A Physical Therapist's Guide to Patient Retention
by Sarah Stasik
Whether you work for yourself or as staff in a hospital or clinic, patient retention is good for your own bottom line. Physical therapy patient satisfaction — how content your clients are with the service you provide — is a major factor in whether they keep coming back. Read our guide to patient retention to find out what you can do to keep patients engaged with therapy and coming back to you for assistance as needed.
And if you're looking for opportunities to put your patient engagement and PT skills to work, check out the physical therapy travel jobs at Med Travelers.
Pay attention to patient engagement
When it comes to physical therapy, patient satisfaction hinges heavily on how engaged your client actually is. If they don't even know your name or feel like they're being treated like another chart in the course of your day, they won't be as satisfied with your treatment as they can be.
Lauren Lobert, DPT, OMPT, CSCS, CKTP, owns APEX Physical Therapy. She says the therapists at her clinic only see patients in a one-on-one setting with an hour devoted to each visit. "This helps to facilitate more individualized care and also more personal connections with our patients. I feel it is because of this that our turnover rates are low," says Lobert.
Engagement doesn't just keep patients coming back, either. Ryan Klepps, DPT, cofounder of Strive Labs and the director of onboarding at WebPT, says "patient engagement can mean the difference between successful outcomes and incomplete care plans."
He also notes that value-based care drives the U.S. healthcare system, and poor patient satisfaction can hurt a PT and clinic financially.
But with only 1 in 10 patients actually completing their full course of therapy treatment, how can physical therapists up the ante on patient satisfaction and boost retention rates?
The Importance of Physical Therapy Patient Satisfaction
Patient education is one of the first steps any provider can take to boost satisfaction. One reason education plays such a vital role in increasing retention is that it takes the fear of the unknown out of the equation. Patients are understandably nervous when facing any type of medical treatment, and providers that work to reduce patient anxiety by keeping clients well informed can increase overall satisfaction with services.
"We focus on patient education," says Lobert. "It starts at the first visit, educating the patient on their condition as well as the plan of care to treat the condition and also expectations for recovery."
While PTs never want to condescend to patients, you also can't assume your patient is familiar with the words and ideas used to discuss their treatment. Lobert says she starts from the beginning with her patients. "I often start with asking my patients 'Your doctor wrote on your prescription you have ___ (for example, shoulder impingement). Do you know what that means?' And most of the time, they say no. I draw pictures of the anatomy or show them on the computer and explain why they are having pain."
She doesn't stop educating her patients with that first session, either. "As we progress through their plan of care, I always educate the patient on why we are doing a certain exercise. This helps them to buy in and understand why it is important to do this."
Help patients own their outcomes
That education Lobert promotes leads to the next step in helping to ensure positive outcomes with physical therapy, patient satisfaction being one of them. Patients who feel in control of their own healthcare may be more likely to put work in toward a successful outcome — something required in physical therapy.
"Rehab-therapy is different than other clinical care environments, in that it requires hands-on participation from the patient to be successful," says Klepps.
He recommends supporting patients in owning their own outcomes with the help of technology as well as education. When recommendations for exercise or other courses of action are "delivered through a medium that is accessible anywhere, such as a mobile app, it presents an additional opportunity for patient engagement and communication. By giving patients an easy-to-access app to complete their care plans, it bridges the communication gaps, allowing patients to provide feedback, message their provider and ask questions."
Encourage celebration of little successes
How long a patient remains in physical therapy depends on a variety of factors, but some patients may be dealing with recovery and therapy for weeks or months.
"For most patients," says Klepps, "physical therapy takes a long time — much longer than many other types of care. Improvements happen slowly, and progress isn’t always immediately noticeable."
A perception that progress isn't being made can lead to lack of satisfaction, so it's important to use viable tracking mechanisms and celebrate successes and milestones with patients along the way. At the same time, be honest about the impact of PT and how much time it may take.
"The beginning stages can often be tedious and boring, and I am honest with them about this," says Lobert. "It won't be exciting, but the reason we can't do certain things now is because of how long it takes certain types of tissues to heal."
Both professionals recommend that PTs keep their patients informed at every stage of treatment, whether that's via face-to-face communication, an app or multiple channels. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, engaging and informing patients via a variety of methods — including social media — could increase the chance that individuals retain information about their care and become more engaged.
By honing communication skills, educating patients at every step in the process and working with clients to understand when progress has occurred, providers of physical therapy ensure patient satisfaction and help boost retention.