APTA 2014 Session Recap: The Success of the Profession Lies in the Consumer: Who Are They?

This post is part of our recap from attending the American Physical Therapy Association Combined Sections Meeting in Las Vegas Feb. 3-6.


Andy Lodato, MPT

Jerry Durham, PT

This session from Jerry Durham, cofounder of San Francisco Spine and Sport and Andy Lodato, cofounder of PhysioCarePT in the Private Practice section explored how the business of physical therapy needs to consider patients as consumers first, even in states where patients do not have direct access to physical therapy. The patient as consumer is a popular theme in healthcare these days, as high-deductible plans increase out-of-pocket costs and make patients more discerning about the cost-value relationship in their care, and many of the ideas in the session were appropriate to both private practice and hospital outpatient settings.

The session began with Andy talking about how he and his business partners transformed their business from the early days when they “said yes to everyone”, that is they accepted every patient even if the terms of that patients insurance caused them to operate at a loss. While this may seem like a great thing to do for patients, they also weren’t discerning in whether they accepted patients that appreciated the value that PhysioCarePT provided. This devalued their brand promise. Now Andy and team target the “conscious consumer”: the patient that connects with the value that Physiocare provides. Andy also talked about how the profession is so focused on measuring patient outcomes but does not measure business outcomes. His business turned around when he started applying this same rigor to the business.

After taking this approach, Andy and his partners started actively targeting patients that would appreciate the value that Physiocare provided. He works in an extremely competitive market, however, also a market that has a well-educated, athletic, and well-insured patient base.

Andy outlined some of the ways in which he and his staff cultivate relationships with patients as consumers. All of the physical therapists at the clinic are expected to network and market the value of the services they offer. Here are some of the ways they do that:

  • They share infrequently on Facebook: only when they have something important to say, for example, the most successful Facebook campaign included a pair of Nike running shoes designed  with the custom colors of PhysioCare’s branding. This attracted the most likes and shares of any campaign.
  • Similar to other best practices we’ve written about, PhysioCare created a “Solemate’s Running Group” that meets weekly. This serves two purposes, it shows patients that you care about their goals, and also keeps you top of mind when injuries occur, as they do for the majority of runners.
  • PhysioCare offers community lectures on topics like whether young ballerinas are ready to dance on point, corporate fitness programs, the right way to carry a baby to prevent back injuries. These events are a pure community service but also establish PhysioCare PTs as experts in topics “conscious consumers” care about.

Andy talked a bit about referrals from doctors, often a contentious topic: should you market to the doctors or their patients? First off, Andy said he never buys lunch, referring to the practice of sending gifts to doctor’s offices, he works on establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. He works with a group of 7 surgeons who refer patients to him, while his team refers patients to them if they think they require surgery. Surgeons would rather spend their time with patients who require surgery, so this provides them with well-qualified leads. Andy considered the relationship a success as his team had not even met some of the surgeons who had been referring patients back and forth.

Next up was the eminently tweetable Jerry Durham. The person beside me said that the whole profession would be moved forward if you could bottle Jerry. Jerry also has a “no lunches” policy. He wants to place his business in the center of a healthcare team, including doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and physical therapists. Sending over lunch devalues his organization as part of the team. (Disclosure, I once bought Jerry lunch: won’t be doing that again. 😉 )

While Jerry thinks constantly about the patient experience from the first contact with his office through billing, he does admit to marketing to the providers for referrals. However, similar to Andy, he also thinks about targeting the right type of “provider consumer” that is, a referring doctor who understands the value that a physical therapist can offer to the patient’s recovery or in preventing injuries. He focuses on what’s most important to these providers and to their patients, and makes sure his team delivers on it, and surprisingly, outcomes are often not the most important thing for patients.

He cited some basic things that make the difference to the patient:

None of these things have anything to do with outcomes or how knowledgable the physical therapist is. As Jerry puts it “outcomes are not a value proposition.” Patients expect outcomes, how they value the care they receive is comprised of a myriad of other factors. Do you know what your patients value?

Here’s a selection of our tweets from the session.

Tweets from the APTA Conference

Posted in: Healthcare Disruption, Rehabilitation Business

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