If you’re using metrics to keep track of patient activity in your practice, you know what your clinic’s drop out and retention rates are. (If you’re not yet using metrics to track these and other key indicators, you need to be. I wrote last week about one surprising—and invaluable– benefit of using metrics.)
But what about the PT world at large? How many of our patients are making every appointment, right through to the end?
The answer: not many.
According to research from Strive Labs, for every 10 patients who start PT, only 3 actually go on to complete their entire plans of care. Seventy percent of active patients drop out before they’ve finished treatment.
More than 90 percent of people who need our physical therapy services don’t get any PT care at all. But even within the small percentage who do, more than two thirds aren’t sticking with it. That’s a big problem for our patients. It’s also a big problem for PT practices, and owners working hard to make a sustainable living for themselves and their staff while contributing to their community.
There are plenty of marketing and engagement strategies out there, and you should pay attention to them. But you will not ever fully address the issue of patient engagement until you make a practice understanding the problem you’re being asked to solve, for each and every individual patient who walks through your clinic doors.
And know this: they are not musculoskeletal problems—they are life problems that have a musculoskeletal trigger. Remember, as a PT you are in the business of relationships above all else. When we talk about patient engagement, what we’re really talking about is an active, interested relationship between you/your clinical team, and each of your patients.
Whether you’re a committed clinician who treats every patient comes to your clinic, or PT owner managing a staff of therapists, this advice is the same. You and your clinical staff need to know what is bringing each patient to you, the why that is pushing them to seek your expertise. It’s got to be important, because most people who could benefit from PT never even get this far. And understanding that why is the key to keeping your patients coming back for the care they need.
What the life-goal focus brings to your patient relationships
A PT-patient bond of trust
This might surprise you to hear: it’s not your expertise that keep patients returning for treatment, showing up for appointments when there’s so much else pulling at their time and attention. It’s the relationship you establish—how your patients feel about you or their treating therapist—that cultivates commitment and follow-through from patients. Likeability and trust are at the core of an engaged patient relationship. We all want to be known and seen. Take the time to make sure you and your therapists understand each of your patients’ lives, goals, and hopes from treatment. That’s your patients’ biggest need—and where you’ll build the lasting engagement you’re seeking.
The behavioral change that leads to lasting recovery
As part of treatment/recovery, patients often have to make changes to their habits, patterns of daily living. Lasting behavioral change is notoriously tricky. Homing on the specific, real-world goals and rewards each of your patients is seeking increases the odds your patients will be able to make those changes during course of treatment. That leads to better outcomes, a deeper and more sustainable level of healing and recovery, and a more profound transformation in our patients lives. With these gains happening under your care, the odds skyrocket that your patients will stick with you—if you keep your shared focus on those life goals right to the very end of treatment.
Your clinic’s best ambassadors
The life cycle of the patient relationship doesn’t stop when your patients complete their plans of care. It doesn’t ever stop, really; rather, it shifts into a different stage. The more patients you guide successfully through full plans of care, the more fully healthy and satisfied patients are out there in your community, in a position to recommend you to the people in their social networks. Your work with these patients who have “graduated”? Keep your practice and its value front of mind, so they’ll return to you themselves, and recommend you to their friends and family. I’ll talk more about this important work soon, so stay tuned!
Happy, healthy patients are your most powerful ambassadors. We all know how much it means to get an enthusiastic recommendation from someone we trust. Strong word of mouth remains a foundation of patient referral—but it’s far from the only fundamental strategy that can bring a stream of patients your way. I’ve collected my most effective, no-frills strategies for increasing patient visits in my guide, 3 Simple Things That Will Get You More Patients and Make You More Money Right Now.