to take action, as well as giving your practice a personality and sharing your culture.

If you want to create a successful campaign that can provide these results for your physical therapy practice, check out this guide to crafting a marketing campaign.

What Is a Marketing Campaign?

physical therapy marketing campaign

Marketing campaigns are organized and strategized efforts to promote a particular goal for a business. For example, generating more new patients from physicians or Google are just a couple potential campaign goals. They may involve personal sales, advertising, search engines, social media, emails, patient newsletters or other types of media to attract patients to your practice.

There are multiple channels to deliver your message to potential patients through; a strong campaign, however, will focus on strategies that target two things, a specific result from a specific audience.

Here are some key points to consider when crafting a successful campaign.


To begin, decide on what your overall goal is. Why are you running a campaign and what do you want it to accomplish for your practice. This may include increasing awareness of your services, building your reputation with Google and website reviews, generating new patients or promoting a new service.

The campaign must be carefully planned to ensure you have the best chance of reaching your goals. Once you have the broad goal of the campaign, you need to make sure that your goal is specific, attainable, measurable, relevant and timely. This will give you guidance and accountability for your campaign’s success.

You will need to identify your target audience, and decide what sort of patient (new, current, past) or referrals source (physicians, case managers, businesses) you will be reaching out to. Once you have established your targeted audience, your message can be developed to incorporate ideas might that appeal to this group.

For example, if your goal is to build your community reputation, lay out the specifics of how you intend to accomplish this. Break the goal down into defined measurable tasks by answering such questions as, the number of customers you’d like to take action, how you want them to take action, and by what date. This gives you guidelines and goals to achieve and helps you tailor your campaign for the goal.

Measuring Success

physical therapy marketing analysis

Each campaign has its own goal, so you must find a way to measure your success. If you’re looking to generate revenue, your measurement may be in how many new patients your practice attained during the campaign. If you’re looking to increase community awareness, your measurement may be in how many new patient reviews were received.

You will also want to determine the necessary measurements for each marketing/promotional medium being used to attain your specific goal.  These measurements are often called key performance indicators (KPIs).  As an example, let’s say you launched a Google Ads campaign.  One KPI you would want to know is how may times people clicked on your ad.  This is one KPI but you also want to know how many patients registered for your offer…another KPI.  How many patients that scheduled, showed up?  How many visits was each patient treated for?  All of these help you determine the profitability of your campaign.

You should also set some milestones throughout the campaign (i.e. I need to generate >3 new patients/month to break even), so you can determine whether to forge ahead or pull the campaign for reassessment and adjustment.

Target Audience

Properly identifying the target audience is the single most important aspect of your campaign. Regardless of the medium or message you use, promoting your message to the wrong audience won’t get you to your ultimate goal.

The first step in identifying the audience is learning what stage of the patient’s journey your campaign is targeting. This can be broken down into the awareness, consideration, and decision stages. For example, if you’re targeting new people to introduce your practice, you would be targeting the awareness stage.

Then, you’ll need to determine the interests and problems of your audience. Learn more about what they do in their spare time, what types of injuries do they experience, how they spend their time, why they’re on social media,  and what problems they have that may be solved by your services. Finding the answers to these questions will help you confidently craft a campaign that resonates with your audience.


At this point in the planning process, you know what your goal is for the campaign, how you’ll measure your success and what audience you’re targeting, so all you have left is the message and the medium.

Marketing campaigns need a vision and message all their own, which is an offshoot of your practice’s identity. Your campaign should stay within the bounds of the practice in style and message but still maintain its own identity.

For this step, you may want to bring in the whole team. Your clinical and administrative staff know your business well and can get you started, but you can always use an agency or freelancer for some or all of the campaign.

Once the campaign is complete, it’s time to consider how it will be distributed to your audience.

Reaching Your Audience

Your campaign’s distribution will depend on many factors, such as your budget and current engagement levels. Take a look at your current media channels and see which performs the best and which offers paid advertising, as well as channels that a majority of your target audience participate in (i.e. Facebook for the parents of pediatric patients, or Google for orthopedic conditions). Though it’s smart to promote your campaign on multiple platforms, it’s better to focus your efforts on the platforms in which you already have a presence.

After choosing your platforms, you can choose two or three media options for your campaigns. These may include pay-per-click, SEO, paid influencers, email offers, or scheduled office visits with doctors. You’ll also want to tailor your images, video and copy to suit the medium you’re using.

Campaign Timeline

Part of your campaign goal involves the deadline for your campaign, which helps you determine how and when you’ll promote it.

Beginning with a general campaign timeline, mark your start date and deadline. Then, determine your marketing assets and channels to decide how much you can afford to promote your content and how often.  This allows you to map out your scheduled ads for each channel, will help you disperse your message evenly, and ensure that you’re posting on each medium equally.


Marketing campaigns are designed to generate particular actions – calls, reviews, or referrals. A conversion occurs when your campaign achieves a particular goal. No matter how well your campaign performs in terms of traffic or engagement, it isn’t effective if it’s not generating conversions. This goes back to your specific goals within the campaign.

Achieving the desired action is done through conversion assets, such as landing pages, lead forms, calls-to-action statements, and/or phone calls.

  • Landing pages are a destination web page for your campaign. These are dedicated web pages for your audience to visit and learn more about your practice, so they can decide if they want to utilize your service. This should be separate from the rest of your website.
  • Lead forms are web forms that capture information about a visitor and turn them into a lead. These aren’t necessary for all campaigns, but they can be important for campaigns that involve downloads or interests gathering.
  • Call-to-action statements are an image or line of text that encourages your visitors to take a specific action. It’s typically a clear directive, such as “call now” or “schedule today,” but the appropriate call-to-action depends on your goal.

Moving Forward

Congratulations! You’ve crafted a marketing campaign. Now, you just need to measure its performance and decide if it was effective. Thanks to all the planning involved and your clearly defined goals, this part should be easy.

If your campaign was successful in achieving your goal, you’re done. If not, you should see what areas were successful and decide what you can change for better results in the future.

Marketing campaigns aren’t the easiest thing to create, but they’re vital to growing a successful brand. They also give you an opportunity to connect with your audience and provide them with something valuable, which will only serve your practice needs in the future.

Blueprint: More Physical Therapy Referrals from Physicians

There is a systematic way to generate more referrals from physicians.  Here’s the simple blueprint we’ve used to generate more physical therapy referrals from doctors:

physical therapy marketing - generating more physical therapy referrals from doctors
Blueprint on How to Generate More PT Referrals from Physicians


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