January 4, 2019 | Net Health

5 min read

Why Your Outpatient Therapy Practice Needs to Start Thinking Like a Retailer


With the wealth of information available online, people are more educated and involved in their own healthcare decisions. Instead of passively receiving treatment, they’re doing their own research, seeking out the best services and comparing providers. All this has created a more competitive environment for outpatient therapy practices.

To compete for today’s savvy healthcare consumer, it may be time to start thinking and operating more like a retailer than a traditional healthcare provider.

Dan Stanek, executive VP at WD Partners, explains what this means in a recent HealthSpaces article, “Retailers aim to provide a different experience entirely, one where customers are moving, browsing and inspired. Learning opportunities, as well as excellent customer service, empower people to compare options and make well-informed decisions….You don’t get that feeling in healthcare, though consumers are now demanding it.”

What types of changes should you be looking to make? Here are a few suggestions to get your practice on the path to success in 2019.

1. Changing Your Mindset

Perhaps the most important part of adapting to the demands of today’s healthcare consumer is to start treating and referring to your patients as “customers that you serve,” rather than…well, patients!

“One trend I’m excited to see taking root is the replacement of the word ‘patient’ with ‘consumer’ or ‘customer,’” said Tannus Quatre, VP of outpatient solutions at Optima. “The notion of a patient who does what they are told is an old paradigm. Consumers seek value—they actively engage in the process of choosing providers that deliver the best experience.”

Of course, for all practical purposes they are patients. But they are also customers who have made a choice between your practice and the one down the road—and this fact needs to be ever-present in your mind.

Outpatient practices that take a more customer-service-oriented approach to every patient interaction will set themselves up for success. It can be as simple as how your staff welcomes a patient when he or she walks through the door, or how your facility is set up. Have you made it the type of place someone would want to come back to for six to 12 PT visits? Getting patients to finish their course of treatment is a constant challenge for many practices—paying attention to these details matter.

2. Focusing on the Experience

“Consumers increasingly value experience over product, and have come to expect personalized, targeted experiences…the healthcare landscape is no exception to this shift: it is increasingly driven by the needs and desires of patients,” said Anish Sebastian, CEO of Babyscripts.

This quote perfectly describes what’s happening in the outpatient therapy market. Your therapists could be providing top-notch care, but what patients will remember is whether they had a good experience. This includes every stage–from before they arrive through treatment and follow up. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do they receive convenient, timely reminders of their next appointment via automated text, emails and voice mail?
  • Do they have positive interactions with your front desk staff?
  • Was it easy to book or reschedule the next appointment?
  • Do your staff clearly communicate insurance information so patients understand their financial responsibility—i.e., co-pays, referrals or authorizations—and don’t get stuck with unexpected bills?

None of these touch points have anything to do with the actual treatment, but these are the experiences your patients will share online in the form of positive or negative reviews of your practice.

3. Leveraging Data

 Outpatient therapy practices are rich with information of all types: patient records, therapy reports, referral data and more. The real challenge is not the abundance of data, but rather making sense of it all. The key to managing this data deluge is narrowing it down to the key metrics that matter for your practice. At the end of the day, you need to empower therapists and staff to make smarter decisions. Look for systems that provide easy access to insights that can move the needle on your business. For example, you should be able to get instant views into:

  • How well referrals are converting to new patients
  • How your referral volume is trending over days, weeks and months
  • Reasons for patient cancellations
  • Which clinics are performing better and why

4. Boosting Business with Content Marketing

Retailers engage their customers through a multitude of online and physical channels (stores, websites, emails, social media, online advertising, etc.). This is an incredibly successful tactic, and many outpatient practices are adopting these approaches. However, as many have also found, it’s all too easy to invest time and money on things like social media and paid advertising and get nothing from it.

Part of the problem comes down to quality vs. quantity—a challenge discussed in this webinar about 2019 PT trends. Flooding your Facebook page or Instagram with motivational quotes or other “filler” posts may seem like a great way to keep your social presence active, but don’t mistake it for marketing. It just creates a lot of noise that your current and prospective patients will tune out.

Your effort would be better spent on a small, focused content marketing strategy. For example, pick a PT-related theme for the month—e.g., sports injuries—and then create a few pieces of informative content, such as a blog post or tip sheet, that you can promote through different channels. Be authentic and focus on meaningful topics that you care about. This is the type of high-value content that will help your practice stand out from the rest and drive business.

To learn more about the new healthcare consumer and other trends, read Top Six Trends Impacting Outpatient Therapy Practices in 2019.


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