Increase Patient Referrals

As practice owners, you think about the growth of your clinic almost as much as the care of your patients. And so you must —  since you are a business owner as much as you are a clinician. Marketing your clinic can take up hours of your weekend, trying to figure out what strategies — Google Ads, SEO, doctor visits, adding services like massage or stretching —  will make your practice grow the fastest. Your goal is to increase patient referrals.

Each of these strategies is expensive — both in time and money. Your return on investment (ROI) is hard to calculate without sophisticated software that tracks which patients were referred by which strategy.

The solution is to increase patient referrals from your current patients.

The most cost-effective marketing strategy by far is having your own patients refer your practice to their friends and family. Social media has proven that the influence of someone you know and trust is the single greatest indicator of making a purchase. So the key is to get your patients to be your ambassadors.

What if the answer to growing your practice in the most profitable way — by having your own patients send their friends and family to your practice — is as simple as these 3 steps?

Step 1: Be Present

You have a lot on your mind during the day. You are managing a team. You have to stay current with your continuing education. You want to try out a new piece of equipment. You need to remember to register for the next conference.

WHOA! If you are not present with your patient, they will feel it immediately. What makes one person more worthy of a physical therapy referral than another? Here are the 4 most important qualities that the most referred physical therapists adhere to during every session.

They are:

  •     Make it Personal
  •     Empathize
  •     Be Confident
  •     Be State-of-the-Art

Let’s look at each one from the patient’s perspective so that you can see why it makes all the difference for them and why that quality leads to increased referrals.

Make It Personal – Hear from the Patient

The patient is experiencing their pain, not anyone else’s. While you may see many patients with exactly the same diagnosis in one day, the patient wants you to understand how they feel, how difficult it is for them to move, how much pain they feel when you do a hands-on maneuver.  ‘Make it personal’ means listening to them and responding by repeating their own words. Hearing back from you what they are saying keeps you present to their situation and makes them feel as if their situation, which is personal to them, is personal to you.


There is nothing that’s going to build more trust and credibility than if you express your understanding about what the patient is going through. Empathetic care  matters more than ever as patients begin to act like traditional consumers and play an active role in choosing where they receive care. Cultivating empathy starts with making a point of seeing situations from your patients’ point of view. Empathetic interactions involve being physically and mentally present, listening attentively, validating patients’ feelings, being flexible and being curious. say something, you do it. Being present keeps you focused on what the patient feels and that is communicated powerfully to the patient.

Be Confident – Reward their Progress

According to new research by psychologists at the University of Basel, confidence in healthcare professions leads to greater patient satisfaction and quality of life. The study showed that confidence in providers also led to better health-related behaviors.

Put simply: confidence can improve patient outcomes. And better outcomes = increase patient referrals.

Do you know this joke? It’s best to be the first child, the second wife and the third real-estate broker! I’m sure that many of your patients come in and tell you that they have been battling their condition for a long time and have seen other practitioners whose care has not improved their condition. You know that you will because that is one of the reasons you chose to open your own practice. Becoming your own boss can give you a sense of autonomy, self-efficacy, and control over your working life that many people crave. Demonstrate that confidence to your patient and they will follow their home exercise program because they believe in you and your belief that they will have a better outcome.

Be State-of-the Art – Oversee their Recovery via asynchronous video chat

Are you still handing your patients paper diagrams of stick figures for their Home Exercise Program? Are you still expecting your patients to open an email and print out the pages?  Are you expecting your patients to watch a generic exercise video?

Do patients have to call to schedule an appointment or to cancel or re-schedule? Do you expect patients to fill out sheets of paper at their intake visit with information that could easily have been added on an online form?

Patients expect their healthcare providers to be up-to-date not only with medical interventions but also with the tools they use to run their practice. This will increase patient referrals

Replace paper and generic videos with your own App that records each exercise you demonstrate to your patients during your session, like AC Health. Adherence to your HEP is paramount to the patient having a better outcome. Having a better outcome leads to conversations with their friends and family about your expertise. Those conversations lead to inbound leads and voila — you have achieved the most cost-effective method of growth.

Step 2: Engage With Your Patients Between Appointments

The power of word-of-mouth communications cannot be understated as part of your practice’s PT marketing plan. Consumers and patients tend to complete transactions and shop for themselves in a herd mentality – that is, if their peers and other consumers are patronizing a certain practice or business, they are more likely to do so themselves. That is why positive reviews and testimonials are relied on as powerful building blocks for a practice’s business. A whole collection of rave reviews can be as effective a dental marketing technique as any other. A patient referral takes the positive patient review a step further. Instead of just having generic good things to say about you, the patient is taking it upon him or herself to encourage their friends and family members to visit your practice, following a great experience they had there themselves.

