How to Build Your Case Load as a New PT

By Kate Cysewski, PT, DPT

In graduate school, you learn how to evaluate and treat patients, but no one prepares you for how to get those patients to come and see you in the first place. Having a great administrative staff that filters new patients your way certainly helps, but the rate at which new patients matriculate into your clinic may not be as quick as it needs to be to fill your schedule. Additionally, “new” patients may actually be previous patients of seasoned physical therapists in your clinic and they might not be as open to working with someone they do not know. Over the course of my first 6 months as a new PT, I have utilized the following 4 techniques to bulk up my case load:

  1. Introduce yourself to everyone

This is absolutely key to developing a good rapport with your employees, who will be one of the best referral sources, as well as with patients. There is no way that current patients will know you exist if you do not go out of your way to make yourself known. To every patient that walks into the door, confidently approach them, introduce yourself, and shake their hand. You should also tell the patient how excited you are to be working with and learning from such amazing PTs and that you would love to take this opportunity to learn even more by following along during their treatment session. This leads me to my next tip…

  1. Organize co-treats with more senior PTs

            Co-treats are not only an amazing learning experience, but probably the best way to get patients to become more familiar with you and your hands. Take this time to ask your colleagues questions and talk through your thought process, similar to when you were a student. This shows the patient that you are eager to learn and care about their case, even though you are not technically the treating therapist. A perfect time for a co-treat is at the Initial Evaluation, as long as it is ok with the assigned therapist and patient, because the patient has not developed a relationship with the treating therapist and may be more open to jumping onto your schedule for follow-up appointments. Regardless of when the co-treat happens, always end the session telling the patient that you really want him/her to get onto your schedule, so that you can work on “x, y, and z.”

  1. Market yourself and your company to local doctors and businesses

            Not only are you your own brand, but you also represent your clinic and it is important that local MDs and businesses can make that connection. There may be MDs in the area that already refer patients to you, but they just don’t know that you exist. Reach out and set up a time to shadow MDs and talk to local fitness centers, sports retail stores, and even restaurants to organize an in-service and/or drop off cards and other information, so they have a better idea of who you and your company are. Ask them about themselves, how long they’ve been in the area, and if you can have business cards and information packets to display in your clinic. This way they know that you are trying to develop a reciprocal relationship.

  1. Ask for help early, rather than later

            When you start seeing your own patients, have a clear idea of what are the major dysfunctions you will work on first. Even though you feel confident in your direction of treatment, talk things through with your colleagues. As a new graduate, you are using hypothetical deductive reasoning, meaning you should be developing several possible diagnoses and performing tests to confirm or deny them. More senior therapists typically work using pattern recognition, so they can more easily conclude what is likely going on with patients based on their past experiences. Use their experience to your advantage, so that you can begin to develop your own pattern recognition. Additionally, when you are getting stuck with a particular patient, reach out for help as soon as possible to keep your momentum going. Patients are more intuitive than you think and can tell when you are struggling, so own up to it! Remind them that you care about their success with PT and want to arrange a treatment session where another, more senior PT, will be present to have a second set of eyes and hands on them to help guide you in a direction that will be most beneficial for the them.

These tips are not just for the first 6 months to 1 year out of graduate school, they are good habits to continue throughout your career to maintain a consistent case load.