Scaling a physical therapy practice is no easy task. Marketing to and meeting new patients is an essential piece of the puzzle for sustained growth. But in many cases, the search for new patients can take too much focus away from what may be your best asset for growth: the patients already in your system.
Regardless of the practice model you use, current patients can not only drive revenue (and in some cases, the majority of it), but they are also your single-best marketing tool for connecting you with more people in need of care. In this article, we’ll explain more about the untapped potential in your existing patients.
Current patients already know you; no need to make a cold sale
Between your clinic’s front desk experience and providers’ interpersonal skills – not to mention the treatment results you help deliver – most “new” patients can quickly become “returning” patients.
A Prompt survey in 2022 showed that 92% of clinics had enough currently active patients to fill their schedule to 100% (or more) capacity if they scheduled properly. But 80% of owners felt that getting more new patients in the door was more important than properly scheduling their active patients – and this discrepancy may be one of the biggest areas of opportunity for PT practices – both in terms of revenue, and more importantly, outcomes.
92% of patients had enough currently active patients to fill their schedule to 100%
When therapist schedules are full of current patients, you can spend less time selling to new faces – and not knowing if they’ll ever come back – and more time working with the patients you already know, who are committed to their treatment plans. These regular visits from existing patients can become the bedrock of your revenue stream, so long as you make sure they show up for their follow-up appointments.
It is reasonable to have only a few new patient slots each week
To ensure you can keep business running, keeping a few slots available that are designated for new patients is crucial. That said, you shouldn’t need to leave free time on every therapist’s schedule every day.
A new patient takes a lot of brain power for your therapist, so try not to overload their schedule with initial evaluations – and as mentioned earlier, an evaluation is no guarantee of continued care. A provider’s patients should be in the middle of their plan of care or getting close to discharge by the time you add spots for evals in their weekly schedule. If you overload therapist schedules with too many new patients, you will struggle to schedule your existing patients – and this can not only cause frustration for them, but potentially stall or set back their treatment goals. So make sure you give priority to cases they have committed to a proper plan of care, at the occasional risk of a potential new patient looking elsewhere for treatment.
Remember: Every patient will need to book out appointments in order for the therapist to guide them through their full plan of care. To enable patients to schedule out their entire plan, you will need the availability to do so. Once your therapists’ weeks start coming together with follow-ups, you can see what remaining time is available for first visits.
Utilize a waitlist
Having a waitlist is not a bad thing – it can actually play a major role in your growth and success. It means that when patients cancel, you can fill that time slot with another existing patient, and you’ll be no worse for wear. When you reach a point of patient volume that you need to add someone to a waitlist, here are some tips to get you started.
A waitlist keeps your practice busy and helps to improve your revenue, while ensuring all your patients can stay in the fold even if the calendar looks full – so they’ll stay on pace with their plans of care and achieve their treatment goals. One patient’s cancellation can be a pleasant surprise for another who wasn’t sure they’d make it in that week, and a well-managed waitlist can give providers peace of mind about meeting their expected income.
The right scheduling software at your clinic can help automate your waitlist and keep patients in the loop as soon a time slot becomes available (and help your clinicians keep a full schedule in the process).
Existing patients are your best marketing tool
When you provide exceptional care and customer service, patients talk about it. They will recommend your practice to friends and family whenever someone mentions an achy shoulder or low back pain, and they can also write positive reviews that will help you stand out. Word of mouth like this is often the best driver of new business, as it builds trust in ways that a traditional advertisement simply cannot, especially when it comes to healthcare.
Additionally, existing patients are likely to come back when something else comes up, because it is far easier to come to a physical therapy practice they know and trust. Beyond that, existing patients are less likely to no-show because they already know the value you provide. There is a good chance they will request to work with the same therapist – do your best to accommodate, as that’s the customer service they will remember.
Yes, every regular patient starts out as a new patient. However, after that first visit, and once they have rapport with their therapist and your practice, they are the ticket to keep your practice thriving. Don’t let the itchy feeling that you always need more newcomers take your focus away from optimizing your existing cases.
Current patients are your best asset, not only to increase revenue but to help drive new business by word of mouth. They know you and trust you, and will encourage other potential patients to do the same. Leveraging these patients to the fullest can play a huge part in keeping your practice busy and healthy. And the better care you provide them, the easier it will be to meet with and help new patients, from a more stable financial place.
About the author:
Laura Vroman is a physical therapist, health content writer, and creator of The Humanist PT, a new continuing education source for therapists. Follow her on LinkedIn (Laura M. Vroman PT DPT) and visit www.humanistpt.com.