How to avoid the hidden traps of PT referral marketing

Referrals are the mainstay of physical therapy marketing. But most PT owners and managers I talk to consider managing referrals a stressful, unwelcome burden. Cultivating referral sources or asking patients for referrals make a lot of practice owners feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. A lot of this has to do with basic insecurities we all experience: fear of rejection, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of looking foolish.

But it’s more than that: the PT health-care landscape changing, so the PT referral landscape is, too.

Generating referrals really is about relationships. Direct, authentic communication, taking an active interest in the problems of others, and demonstrating how YOU can be part of their solution are the tickets to success.

Approaching referrals as a chance to build relationships can transform what were uncomfortable, but necessary, rituals into one of the most profitable, reliable, rewarding endeavors for PT owners and teams. It’s an approach that also helps you build even greater long-term value into your practice—and that translates into a bigger payout when the time comes to sell.

But like any, this relationship-based approach comes with its own set of potential pitfalls. Here are four of the most common missteps I see among PTs trying to expand their reach through referral relationships:

4 pitfalls of PT referral marketing

Giving away power

A lot of PT owners I meet are still living out the old, PT-Physician dynamic. You know, the one where physician holds all the cards? That never was really true to begin with, and it’s certainly not true now. Physicians are still an important part of the PT referral landscape, but they’re far from the only important players these days. Branch out beyond the doctors in your community, to other health and wellness providers. And no matter who it is you’re engaging with, keep in front of mind all that your clinic has to offer a partnership. That’s where your power is, so lead with it!

Not engaging in meaningful communication

The old routine of checking in with referral sources a few times a year, maybe bringing lunch, and delivering a gift at the holidays? Today’s PT referral partnerships have a different lifecycle—one that demands more regular, more substantive communication. Instead of an occasional check-in, think of your interactions with referral partners as an ongoing conversation—about all the ways you can treat and heal more patients together than you can alone. 

Waiting to hear from others

Take the lead! Show your current and potential referral sources how partnerships in action can work. Focus on their problems and on demonstrating how you can be part of their solutions. Put your attention on them, and you’ll get back every bit of what you put out, and so much more. Defining what you do best—and what differentiates your clinic from the rest—is an essential step in attracting like-minded partners for referrals. My FREE guide, 3 Simple Things That Will Get You More Patients and Make You More Money Right Now, gives you the action steps you need to stand out from the competition—and recruit your best-fit referral partners.

Not asking patients directly for referrals

As natural helpers in a service industry, PTs often feel deeply conflicted about what seems like switching gears to a “business” mindset in seeking referrals from patients. Rather than avoiding the dreaded “ask,” – which is what lot of PTs do — I advocate a change in approach. Your patients are in THE BEST position to speak to your expertise and care, to your ability to address the fundamental problems that our patients seek us out to solve. Rather than thinking about this as a business transaction, recognize the patient referral for what it really is: a chance for you and your patients to work together to help more people.

You need to deliver exceptional patient experience. But that alone isn’t going to get you word-of-mouth referrals and enthusiastic reviews. With your team, create the “wow” experience your patients want and deserve, and ask those happy patients to help you identify more people who need your help.