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Patients Can Be Your Best Marketing Tool: Asking for Referrals and Helping Generate Word of Mouth

Your patients can be major influencers; even if they don’t have their own social media following. They may not be posting about their success with your clinic, but they will certainly be telling their friends, family, and likely their doctor. According to a recent survey, 44% of people with a positive healthcare experience will share it, while even more people will talk about a negative one. So the number one priority, before you can expect more referrals, is trying to make sure your patients have a positive experience—one that you would want to have if you were in their position! 

With this at your main focus, asking for referrals is the easy part—and something that many patients will be thrilled to help with. Not only can this be the most effective marketing tool for your practice, but it should cost you next to nothing! When it comes to utilizing patients to help generate word of mouth, there are four key approaches you can take. These will help get your patients talking even more about their amazing treatment at your clinic. 

Good old-fashioned patient word of mouth

One of the easiest and most natural ways to ask for referrals is when a patient brings up how excited they are to be feeling better and how much you are helping them reach their goals. This is your chance to say something like, “It’s so great to hear you’re feeling better. If you know anyone else that could be helped by physical therapy, don’t forget to send them our way!” They may even be the one to tell you about a friend, neighbor, or acquaintance with a concern. 

In my 6 years of experience as a physical therapist, this seems especially true when patients start discussing their joint replacements. It may also come up that they have a friend with a different musculoskeletal complaint, or even something they may not immediately think of for for physical therapy treatment (i.e. pelvic floor dysfunction during pregnancy or postpartum, vestibular issues, and even specific running/sports analysis or injuries). Regardless of how it is brought up, don’t miss your chance to say, “Our clinic treats that!”. You can talk a little bit about it and ask them to have their friend or family call for an appointment.

Utilizing patient relationships with referring providers 

There are a couple of ways positive patient marketing can come into play with patients and their referring provider. The first is to stay on top of when a patient’s re-evaluation is coming due, in addition to their next follow-up appointment with their provider. This is most easily done with post-surgical patients, but can apply to others on a case-by-case basis. After completing the patient’s re-evaluation tests/measurements, let them know you’ll be sending a note to their primary care provider and/or surgeon about their great progress. 

This is the key part: Ask your patient to let their doctor know about some things you are working on as part of their rehab. Doctors will likely ask how therapy is going anyway, but you want your patient to be reminded of what they are doing as well as the reasons why. For instance, in therapy they are working on knee range of motion with stretching and manual therapy so they can go up stairs. This does a couple of things. It helps align the patient, doctor, and physical therapist as a team. But it also lets the doctor know you’re serious and working hard to get their patients better, too, which can result in more referrals from the doctor. Win-win!

A second approach is to offer to accompany a patient to an appointment with their doctor. This would be on a more restricted basis and only offered to a patient if it made sense. It is definitely a professional judgment call, but in the right situation it can have a major upside. This scenario allows you all to have a group conversation to ensure everyone is on the same page, and it could also potentially introduce you to a new doctor as a referral source. Along with the time cost, you should also consider your patient’s comfort level, their doctor’s willingness to accommodate the request, and be sure to consult with the doctor’s office beforehand.

Online reviews and social media

Let’s be honest, asking for reviews can feel awkwardbut it really doesn’t have to! There are times when it feels reasonable and natural to ask a patient to write an online review. The first is when they bring up how great they are doing/feeling, and/or something they can do now (after going through physical therapy) that they couldn’t do before. You should first celebrate their progress with them and join in their excitement. Next, you could say something like, “Would you mind sharing your success in reaching this goal through an online review? It could be helpful for people in a similar situation to yours and they would also be able to find our clinic more easily.”

The second time that asking for a referral might feel appropriate is at the end of their treatment plan upon discharge, when they have reached their goals. You could say something similar about sharing their success with physical therapy at the clinic and the positive experience they’ve had. One thing to keep in mind with this approach is that you will probably not ask everyone to do this; you want to ask people who you know have had a good and positive experience with their treatment. While you should put your best foot forward to deliver a winning physical therapy session each time, realistically some people will simply have better things to say than others. Use your best judgment based on your interactions and the overall sense you get from them over the course of care.

When asking for reviews, there are a few things to remember. First, make it simple for the patients! You can suggest they write it at the end of their appointment while on a hot/cold pack or another modality. It may be helpful to write out instructions on how to complete a review as well, and potentially share it in an email or text that they can reference later. You could even provide a tablet with the review page pulled up, so that someone could complete the review in the moment without needing to reach for their phone. There are some software solutions that simplify the process of requesting reviews from patients. For example, if your practice uses Prompt, it can automatically send satisfaction surveys to patients at different points in their care, and then ask patients that had a positive experience to write a quick Google review by following a simple link.

Whichever approach you try, never pressure anyone to write a review. Remember it’s all about presenting it in a way that allows people to share their genuine positive experience with others!

Patient swag

Finally, did someone say “free stuff”? Some clinic swag such as a t-shirt, mug, cup, or backpack can go a long way in getting your name and logo out there! And it is very low effort on your patient’s part in helping you spread the word about your clinic. Providing something upon patient graduation from physical therapy is a great way to do this. 

As you hand the patient their gift, you should congratulate them on their progress and their well-earned effort in receiving it! You might even suggest how they can use itlike with a T-shirt, for example, it can be great to use for a workout at the gym, a walk, or even mowing the lawn! Not everyone loves a shirt, so you could offer a choice between a few items. People will be wearing/using their items with your brand and other people may notice and ask about their experience. Your clinic name and logo will have additional exposure through people’s use of it. 


Getting your clinic’s name out there through word of mouth can be easier than you think. With a little creativity and talking about referrals as a way to help share in patient success, it becomes all about helping more people. And if you’re delivering the best possible level of care and supportthe kind of experience you’d want as a patientthey will be excited to spread the word about your amazing clinic and team!

About the author:

Chelsea Krotser is an outpatient orthopedic physical therapist and freelance writer. Drawing on her experience as a PT as well as her former life as an accountant, she is dedicated to providing an insightful clinical and business perspective. She loves writing about all things related to physical therapy. You can find her on Instagram @chelseakrotser.

Prompt Staff

Prompt Therapy Solutions builds practice management software for physical therapy clinics ranging from single provider practices and startups, to large enterprise organizations.

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