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A Marketing Dilemma

Dilemma: an argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives against an opponent.

As regular readers of this blog well know, I am often critical about the Physical Therapy Profession's marketing efforts, namely that of the APTA. I recently authored a post entitled, "What should we do with this window?" which sparked a heated debate among Evidence in Motion readers.

The debate centered around two camps trying to resolve a question of marketing return on investment and a scope of practice. One group felt that it is our right and duty to advertise our scope of practice, and if we are able to provide bike fitting advice for example, then we should. The other group felt that we should focus marketing dollars in the area which has the greatest potential to steer consumers our way. I suggest reading through the conversation to get the full picture of the debate. Also check out, Rob Wainner's most recent post, "Market this."

Today, I want to look at another marketing dilemma within the profession. The fact that the majority of outpatient Physical Therapy consumers are a result of physician referrals. Aligning with the medical community has long helped Physical Therapy to grow and achieve the position we now cling to in the health care marketplace. But, there is a down side.

When a Physical Therapy practice markets their services, they would do well to market mostly to their physician referral sources, as they are the gate keeper for their services. However, this marketing can be costly and narrow in scope. Too often I hear of PT's subscribing the the "Drug Rep Lunch" concept, or spending $$ to take doctors out for dinner. Physicians' attention to marketing is a highly competitive venture, and Physical Therapists always stand to lose for the simple fact that we are not backed by billion dollar pharmaceutical companies and the drug rep lunches will always be nicer than ours.

When too much of this time is spent marketing to physicians for fear that marketing elsewhere will not yield a positive return on investment, the ability to educate consumers about the Physical Therapy product is harmed. I can drive around all day in my region listening to the radio, looking at billboards, and buying up newspapers. I'm likely to only see a couple ads targeting consumers from outpatient rehab providers.

Here is the dilemma: I have trouble arguing that a private Physical Therapist should spend more $$ marketing to the consumer. It simply is true, that every dollar spent on a physician has the potential to yield many more customers when compared to $$ spent on consumers. Even if the marketing was of sound quality, when a patient is steered by their physician towards a different therapy provider, that money is lost and the competition stands to benefit from your efforts.

So, what is the solution? Should Physical Therapists altruistically and futilely spend $$ on consumer marketing? Can the APTA reform their marketing into something more effective, perhaps with a focus of immediacy for the consumer rather that a prevention perspective? Or, is a wholly new strategy required of our profession? New strategy you say?

Let's imagine and debate the concept of a separate, non-profit business entity, whose sole purpose is to raise cash, and market the profession to the consumer:

The PT Publicity Project.

If we cannot individually market to consumers effectively, perhaps our collective efforts could yield a greater gain for all. Instead of one practice reaping benefits, we all do!

Photo by Sullest.


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Comments (1)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/17/2007 - 10:04am.

I applaud you for tackling this subject. Physical Therapy and its marketing efforts has been a divided topic amongst our community, who is constantly attempting to differentiate itself from chiropractors. Where do you devote your marketing budget, the physician who has the ability to send lucrative patients through your doors (and in most states, patients are required to have a written prescription from) or to the faceless consumer? In my practice, we have done both with mixed results. Marketing to physicians is a tireless job that requires substance to stand out from the pharmaceutical sales people, who are armed with free samples, extravagant lunches and expensive give aways. We have found success through relationship building and speed of service, with which we use to our advantage when striking up a conversation with the key decision maker (often not the physician, but his/her assistant, nurse or receptionist). By pledging to provide the highest level of care in the fastest amount of time with unmatched levels of communication with the physician, we have seen some success with a handful of physicians. Alternately, we have also devoted a smaller portion of our budget to advertising on flyers at cafes, public libraries, universities, medical buildings, and health clubs, offering free/complimentary wellness programs, such as pilates, or tai chi. Looking for more angles, as I truly believe that the consumer has traditionally been overlooked. Any suggestions?



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