First Rule of Advertising
Think back to any pharmaceutical commercial you’ve seen on TV. It usually starts off with a question of if you experience a certain set of symptoms. It talks about how your life is negatively impacted because of your symptoms. Then it offers the solution - their product. It then always ends with the same call to action. “Ask your doctor if you would benefit from (insert drug name here).” And funny enough…it works. People with those symptoms go ask their physicians and that action has become one of the most annoying patient habits that physicians have to deal with.
Now imagine this commercial. “Do you have (insert orthopedic injury - back pain, knee pain, foot pain, etc)? Does it keep you from enjoying those special moments in life…you know…all of them? Did you know there’s a solution that is available to everyone, sometimes without even having a script? Did you know that if you do need a script, your physician will almost certainly give it to you if they know their research? Did you also know that seeking this treatment first has been proven to save both you and the health insurance system thousands of dollars in medical bills, decrease your symptoms faster, and decrease your odds of becoming dependent on pain medication? It’s Physical Therapy!!!” Put a fast patient testimonial in there and a website people can go to that will map out where good physical therapists are and how to contact them.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Maybe a little too simple. Maybe…just maybe…the APTA can put their advertising dollars toward trying something like this. You know…since they haven’t tried it before and whatever they’re currently doing isn’t working. Usually one of the biggest problems with companies that fail is that they did not effectively advertise their product. They might have the best product in the world…but nobody knew about it. So instead of finding out what the problem is and learn how to get their message out, they sit at home watching their numbers trend downward and get mad about it. Then they progress to the next special step of blaming everyone but themselves for it. Hey physical therapists, I’m talking to you. The field in general is grumbling about their problems of not having enough patients and blaming the national companies or hospital groups for buying up smaller practices, and demonizing physician-owned physical therapy clinics for seeing patients. The whole time they lose sight of the true issue. Very few people know what a good physical therapy treatment should look like. I once heard a physician ask a patient if they did physical therapy for his shoulder. His response was “yah, I do arm circles before I play basketball.” That’s about the equivalent of a physician asking a patient if they have ever taken viagra before and they said, “yah, I have a tic tac once a day.” I recently heard a stat that only 10% of appropriate patients get referred to physical therapy, and only 37% of those people actually end up going. To me that says that the biggest problem is that physicians and patients both don’t know what good physical therapy is, where to find it, and what it can do.
So let’s stop assuming that physical therapy is a household name, and turn our marketing playbook back to chapter one. The name of this chapter is “You have a good product! Did you tell anyone about it?”