November 1, 2021 | Jamey Schrier, PT

5 min read

Drive Physical Therapy Referrals with this Age-Old Strategy

There are literally dozens and dozens of physical therapy marketing strategies. Some good. Some bad. In my many years as a physical therapy practice owner, I have tried at least a dozen of them. In the end, I found the most effective strategy was also based on the oldest principle of marketing: build great relationships.

Running a physical therapy practice is complicated. I get it. There are so many new technologies and platforms to use, it can be hard to know what’s going to work for you and your clinic.

In my experience, marketing starts with the basics. Relationships. And the better one becomes at this skill, the more referrals will come and continue to come over time. As a professional, when you develop relationships with other service providers in your community—whether that’s doctors, athletic centers, personal trainers, nutritionists or other wellness practitioners—we open up pathways for abundant referral streams. We open up opportunities to connect with more people in our community who need our help.

Take a moment to think about the meaningful relationships in your personal life—with friends and partners, with mentors, co-workers, and classmates. Think about the friend from school who you play racquetball with or the neighbors you fire up the barbecue with every summer weekend. These relationships developed—and stay active—because you put time, energy, and attention into cultivating bonds, over shared interests, similar outlooks, and common values.

You took an interest in these people and shared something genuine about yourself in return. Making authentic connections like this with referral partners is no different. And it doesn’t take complicated, expensive tactics. The tools we need to build relationships are ones we all possess—we just need to think of these referral sources as potential life-long relationships and not one-night stands.

Here are three ways to create and develop relationships with referral sources that could yield consistent referrals for months or years to come.


Today there are so many ways to seek out and make initial connections with potential referral sources aside from stopping by their offices. Social media tools including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are a great way to identify potential referral partners and learn about what they’re doing in your community. Search for like-minded folks who have influence over your target audience (the people you like to treat). Understand everything you can about them. Look for common interests and hobbies. Send them a message appreciating them for the work they are doing. As with any genuine relationship, it starts by building rapport and making a connection.

Once a connection is made and trust is developed, take your online communication to in-person. Whether it’s meeting at the office or for a cup of coffee, continue to understand more and more about them and look for ways to help.

Ask Questions

Most relationships, whether it’s going on a date or meeting a new colleague who just started working for you, start by learning more about each other. And the best way to learn more about someone is to ask questions. Having a genuine curiosity is a key element in building long lasting relationships. Many physical therapists make the mistake of telling referral sources how great they are or how they provide quality care and not taking the time to build rapport and get to know them.

A quote I like to use with these folks is “nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Asking open-ended questions are great and allow people to freely share information about themselves. You could ask questions about what they like most about being a doctor (or business owner, hospital administrator, etc.), or their views on physical therapy and how they use it as part of their treatment plan.

Regardless of the question, it is critical that you use rapport building strategies such as eye contact and body language that shows interest. The more you allow people to share, the more they will open up and reveal about themselves.

But what happens if they say something you disagree with? Actually, this happened to me after I asked the doctor how they incorporate physical therapy with their patients. The doctor said, “I don’t”. I was a little shocked but instead of “selling” them on why they should use physical therapy and how they’re doing a disservice if they don’t, I instead asked questions to understand more clearly why they think that. I was able to maintain rapport and get clear on why this was the care. Basically, they didn’t know much about physical therapy and formed their opinion from hearsay. Of course, this gave me an opportunity to explain what physical therapy is and how it could help his patients. The end result…he became a great referral source and good friend.

Keep In Touch

When I was in college, I asked this girl out at least 5 times before she said yes. I learned the lesson that “people do things when they’re ready, not when you’re ready”. Just because the referral source doesn’t refer patients to you right away doesn’t mean you should just give up. It’s important to continue to reach and keep in touch. You can send an email asking how things are going or recommend a book that you’re reading or even an article that the person would find interesting. The goal is to stay top of mind. Research says that someone needs to see a message up to seven times before responding.

And when they do send referrals, make sure you thank them and continue to stay in touch. Don’t let this be a “one-night stand” and never call the referral source again. Show them you are here for the long haul and willing to put the time and effort to make this a mutually beneficial relationship.

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