Let’s Face It: No One Really Likes Going to the Doctor
(or dentist or PT or OT).

Nevertheless, you’ve probably still found yourself performing an evaluation with a new patient and thinking, “If only you’d come to see me sooner!” So why do patients wait so long to seek out your care, and what can you do about it? In this analysis, we’ll consider:
  • Five things that keep patients away from your clinic
  • How a free trial session can address many of these barriers
  • How to convert consultation clients into paying patients

Reluctance in Rehab: Why Patients Avoid PT/OT Providers

  1. People don’t really understand what PTs and OTs can do
    Much of the general public knows very little about what PTs and OTs can actually do for them. (1) Particularly for therapists in lesser-known specialties, like pelvic health PT, vestibular rehab, or the treatment of patients on the autism spectrum, a lack of understanding of your specialty skills can prevent patients from ever walking through your door.
  2. Patients are afraid that therapy will hurt or embarrass them.
    It’s no secret that humans are fearful of pain, particularly when we have recently sustained an injury or experienced high levels of physical pain in the past. (2) Unfortunately, PTs in particular have a reputation as “physical terrorists” (link to preparing for first session piece), and the public’s expectation that therapy will hurt can be a huge disincentive. For people dealing with significant physical limitations, particularly those that impact sensitive functions like toileting or hygiene, the thought of addressing these issues with a stranger in a public clinic can be paralyzing. Social anxiety surround body image can also impact patients’ willingness to present to a setting in which they may be expected to exercise in public. (3)
  3. People are worried about the financial and time commitments of rehab.
    Time and money are obvious concerns that come to mind in any conversation about healthcare. Particularly when patients don’t know how much of each they will be expected to invest, they are more likely to avoid the problem altogether by never presenting to therapy.
  4. Potential patients haven’t yet established a therapeutic relationship with you.
    It’s well established that a strong therapeutic alliance between patient and provider is key to success in any type of therapy, from mental health to rehabilitation. (4) The foundation of that alliance is typically laid during an initial evaluation. Prior to that first interaction, however, it can be difficult to sell someone on the value of your services.
  5. Patients may lack motivation to make the big changes rehab requires.
    Change is hard and daunting, sometimes so much so that it’s easier to not even try. ‘Nuff said.

The Power of Free: Using Complimentary Consultations to Win New Clients

Now that we’ve outlined the reasons patients have for avoiding rehab, let’s discuss how a free consultation or trial period can help to address each of these barriers and convince new clients that you’re the therapist they need.

Address Fears and Questions about Care

By offering a free consultation to potential patients, you can immediately address three of the major roadblocks listed above: a lack of understanding, the fear of pain or embarrassment, and investment concerns.

Because you don’t have to worry about billing specific procedure codes during a free consult, you’re free to spend time explaining exactly what you do and what the patient can expect during a course of care with you. If you are in a niche practice, you can clarify how your approach to therapy differs from other types of care the client may have already had, and how your specialty background sets you apart from the competition.

Proving your value can be especially key for therapists in cash-based or concierge practice (link to concierge article here): it’s an opportunity to convince clients that your services are worth the out-of-pocket expense. If you can outline an expected plan of care for the patient, with an estimated number of visits and cost per session, you’ll be able to further reduce any anxiety around the expected investment.

The consultation is also a great time to address the client’s fears: provide examples of the type of techniques you use, give your prospect a tour of your space, and introduce them to other staff members. Make them feel at home from the get-go so they view your practice as safe and welcoming.

Establish a Connection and Discuss Goals

Without the pressure of documentation and billing, a free consultation is a perfect chance to start building the all-important therapeutic connection between you and your prospective patient and determine if you’ll be a good fit.

If for any reason you feel that you aren’t the right provider for a patient, you may feel less awkward telling them so if you aren’t charging them for the session. (4) This saves both of you time and money and avoids a potentially unproductive course of care that leaves you both dissatisfied.

If you both decide to move forward with care, the consultation is the perfect time to address concerns about motivation. Often, the offer of a free service is enough inducement for a reticent patient to make the effort to come to your office: now is your chance to discuss what kept them away in the first place so that you can work together to address these issues and set achievable goals.

Capitalizing on the Consultation: Converting Clients to your Care

Despite the fact that free consultations can help draw new patients to your practice, offering them can still feel like a bit of a gamble: what if that patient only wanted a free face-to-face with a therapist and then never comes back? (4) Let’s consider how you can ensure that most consultation clients become loyal and enthusiastic patients.

  • Be clear about the boundaries of the consultation in your advertising
    • Whether you advertise your free consultations on your website, social media, or elsewhere, use that space to be very clear about the length and format of the consultation. Whether you’re offering a 15 minute phone call or a 30 minute injury screen, make sure your prospects know what to expect before they arrive. (5,6)
    • Put your website to work: answer as many basic questions as you can in a generic FAQ section so you can use the consultation time to dial in on your client’s specific concerns (4)
  • Use the consult to clarify your prospect’s goals
    • Define how therapy with you can help your client reach their personal goals. Delineate the specific steps you’ll take to meet each goal, and ensure that the client is prepared to invest—both literally and figuratively—in the plan.
  • Don’t hand out all the goods during the free session
    • While you want the client to have a clear understanding of what to expect going forward, don’t give away your skills for free. Reserve the manual therapy, home program prescription, and key educational advice for paying patients.

We hope this briefing on complimentary consultations has given you a clearer understanding of their potential benefits and inspired you try new tactics to bring patients into your practice. Happy consulting!


(1) Walsh, W. E. (2018). Investigating Public Perception of Occupational Therapy: An Environmental Scan of Three Media Outlets. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72(3), 7203205080p1. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.024513
(2) George, S. Z. (2006). Fear: A Factor to Consider in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 36(5), 264–266. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2006.0106
(3) Baruth, M., Sharpe, P. A., Parra-Medina, D., & Wilcox, S. (2014). Perceived Barriers to Exercise and Healthy Eating Among Women from Disadvantaged Neighborhoods: Results from a Focus Groups Assessment. Women & Health, 54(4), 336–353. https://doi.org/10.1080/03630242.2014.896443
(4) GoodTherapy Editor Team. (2019, October 12). Should You Offer a Free Initial Consultation? GoodTherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/for-professionals/marketing/customer-experience/article/should-you-offer-free-initial-consultation
(5) Complimentary Consultation. (2021). Select Physical Therapy. https://www.selectphysicaltherapy.com/your-experience/complimentary-consultation/
(6) Free Assessment by Athletico Physical Therapy. (2020, October 15). Athletico. https://www.athletico.com/services/complimentary-injury-screens/