Here’s a practice barometer to consider: you should be getting more than 50% of your new patients from referrals by existing patients. If you’re not – then you either need to address your customer service policies, or educate patients that you not only accept their referrals, but appreciate and welcome them.

Out of sight, out of mind is a good reminder that patients who are connected with their physical therapists between appointments will complete their course of treatment which has already been approved by their insurance. Or, if they have chosen to see you without a doctor’s referral — as some states allow a 30-day course of treatment without a prescription — that connection between sessions will be a reminder to make their next appointment.

Sending patients home with your voice on their mobile device reminding them how to do each exercise is one way of staying connected between appointments. This will increase patient referrals.

Another is to send a push notification to all of your patients with a message of encouragement, surprising them during their day and showing them that you are thinking of them.

Your patients are talking to their friends and family when they are NOT in your practice but when they are living their lives between appointments. Be the practice that is different; be the practice that thinks about them throughout their treatment cycle.

Step 3: Make Sure You Still Love What You Do

Nothing is more charismatic and memorable than a high-energy expert. Someone who is confident with their abilities, is highly skilled, can be trusted to give excellent care and is fueled by the belief that their clinical intervention will be the difference between a mediocre outcome and an excellent outcome.

Who wouldn’t want to be treated by that physical therapist?

But, is that you? Or are you deflated by the decreases in reimbursements, the increased competition as new physical therapy practices spring up every week, the long hours and non-compliant patients who complain about their lack of progress? If so, it sounds as if you may be experiencing burn out.

Patients can feel if you are simply on automatic, if your mind is elsewhere and if you are mentally tired.

There is a clear path out of burn out that is based on finding meaning in your work. While there are many books that can help you see a path toward a positive relationship with your work, most of them speak of the importance of four beliefs.

I am an Authority

If you have the authority to do something, you have the right or power to do it. You are the big cheese. Or, if you know more about a topic than most, you are an authority on that topic. Certainly your training gives you the authority to evaluate and treat abnormal physical function related to, for example, an injury, disability, disease or condition.

Do you feel as if you are expressing that authority every day? Do you feel empowered and at the top of your profession? If not, you may want to get additional training in a niche speciality so that your authority is more easily understood and practiced.

I have Expertise

An expert in a given domain is “somebody who obtains results that are vastly superior to those obtained by the majority of the population.”

Isn’t that why you chose to open your own private physical therapy practice? You believe that your 7 years of training and your years of experience as a physical therapist has given you an expert skill in helping a patient recover from pain, an injury or surgery.

Make sure that you are using your clinical expertise every day. Give each patient the benefit of your expertise by prescribing a home exercise program that is unique to their body type, their threshold for pain and their own physiology. Send them home with your expertise in an app so that they connect their recovery with your specific treatments.

I am Trustworthy

Developing trust with patients helps them feel more comfortable, and allows them to be more candid when discussing their health. Communication is key. Communicate with your patients often and well. The second way to engender trust in relationships with patients is empathy. You need to have the ability to convey empathy to patients while still having boundaries that prevent you from being emotionally overwhelmed. Aim to relate to your patients but maintain boundaries so that their issues or attitudes don’t overly affect you.

Finally, instill calmness in patients. This will increase patient referrals. Health professionals need to be perceived as calm, competent, and in control of the situation (to a reasonable extent). Most patients will be reassured by a calm and confident demeanor. Then, if something does go wrong, they will be more able to stay calm as they will trust that you can handle it.

 I have Gratitude

When you show gratitude, you get gratitude. And one of the biggest things you can do is show more appreciation because like attracts like. When you show appreciation, you get appreciation.

Tell your patients how proud you are of their compliance with their home exercise program. Use progress videos to show them how their engagement with your treatment has led to their better outcome.

You will receive that gratitude back….in spades. They will want to show their gratitude to you for your direction which led to their recovery. What is the best way for them to show you that gratitude? To tell their friends and family about your practice.

In Summary

Increase patient referrals in these 5 steps:

  1. Patient referrals are the most cost-effective marketing strategy for growing your physical therapy practice
  2. Based on motivational psychology’s conclusions, increased referrals are associated with these 3 steps: Be present, Engage with your patients between appointments and Love what you do.
  3. Being present with your patient involves 4 actions:  Make it personal,    Empathize, Be Confident and Be State-of-the-Art.
  4. Engaging with your patients between appointments reminds them of your partnership around their recovery, instilling motivation and compliance into their routine. Your support between appointments is the emotional support that differentiates you from your competition.
  5. Loving what you do is the answer to burn out. Regain your energy and empowerment by having authority, demonstrating expertise, building a trusting relationship with your patients and showing your gratitude for their compliance.

Your goal is to increase patient referrals. That is your priority. Make a commitment to show your patients how passionate you are about helping them recover by using AC Health and these techniques to grow your practice beyond your wildest imagination!