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Fitness Professionals: 5 Tips for Marketing to Physical Therapists

Posted Dec 09 2011 9:09am

In light of my post earlier this week on how essential it is for fitness professionals to understand corrective exercise, I received an outstanding guest blog submission from physical therapist Ann Wendel that will serve as an excellent follow-up.

As Eric alluded to in his recent post, it takes time and energy to build a network of providers in your area. Many fitness professionals are eager to market their services to physical therapists, but they may not know how to get started. Often, their attempts at marketing are ineffective and frustrating. I have worked in the health care industry for 20 years, starting my career as an ATC working with high school, college and professional athletes, and then as a PT/ATC in a variety of settings. Over the years, I have seen both good and bad efforts at marketing by local trainers. In this article, I will give you five pointers to help you market your expertise to the health care community.

1. Build the relationship: It takes time to build trust. You don’t want to come off like a used car salesman. If you rush into the PT clinic expecting to talk with one of the therapists and hand out your materials, you are probably wasting your time. When I worked in a busy orthopedic outpatient clinic, I saw a patient every 30 minutes for 8 hours straight, and I didn’t have the time to even come up to the front desk to meet the trainers who stopped by. Leaving your information without making a personal connection is futile. Call ahead to schedule a time to meet with the therapist. Then arrive on time and be prepared to present your business and explain why we should refer to you over others in your field. Offer us the ability to come to your studio/gym and observe you working with clients, or offer us a complimentary consultation so we can see how you work with a new client from start to finish. I have a policy of never referring to anyone (massage therapist, trainer, physician, etc.) unless I have personally worked with that person and been happy with their services. It’s our reputation on the line when we make a referral.

In 20 years of practice I have only had one trainer offer me a complimentary session to see how he worked. I refer patients to him.

2. Dress the part: When you go to meet with physical therapists or physicians, dress the part. You are entering a professional medical setting. What may be appropriate clothing for your gym may not be considered professional in a clinic. You don’t have to wear a suit; but, take a shower, put on clean, freshly ironed clothes, wear nice shoes, have clean fingernails. I’m being serious! Don’t show up to talk business in your sweats. We want to see that you are a professional and we want to be sure that the patients we are going to refer to you will be impressed by your appearance. Have your marketing materials ready to present, have business cards, have a website; we are going to want to check you out and so will our patients. And, if you participate in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and have them linked to your professional website, make sure you are representing yourself as a professional. The last thing we want is to refer our 70 year old neighbor to you, and have them see half naked gym/beach/Spring Break pictures and talk of booty calls on your website.

3. Speak the lingo: We want to know that you are going to keep our patients safe. Know your anatomy, know the names of major surgeries and injuries, know about autoimmune diseases, have a basic knowledge of neurological problems such as stroke, MS, and Guillain-Barre. If we are going to refer post-rehab patients to you, we want to know that you understand the issue and know how to help the client regain strength safely. If you don’t have good knowledge of these issues, ask questions, do research, go to continuing education courses that cover post-rehab, ask to come in and observe what we are doing with patients of the same diagnosis. If you have already established the relationship with the therapist, it is easier to ask questions.

4. Have a desire to collaborate: Realize that physical therapists have gone through (at minimum) 7 years of schooling to get their degree. We have also done continuing education and post graduate certification courses. We don’t know everything, but we did learn a thing or two. I have had trainers come in to meet with me before who want to impress upon me how much they know, and they come off as so arrogant and unprofessional that I throw their cards away as soon as they leave. Come in ready to partner with us in treating the client. Share your knowledge in a non-aggressive manner.

Most of us are looking for the right person to whom we can refer clients, and we are more likely to refer them to someone with whom we feel we can easily share information.

5. Refer to physical therapy when appropriate: If the client starts to have a return of symptoms after discharge from physical therapy, worsening of symptoms or new symptoms refer them to a therapist for an evaluation. Know when it is time to bring in another set of eyes or hands to assess the client. Sometimes the patient is more appropriate for therapy for a while before they are ready to come back to you for post-rehab. Don’t worry, if you are good and the patient has developed a good relationship with you, they will be back. If you have developed a good relationship with a therapist, patients can easily transition between the two of you as appropriate for their condition.

As healthcare continues to change, insurance reimbursement continues to decline and patients are limited to a certain number of physical therapy visits, we are going to need to develop a good network of trainers and fitness professionals. Start thinking about how you can make some small changes to make yourself more marketable than every other Joe out there. If you are taking the time to read this blog, you are clearly interested in becoming better at what you do. Understanding what therapists are looking for puts you ahead of everyone else already. Showing up to meet with a therapist looking professional, talking in a way that is non-aggressive while showing us that you do know what you are talking about, and having quality marketing materials makes you the perfect person to hand our patients off to for continued care.

About the Author

Ann Wendel holds a B.S. in P.E. Studies with a concentration in Athletic Training from the University of Delaware, and a Masters in Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Based in Alexandria, VA, she is a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) licensed in Virginia, a Licensed Physical Therapist, and a Certified Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist (CMTPT).  For more information, please visit Ann’s site, Prana Physical Therapy .

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