Kimmer Neill, Director of Rehab

You might not have gone to school for marketing, but if you get a new modality for your clinic, you’ll very quickly find yourself wearing a marketer’s hat. This is what happened to our team at Port Charlotte Rehab Center when we purchased an advanced therapy pool with an integrated underwater treadmill, resistance jets and more. 

Marketing was not a role in which we felt 100% comfortable at first, but it has become second nature to us. It’s a true testament to the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.”

After making our investment, we immediately recognized the need for a comprehensive, deliberately-composed business plan with a strong focus on marketing to internal and external sources. Our goal was to build brand awareness, pool utilization, doctor referrals, self-referrals and general interest. Two years into our planning, we have made significant progress thanks to the following elements:

We built a strong team. Our team was already on its way to being world-class. To put us over the top, we made sure all physical therapists were certified in aquatics, and our director has advanced training. This ensures that everyone has expertise in and passion for aquatics. I don’t believe in hiring cookie-cutter therapists; our team members have specialties. 

Study your demographics and see what your area needs. Then, build a team around those needs. We actively visited doctors and gave them “open house” tours. It can be intimidating to set up appointments and meet with doctors, but we found it necessary and fruitful. For instance, we went to physicians who worked with pulmonary patients and explained how the built-in treadmill allowed individuals to have their oxygen at the side of the pool and still build stamina in the water. This intrigued the doctors, who agreed to come for visits. 

As soon as the doctors saw our therapy pool modality, they were impressed and got on board with aquatics. We did the same with other doctors, such as those who dealt with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s. We started with medical professionals who were most likely to refer and then worked our way to general physicians. 

Believe it or not, we get referrals from that source too. We held a CEU event for doctors. It’s impossible to do too much for the doctors who are going to help you move your program forward. This is one of the reasons we did a CEU program to show all the equipment we had, including the pool. We had all the doctors we could get come in and see our high-tech gym. Then, we held the CEU coursework onsite at our facility. Not many rehab places have the equipment, so they were blown away. We offered them something they needed.

We worked with case managers. Case managers are great resources for referrals. Looking for creative ways to get them into our clinic, we tried a number of events. 

In one case, we brought in all the case managers and gave them hams before Thanksgiving. Every four months, we have a wine and cheese evening. The case managers actually bring their swimming suits and try out the pool. They love getting hands-on with our equipment, and their belief in our facility has increased our business. 

Certainly, we’ve engaged in traditional advertising as well, such as holiday baskets, flyers and even pop-ins to doctors’ offices. The key has been to develop a systematic marketing plan and not take a random approach. If you just say, “We have aquatics!”, people will not come. You have to create your niche, like Parkinson’s foundations have done with the “Big and Loud” program. Remember that it’s what you’re doing that really matters and counts. Take time to develop your game plan and work it to the best of your ability. You’ll be surprised at how receptive people will be and how quickly your successes come.

Kimmer O’Neill, DOR/MOTR, has been serving as the Director of Rehab for Clear Choice’s Port Charles, Florida facility since 2009. She received a master’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of Florida and specializes in traumatic hand injuries. She loves snowboarding, surfing, boating and island-living with her two English labradors.