As physical therapists, we tend to avoid the word “selling” at all costs. After all, we’re not salespeople; we’re caregivers. In our profession, we tend to equate selling one’s services with being overly pushy—and trying to get people to buy things they don’t really need. And considering the fact that we have the power to impact individuals’ health and livelihood, the last thing we want is for patients to feel taken advantage of. Still, the fact is that many potential patients aren’t even aware that therapy is an option for them—nor are they aware of the benefits of choosing physical therapy over meds or invasive medical procedures. There’s only one way to fix that: PTs must educate the general population on the value of physical therapy.
This may seem like a massive undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many opportunities for us as physical therapists to communicate the value of our services and expertise—and they happen every day. In fact, if you work in the PT profession, I guarantee you’ll encounter at least one of the following scenarios on a regular basis. To that end, here are three opportunities when a PT can better demonstrate his or her value:
Scenario 1: A prospective patient calls to find out whether you take his or her insurance. You tell the patient you don’t, and he or she hangs up.
Until recently, patients relied on their primary care physicians and insurance payers for physical therapy referrals, operating under the assumption that this is the most cost-effective route. These days, things are a little different. For one thing, all 50 states now have some form of direct access to PT services, so patients can take matters into their own hands and seek out whichever physical therapist they want without obtaining a physician’s referral beforehand—even if the PT isn’t in the patient’s insurance network. And while some patients may shy away from out-of-network providers, if a PT offers higher-quality care than a patient would receive through an in-network provider, that patient may actually find the out-of-network PT’s services to be less cost-prohibitive in the long run. So, when these opportunities arise, try to get a little more information from the patient before turning him or her away; then, tailor your value proposition to match his or her needs. You may just find that you don’t have nearly as much trouble attracting and retaining out-of-network patients than you thought you would.
Scenario 2: A historically strong referral source merges with a regional healthcare system and now provides fewer referrals.
Consolidation is a fact of life in the PT private practice space. As a result, providers may experience referral slowdowns from once-healthy referral sources. As more and more independent therapy practices are absorbed into larger healthcare systems, physicians who are part of that system will begin referring more of their patients to their in-system PT colleagues. Therefore, practices that remain independent have to work even harder to obtain physician referrals.
That said, even when a local healthcare behemoth swallows up small and medium-sized PT practices, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll lose referrals from any physician within that system. By embracing the tenets of modern referral marketing (i.e., maintaining relationships with referral sources, tracking and using outcomes data to prove the efficacy of your services, demonstrating the unique value of your specialty services and expertise, and referring patients to those providers as needed), you can prove your value to patients and referral sources alike.
Scenario 3: An insurance carrier you’re contracted with is reducing payments for the next renewal period, leaving you scrambling to make up the difference.
If you’ve encountered this scenario, you probably felt pretty defeated. After all, unless you’re cash-based, you’re likely relying on insurance payers for steady revenue. Plus, when payers decrease reimbursement amounts, they’re essentially telling you that your services aren’t worth what they’re currently paying out.
The fact is, payers—much like patients—are looking for high-quality services that are both effective and low-cost. And they’re only going to pay for services they deem valuable. So, when insurance companies present you with payment decreases, don’t blindly accept them. Instead, respond with data demonstrating the effectiveness of your services—and their relatively low cost. Even if the payer doesn’t reverse the payment decrease, your data could prompt the insurance company to refer more patients to you—and it may discourage the payer from enacting future rate slashes. As an added bonus, educating payers on the value of physical therapy may even lead them to fund additional research on its benefits—thus further proving the effectiveness of therapy, generating increased awareness of our profession among lawmakers and payers, and positioning PT as a value-add as opposed to a cost to be managed. In turn, this could create a domino effect that results in improved reimbursement rates and more PT-centric legislation.
As I write this, I’m noticing a common thread throughout all three scenarios: they all depend on the PT’s understanding of his or her own value. Before we can start influencing patients’, physicians’, and legislators’ perception of our profession, we must first change our own perception of it. With that in mind, I recently co-hosted a webinar with Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, president of Vantage Clinical Solutions, during which we discussed strategies for better demonstrating the value of physical therapy. We covered everything from the connection between price and value to the real world strategies you can start using today to help you communicate it. So, if you’re ready to learn how to stay afloat in this climate of change, then watch the free recording of our webinar here.
About the Author
Heidi Jannenga is co-founder and president of WebPT, the leading physical therapy software platform for enhancing patient care and fueling business growth. She has more than 15 years of experience as a physical therapist and clinic director, and she’s an active member of the sports and private practice sections of the APTA as well as the PT-PAC Board of Trustees.