How to Eliminate Physician Referrals through Online Advertising

For most PTs, it is unimaginable. To be able to thrive without relying on physician referrals. Most healthy clinics have a pretty diverse group of MDs that refer. The thought of a few of these docs choosing to refer to the competition is enough to make owners stay awake at night. The freedom that would come with being completely independent of the need for physician referrals is exciting. But how do we get there?

To answer that question fully would require a book. It would include chapters on: determining what your clinic is good at; how to do great public outreach; how to market internally, to your current patients and staff; how to attract and work with non-healthcare partners; the principles of effective advertising, and much more. For those that feel they already have a good start on most of these areas, much can be gained by executing a successful marketing strategy online.

This article aims to provide you with an overview and get you started toward advertising online successfully and in a sustainable way that you can do yourself.

Think “Relationship”.

When marketing online, the first mistake that many PTs make is that they try to advertise their “Physical Therapy” services. This usually doesn’t work as well as hoped. Most people in pain aren’t thinking, “I need to see a Physical Therapist”. They are thinking more along the lines of, “This hurts. I don’t like it. I want to be better.” They may have a preconceived notion of what type of professional can help them, but usually that isn’t “Physical Therapist”, unless they have had a successful PT experience previously.

For people that have not been referred to you, in order for them to consider Physical Therapy and your clinic, they will first need to have a relationship with you. If you consistently ask how your new patients find out about your clinic, you will know that hardly any say, “I saw an ad”. Before walking through your doors, they need to have a basic level of trust in you, believe that you are good at what you do, and that you have a high chance of being able to help them.

How does that happen? By you developing a relationship with them.

How do you develop a relationship with anyone? By being genuinely interested in them and by sharing honestly about who you are.

But that sounds a bit creepy outside of dating circles. How can you show interest and let people know who you are in a way that doesn’t come off as fake?

The easiest way is via “Funnels”. In this sense, a Marketing Funnel is essentially a pre-crafted journey along which you guide the prospective patient (Prospect). 

The Marketing Funnel

A successful Physical Therapy Funnel usually starts with offering something valuable in return for little or no cost or effort on behalf of the Prospect. This is something that the Prospect wants. Something that they believe will be useful to them. This is often called a “Lead Magnet”.

Examples of Lead Magnets are: Registration to a Workshop; a guide on Shoulder Pain; a free book; a quiz that will tell them if they are at risk for falling; a video explaining different types of knee pain; the first home exercise for different conditions.

How do you get the Prospect excited enough about your funnel to actually request your Lead Magnet? You have to create appealing ads that catch their attention as well as convey the value of the offer and also reinforce your clinic’s personality. Your advertising should be a reflection of you. People that are attracted to your advertising will expect it to be in some way representative of your clinic culture. If your ad conveys the image of advanced techniques, performed by Doctors of Physical Therapy experts, the Prospect will experience a disconnect if they walk in to your clinic and are greeted by a culture of informal fun and love. Conversely, if your ads are funny and striking, it won’t feel natural to the Prospect if your office feels clinical and formal. Your funnel should be consistent in its messaging for the entire journey.

Once the Prospect has chosen to receive the Lead Magnet, it is ideal if they provide you with some information in return. This could include any demographic data such as name, phone number, email address, street address, city, etc. As long as you have a way to communicate with that Prospect after they receive the Lead Magnet, you are able to walk them through your pre-crafted journey to the next step.

An alternative to this is having the ability to “retarget” the people that show interest in your Lead Magnet. This involves using (for example) a Facebook Pixel on the site that the ad takes them to. That Pixel allows you to create a specific audience of people who have some level of interest in your Lead Magnet. You are then able to send this audience additional information in the form of an ad, that walks them further along your funnel. At some point in the funnel you will still want to obtain some demographic data so you can improve your relationship with them, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the start of the journey.

The next steps in the journey can be a combination of any communication methods: phone call, text, letter, email, in-person meeting, connection via an online portal. Ideally this pre-crafted sequence of communication should be as automated as possible. This is a numbers game. The expectation is that many people will respond to your initial offer. Only a small fraction of these respondents will become patients in the first funnel they join. If the first few steps are automated and managed well, it allows you to provide meaningful content and discussion as they move forward in the funnel.

You should use a combination of these methods to move toward the next main goal in the funnel, which is the Prospect communicating with you. Once they have responded to you or asked a question, then you have the ability to move this into a conversation.

At that point you are moving well toward having a real relationship with the Prospect.

You just want to help.

Once they have initiated communication with you, it is important to remember that all you want to do is to help them. It may be tempting to tell them that they should come to see you as a patient. However, this is like trying to hit a home run on the first date: rarely successful and if it is, you will later regret it.

You want to imagine that you are their friend at this point. What information do they need that can help them? How can they get something of value without having to pay you for it? Really look for ways to help them.

As the conversation (automated or one-on-one) with the Prospect progresses, it is usually the case that they will require your services to get better. It is simple to offer them an appointment for an Evaluation at this point. At times, a Free Consultation can also be useful as a less committed way to learn more about you.

How to get started.

Now that you know the general process of working through a funnel, how do you put it into practice? Here is one way to get started:

  1. Work out what Lead Magnet you will offer your Prospect.
  2. Determine the process that you would like the Prospect to follow to become a patient. What additional information are you willing to provide besides the Lead Magnet. How would you best deliver this? By text, mail, phone call, email, Messenger, in person?
  3. Create a captivating Facebook ad. To get started, your ad should either link to an opt-in page that captures their contact information, or you can build a Lead Form in Facebook. The Facebook Lead Form allows the Prospect to share with you the information that you need in order to progress the Prospect through your funnel.
  4. Choose an ad budget and start the ads.

After you have made a start, the key is to track your results. You want to know how many patients come to you through this funnel so you can determine your Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). This can take a little bit of data crunching, but it is essential. 

The final step is to try changing different things about your funnel so that you are always working on making it more effective. The only way you can do that is by knowing your level of success at each part of the funnel, but most important is the final number of new patients that you obtained.

This process may seem imposing if you are a novice, but you can learn a great deal by just getting started. You will need an idea for your first Funnel and a solid ad. 

If you would like examples of funnels and ads that have been effective for us, email

Matt Slimming, PT, DPT