As physical therapists, we’re all too familiar with the constant balancing act of delivering the highest quality, most holistic one-on-one care to our patients while simultaneously treating enough patients to keep our practices financially healthy. At first glance, these two goals seem to exist as a part of two completely different schools of thought. After all, if you’re trying to cram as many appointments as possible into your day, it becomes difficult to provide each patient with the personalized care he or she deserves. But in truth, both goals are intrinsically linked—something that becomes clear when therapists stop worrying about bringing in more patients and start focusing on retaining the patients they already have.
Patient retention is a team effort.
Patient engagement shouldn’t be a sporadic endeavor; in fact, it should be a priority from the very start. Ultimately, high levels of engagement translate into tremendous results in terms of outcomes and patient satisfaction—key ingredients in the recipe for retention—so patient engagement has to be a priority throughout the entire clinic. That requires starting off on the right foot with every patient—which means building rapport and setting clear expectations with him or her from the get-go (ideally, before that patient even sets foot in your clinic).
To that end, patient engagement shouldn’t fall solely on the provider. It’s a team effort that requires buy-in from every individual who interacts with patients. For example, during the very first phone call, your front-office staff must set expectations for the initial visit. Some of these expectations include:
- what will occur during the first visit,
- how long the appointment will likely take,
- where to park,
- cancellation and no-show policies,
- the patient’s financial responsibility, and
- any paperwork the patient will have to complete.
This may sound like a lot of information to cover during that initial call, but stellar front-office personnel should be able to weave it together in a way that makes patients feel supported and taken care of—as opposed to inundated. Remember, this call kicks off your practice’s engagement efforts with each individual patient. To keep the good communication vibes going after this initial conversation, I recommend sending patients a follow-up email to ensure they have all the relevant information in writing to review before their first appointment.
In the days and weeks that follow, nurturing this relationship should be ongoing endeavor. Each time the patient arrives at the clinic, for example, front-office staff and clinicians should greet him or her by name and maintain a generally warm, friendly demeanor.
Having rapport with patients helps you set better treatment goals—and ultimately, deliver better outcomes.
When you lay the foundation for a strong provider-patient bond early in the treatment process, it’ll position you to continue nurturing a strong rapport going forward. This is crucial, because good rapport translates into better engagement, which leads to increased retention. Every interaction between a patient and his or her provider is an opportunity to build rapport and thus, increase patient trust and loyalty. That said, building the kind of rapport that improves outcomes and increases retention requires a little more from you than simply telling your patients what you want them to do—and when.
Don’t get me wrong: clear direction and communication are fundamental to improving patient health. But, actually getting to know your patients—including their values, personal obstacles, and motivations for completing therapy—is essential if you want to develop the best, most personalized exercise plan and communication strategy possible. By gaining a better understanding of each individual patient—and facilitating open and honest dialogue—you can establish treatment goals that align with not only your clinical expertise, but also the patient’s perspective and abilities. To do this, you should:
- ask your patients what they’re capable of and willing to make time for; and
- make it a point to re-evaluate this in a few weeks when you’re able to assess progress, or lack thereof, based on outcomes data.
This will help you set a treatment schedule that works for both of you, and getting this type of verbal commitment from your patients early may improve their chances of actually following through. This is also a great time to have a conversation about the importance of home exercise programs in terms of expediting the recovery process. This not only empowers the patient to take a more active role in his or her care plan, but also further increases engagement—and consequently, retention—as the patient moves closer to achieving his or her health goals. And that’s a win-win for everyone.
Patient milestones are worth celebrating.
Speaking of achieving health goals, whenever your patient marks an achievement—no matter how big or small—make sure you take the time to celebrate. Even a simple pat on the back can help keep that positive momentum going until your patient reaches that next win—and it’ll reinforce the importance of continuing to attend therapy appointments regularly. Also, if you keep providing this kind of support after the patient has been discharged, you’ll keep your patients engaged with your practice in case they ever need your services again, thus taking your retention efforts to a whole new level. In fact, you can take advantage of this continued momentum by using patient relationship management (PRM) software to target and reactivate past patients for wellness and health maintenance services. And, because the whole process is automated, it’ll ensure that all former patients receive consistent, valuable, and relevant content—without putting any additional burden on you or your staff.
To me, there’s no question that patient retention is key to ensuring the health of your patients and your practice’s bottom line. That’s why my colleagues and I decided to cover this very topic during a free webinar detailing eight actionable strategies you can start using in your clinic immediately to nip patient attrition in the bud and thus, create better patient outcomes and grow your practice’s revenue. So, if you’re ready make patient attrition a thing of the past in your clinic, watch our free webinar and knock out patient dropout for good.
About the Author
Heidi Jannenga is co-founder and president of WebPT, the leading physical therapy software platform for enhancing patient care and fueling business growth. She has more than 15 years of experience as a physical therapist and clinic director, and she’s an active member of the sports and private practice sections of the APTA as well as the PT-PAC Board of Trustees.