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6 Ways to Increase Patient Retention at Your Physical Therapy Practice

Retaining patient is as important as earning new patients

Improving your patient retention should be a major goal of every outpatient rehabilitation practice. Many people focus most of their marketing efforts on gaining new leads. But it’s been said that it takes 5-7 times more work/energy to create a new patient as it does to keep an existing patient. One reality is that current patients account for an enormous percentage of your appointments. So it really does pay to keep those patients coming.

Most rehabilitation practices today have limited time and resources to devote to marketing efforts. It seems much smarter to be sure once you have a client into your practice, you have created an atmosphere that:

1) makes them want to stay
2) come back again
3) refer all their friends and relatives to you as well.

Here are 6 areas to focus your efforts so you retain as many patients as possible.

1. Start with a Great First Impression

There is much truth to the saying “First impressions are everything”. A client’s first impression of your practice can either bring them in or turn them away quickly. Today, these first impressions can come from access to your website, contact by phone or as a walk-in.

Regardless of mode of contact it’s crucial the patient feel immediately at ease and comfortable in their initial interaction. As humans we are hardwired to assess any new situation for safety or danger. If that first contact creates any negative emotions especially, anger, frustration, confusion or distrust you are not likely to convert that potential client to a true client.

Some things you might want to check about your client entry process are:

  1. Website access and user friendliness – What do you do when you can’t find information on a website or the navigation is confusing? You move on, and so will your potential clients. Be sure your business website drives patients to want to see you not make them run away.
  2. Telephone or in-person contact with your front desk staff – Are they warm, friendly, welcoming and informative? Are they equipped with the knowledge to answer patient questions? If they must follow up with more information for a client is it done quickly and thoroughly? Your administrative staff are very responsible for creating a great business relationship with your clients. Make sure they have the personality and training to make that work for your practice.
  3. Is your facility clean and professional in appearance? No one will trust their health care to a practice that is dirty or disheveled with equipment strewn about. For most people the condition of the facility says a lot about you as a practice owner and about the quality of the practice. Make sure the appearance of your practice says the right things about you.

2. Set Appropriate Patient Expectations

Helping patients successfully achieve their outcome goals begins with developing that strong therapeutic alliance. One of the most crucial steps in creating that alliance is for the patients to have appropriate expectations for their care and outcomes. Patients always want to know what they are supposed to do (or not do), what you will be doing with them, and the expected end results.

Just be sure you don’t over-promise a result. It is true, for any given patient, it’s very difficult to predict specific outcomes. However, if you promise a certain outcome then don’t deliver you will quickly have a very dissatisfied patient. Make your prognosis reasonable and in line with the patient’s desires. If you are unsure of how well the patient will do tell you that. Then let them know you intend to work to get them to their desired outcome and will do everything you can to make that happen. Patients will appreciate your honesty and accept that plan.

3. Build a Trust Relationship

Perhaps the keystone to patient retention is the establishment of trust between the client and the therapist. This starts at the initial visit with the therapist and continues throughout the episode of care. If patients sense you are untrustworthy, they will be gone, and worse, they will tell everyone they know about their lack of faith in you.

Building that trusting relationship has many components. The three that seem most important are:

  1. Give the patient a sense you care about them. Patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  2. Let the patient know you are listening and have heard their issues and concerns. Summarizing their history and their desired outcomes is one powerful way to accomplish this.
  3. Always follow through. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you don’t then you’ve just lied to them and that’s never received well.

4. Utilize Automated Technology

In today’s world people are looking for ways to make their already hectic lives a little less so. One way to help them is through automated technology in the form of patient relationship management programs.

These programs can drive your patient retention through a regular stream of contacts. This can happen through appointment reminder text messages, monthly newsletters or announcements from your practice, or regular email contacts. The marketing concept is to keep your name in front of the patient and help them to easily know where to turn for any issue that they might not be aware you can address.

5. Give Great Patient Education

Today most patients want to know as much as they can about their condition. Research shows that patients always do better when they are well informed about their problem, the treatment, the prognosis and the expected outcomes.

They also want to be empowered so they can be equal participants in their care. It’s been shown the more the patient understands their condition the less stress and anxiety is created. This translates into faster improvement and an easier episode of care.

One caution – be sure you explain in plain language, so the patient understands the concepts. Use of modern technology like an digital Home Exercise Program can help, too. There’s nothing worse than a patient leaving a provider’s office and having no idea what was just said to them. Just because you explain something to them doesn’t mean they understand. Make sure they understand.

6. Offer Superior Care

Finally, the capstone to these six recommendations is the focus on the provision of superior care by the rehabilitation staff. This means providing high value, evidence-based care that is focused on the problems identified in the examination. It also means care that consistently helps the patient see improvement.

In order to do this, you must have well trained, high skilled staff, who are continually updating their knowledge. Lifelong learning is truly paramount. Additionally, your staff must be utilizing outcome measures for their patients to demonstrate the effectiveness of their treatments (read value here). If they are not measuring progress through functional testing, then they cannot truly know if they are helping their patients. EMR systems make this so easy today it’s illogical not to take advantage.

Patients may not know the intricacies of physical therapy care but they do know if they are improving or not. If you are not helping them get better, they will quickly seek care elsewhere. Here too, they will likely tell everyone they know about this negative experience.

The bottom line

Every practice wants to be known for providing an excellent patient experience. If you look closely at these 6 areas, it’s not hard to see they are just components of providing high quality rehabilitation care. Focusing your efforts on these principles will provide a double benefit. You can retain more patients and you will provide your patients with a wonderful experience. Who wouldn’t want to keep coming to that and tell everyone they know about it?

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