Market Focus: Physical Therapists
As patients, we often turn to physical therapists when seeking treatment for back pain, debilitating injuries or trauma rehabilitation. According to Julie Hilgenberg, advertising manager for the Alexandria, Va.–based American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), efficiently and effectively reaching therapists requires an understanding for and appreciation of the tendency for these professionals to be well-educated, compassionate and interested in learning the latest trends in therapy technology, business management, and treatment methods and modalities.
The 2008-2009 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook reports there are more than 172,000 physical therapist positions in the U.S., 52,000 in private or public hospitals, and about 17,000 in home health care settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that therapists’ median annual earnings for 2006 were $66,200. Physical therapists in private practice or other venues often teach, conduct research or work a second job in hospitals or for home health care agencies. In addition, the physical therapy field is expected to grow 27 percent from 2006 to 2016, largely because technology is increasing survival rates among trauma survivors and infants born with birth defects.
Physical therapists are regularly required to earn continuing education credits, and in recent years, hospitals and professional organizations have placed increased emphasis on establishing more detailed best practices and therapeutic modalities for therapy sub-specialties.
While there are some purchasing similarities when comparing this market with occupational therapists and chiropractors, physical therapists represent a separate field with distinct sub-specialties. To effectively reach them, it is beneficial to understand the differences between physical therapists, occupational therapists and chiropractors, as well as the differences in the physical therapy sub-specialties. Physical therapists provide services that help improve mobility, relieve pain, and limit or prevent permanent physical disabilities in patients who have an injury or disease. According to Donald Tepper, editor of PT Magazine, published by the APTA, these professionals treat accident victims and patients with lower back pain, arthritis, heart disease, bone fractures, head injuries and cerebral palsy, among others. When marketing to therapists, keep in mind that some treat a wide range of injuries and others specialize in pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, sports medicine, neurology or cardiopulmonary physical therapy.
Physical therapists teach patients how to conduct at-home therapy and how to use such adaptive devices as software, crutches, prostheses and wheelchairs. Therapists also help patients work around changes in physical function and/or form to improve quality of life at home and at work.
Physical therapists purchase a wide range of equipment, such as therapeutic tables, electrical stimulation, ultrasound machines, and hot and cold packs/compresses. They also purchase diagnostic and exercise equipment, materials used in patient exams, tables, and mats. They purchase mobility equipment, grab bars, adaptive equipment for beds, and such assistive devices as transfer boards, dressing and grooming aides.
Tepper says, “In PT Magazine, we have a mix of advertisers ranging from specific equipment, a good representation of software providers and employment agencies. We also have niche areas, such as manufacturers of aquatic therapy to things a [physical therapist] would use every day, such as stretching bands and orthotics.”
On the business side, practitioners buy insurance, outer office equipment and general office supplies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Jody Rich, group publisher for the Los Angeles–based Physical Therapy Products magazine, says, “Products that help physical therapists run their office efficiently”—such as pain management products, business software products and business management services—are among some of the most populous advertisers in her publication.
According to a 2007 Global Industry Analysts study, Wound Care Products—A Global Strategic Business Report, the wound care products market is expected to reach $15.3 billion in annual sales by 2010. In addition, the market for compression therapy and beds for wound care/burn care was valued at about $1.1 billion in 2005, with that number expected to grow to $1.6 billion in 2014, according to U.S. Markets for Compression Therapy and Pressure Reduction/Relief Products, a report from Medtech Insight.
Avoid Mixed Messages
Tepper asserts that it’s important to make sure advertising copy is “written for physical therapists, as opposed to a generic description designed for physicians [and] then rewritten for physical therapists.” He says that while “marketers and advertisers may worry about slicing it too thin, physical therapy is becoming increasingly more specific and specialized. It is important for marketers to realize there is a difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy, and to recognize physical therapy is a very distinct profession.” He also recommends choosing a message that is clear, direct and details product benefits—not only for physical therapists, but also for their patients. “Pretty pictures of a piece of equipment without details about how it will really benefit the practice or patient are largely worthless,” Tepper explains. “Include specific information, because the best marketing is an e-mail or direct mail piece people want to open because they know it contains something of interest to them.”
That said, don’t forget the basics. “Detailed, high-quality graphics and a catchy tagline are also important to catch busy therapists’ attention,” Rich elaborates.
Private Practice vs. Clinic or Hospital
When choosing lists to test, it’s important to distinguish between lists of therapists who work in hospitals and clinics versus private practice or home health care settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about six out of 10 physical therapists work in hospitals or offices. A 2007 Physical Therapy Products study of 30,000 readers indicates 99 percent of therapists at hospitals and clinics and in private practice settings play a role in purchasing decisions. However, Tepper also says those in private practice have more discretion over final purchase decisions.
Reaching Physical Therapists
Because therapists do not spend much work time in front of their computers, one way to maximize your exposure is by choosing online advertising venues carefully, such as industry and hospital Web sites. Some industry publications have created e-newsletters that are sent directly to therapists’ e-mail inboxes, allowing them to click on articles and advertisements of interest, according to Tepper. Theme issues, he says, also are a good opportunity to get in front of sub-specialties and niche markets within the industry; for example, PT Magazine publishes themed issues ranging from home health to geriatrics.
Rich and Tepper agree physical therapists appreciate well-crafted messages that provide beneficial information to their patients. Tepper says, “[Therapists] are stereotypically empathetic; they really are concerned about helping patients.”
The industry is working to generate more research and methods for evidence-based practice. “Ads that take the approach of presenting clear-cut, research-based facts detailing products that will help the patient recover are the most effective,” Tepper concludes.