The Marketing and Advertising Great Debate

We know via health services research that the services of physical therapists are underutilized. This same research supports a pathway of care that favors the services of a physical therapist sooner versus later. We are passionate about what we do. It either angers or breaks our hearts when we hear the statistics of unnecessary surgeries, the negative effects of ill-reasoned diagnostic tests, and the risks revolving around surgeries, injections and medications. Emotions begin leading our decisions to take action to create the needed change in health care. Most decisions typically have an emotional component, so we are taking action in a normal fashion.

Online discussions prove to be a poor platform for emotion-filled topics. For the past couple of weeks, an ongoing “debate” has been filling my twitter feed. The problem with twitter and online debates is the simple fact that the majority do not stop to actually hear different perspectives. It seems with emotion-filled topics the focus is typically someone is right and someone is wrong. Words are exchanged. The interchanges become convoluted with personal attacks – filled with nonsense detracting from the topic at hand. When this begins occurring, the only description I can think of is oikeiôsis. Nobody ends up learning or truly comprehending. It isn’t easy to appreciate differing viewpoints because the experience falls flat. The sad outcome is a feeling that professional unity has been sacrificed and a professional divide created.

I believe we can all agree that our education sorely lacks a business component. One component in business is marketing and advertising. I wrestle with how I want to be portrayed in my community. I believe in relationships and use that as my platform to gain new business. I love direct access. I share Michigan law with every single patient… and my farewell clearly opens the door for them to walk in and chat with me whenever they have a concern. I track how people walk through my doors for services and I am happy with the metrics I measure and know I have a strong, loyal following. From a business perspective, I also know that converting a patient into choosing me to be their one and only physical therapist for life is more profitable than spending marketing dollars targeting my whole community.
Although I know health services research is strong… and I have direct access… and change has to happen to improve the health care experience for patients, I really am on the fence with the right way to create the needed change. I wholeheartedly agree that we do need to get appropriate patients to see us sooner (and based on the amount of underutilization there are plenty who never even walk through our doors). I don’t have a background in the ethics of advertising. In my heart, the simple hashtags feel misleading. In my head, I don’t want every person on the street walking through my doors. I want the appropriate people. When I take of my physical therapist hat, and pretend to be a consumer, the message feels rah-rah and that physical therapists are the next best thing since sliced bread. I’ve been a bit fearful sharing my thoughts because it goes against what many feel is a physical therapist “hate” perspective.

A recent blog post by Erik Meira really gave me something tangible to digest. Advertising for medical services has only been around for about 40 years. Erik brings up some good points to consider. Because I was already on the fence, his writing has swayed me. I really believe change will happen when the care pathways are changed. Changing the care pathways involves what Erik mentions as a “seat at the table.” There is so much good information in the twitter hashtags… the resources are invaluable. I’m more swayed to think that these resources need to target payers and other care providers versus consumers. Some of the messages can definitely be used for consumers (depending on how the message was written). Although I am swayed a bit more toward being ethical in marketing and advertising, I’m still truly interested in the perspective of using hashtags to market to consumers. I’m not interested in a right or wrong kind of discussion. I’m curious about how the good that has been created can be used in an ethical way to market consumers.

What are your thoughts?

Until next time,

3 responses to “The Marketing and Advertising Great Debate

  1. Twitter is a great promotional media. What client do value are success stories and that can be a great sales point for future. This is especially valued in the medical services industry. While advertising may be good way of getting more sales in a short period of time and get better exposure, organic natural posts are actually more valuable in the long run. We them both:)

  2. Paul Potter says:


    Your post is good food for thought. Twitter or any social media for that matter can be great outreach medium to help create awareness and be a conversation starter.

    From that point a good website and email are excellent channels to take the conversation further. If the prospective client indicates a desire for deeper engagement a phone call or face to face meeting is the next natural step.

    I think that sometimes we can get hung up on marketing and selling and forget how powerful having meaningful, helpful conversations with prospective clients can be.

  3. Great post. I’d add that we don’t have a seat at the table and payers don’t care.

    Therefore, we need to market to patients and those that pay the premiums about our services.

    Don’t leave out doctors either. PT still gets most of its business from referrals.

    Fritz study on early access to PT for neck pain demonstrates the fact that people with neck pain don’t access PT first.

    I’d suggest that it’s our obligation as a profession to advertise given that our competition is doing in constantly. Substitutes for PT – chiro, massage, drugs, surgery (ads on Google offer surgery as an option) are everywhere.

    I agree with Paul – having conversations, offering options, and improving awareness are so valuable. There are millions that never see a PT first and end up having surgery and are completely inappropriate but may have received value from seeing a PT.

    I’d add that it’s important to match the market to the right communications channel. While social media is one one area we can improve, more focus should be on search. While a small percentage search SM via hashtags, we need to improve our presence and awareness on the most heavily utilized channel…Google.

    I can tell you that I love to sell our profession and I hope others will continue to embrace it. Selling is nothing more than matching a consumer’s needs with a valuable solution. It’s not about pushing something on someone that doesn’t need it.

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