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5 Tips to Help You Retain Your Physical Therapy Patients

A loyal client base is the most important asset for any physical therapy practice. Branding and marketing activities are all fair and well, but you’ll be pouring money into a bottomless pit if you can’t convert first-time clients into lifelong fans.

Sounds a bit dramatic? Let’s look at the numbers:

Those are some powerful numbers that should have all of us sitting up in our seats, paying attention, and thinking seriously about how to retain physical therapy patients.

Before we get into our top tips, we’ll first need to look at measuring how well (or badly) your practice is performing in terms of client retention. This can be done by looking at both your client churn and client retention rates.

Do you understand your client churn rate?

To get a handle on how well you’re doing in terms of patient retention, you need to understand it’s arch-nemesis: client churn. The churn rate of your practice is the percentage of your clients who stop coming to appointments before they’ve completed their treatment plan.

For physical therapy practices, the numbers are scary. It’s estimated that only 30%* of clients attend all the visits authorised by their medical insurance. Unfortunately, this isn’t a sign that your clients have had a full physical recovery, it’s more likely that:

  • Clients are not engaged with their care;
  • Your practice’s physical therapists aren’t communicating the importance of their work;
  • As a practice, you aren’t building a personal relationship with your clients.

And the result is that your practice is leaving money on the table. A lot of it. A rough estimate puts the figure at around USD250,000 per year if the average reimbursement rate is $100 per visit and, on average, your clients only attend eight of the ten authorised sessions.

Are you measuring your patient retention rate?

Refining your practice’s client relationship management process is pivotal to improving client satisfaction, which has a number of positive spillover benefits for your practice, not least your bottom line. A client goes through 4 important stages, each of which has an opportunity for you to deepen and strengthen the relationship:

  • New client – with a new client you want to offer a service that goes beyond their expectations and is better than experiences they’ve received at other practices.
  • Current client – at this stage is it important to optimise your engagement to deepen the relationship between the client and your practice.
  • Retained client – for clients that continue to use your services and have been loyal for months or years, you can start to drive referrals.
  • Client advocate – these are your favourite clients and your best marketer (and they do it for free!). Not only do they use your services loyally, but they continually refer new clients to your practice.

If you’re actively engaged in moving your clients from ‘new’ to ‘advocate’, you’ll be able to set your practice up for long-term success.

But how do you measure this?

By working out your patient retention rate. It’s a simple calculation that takes the difference between the number of visits the client needs less the number that they attend. If they attend seven of the ten visits deemed necessary for a full recovery, the patient retention rate would be 70%. You need to know these figures per client as well as the average for the practice. Not only does this give you an accurate idea of client churn by taking into account the variability between cases, but it also allows you to keep an accurate account of lost revenue.

If the figures for your practice point to a 70% PRR, you’re losing out on 30% of your potential revenue, which could make a huge difference to the financial health of your practice.

How to Retain Physical Therapy Patients: Our Top 5 Tips

As the saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. Once you are measuring churn and retention, you can start putting in measures to improve your ability to retain your clients. And the good news is that small changes lead to big improvements, financially speaking. So, what can be done?

1. Offer Superior Care

This is an easy one. You’re already invested in helping your clients. It’s why you studied to become a physical therapist, and it’s probably one of the main reasons that you’re excited to get out of bed and get to work every morning. So, all you need to do is harness that positive motivation and learn how to communicate it to your clients.

It’s clear that you need to have well-trained, expert physical therapists working in the practice who are able to provide high value, evidence-based care to help resolve the physical conditions of your clients. But competent care is just the first step – what’s often more important is perceptions, and that means communicating the value that your practice adds in such a way that the client feels valued and cared for. In essence, you need to provide excellent care that treats the client’s condition, then go one step further and communicate that level of care to the client.

Superior Care Tips:

  • Communicate that you are an expert – You know that you’re good at your job, but your client might not. Hanging framed copies of your qualifications on the wall is a good start, but your manner and your ability to connect with the client are what will ultimately convince them to trust you.
  • Convey empathy – your client is probably a bit nervous about the appointment, and likely very concerned about the implications of their condition. Use verbal and non-verbal cues to let them know that you care about their condition and that you’re invested in helping them improve their quality of life.
  • Listen and ask questions – your interest in the client should go beyond their pain problems to understand who they are and their lifestyle (both current and past). This will help you treat their condition more effectively and, by creating an emotional connection, they will be more likely to complete the treatment program.
  • Share achievable goals – well-defined outcomes that are measurable and achievable will help motivate your client to commit for the duration of the treatment. Connect with your client by choosing goals that are meaningful to them, such as being able to pick up their grandchild without pain or rehabbing their knee injury so they can return to running.

2. Focus on Education and Empowerment

To help ensure that clients are invested in their treatment, it’s important to focus on educating them and empowering them to become participants in their care. Clients have better outcomes when they understand their condition, the treatment needed, the prognosis, and the expected outcomes. If clients feel that they are active participants in their care, they are likely to experience better results because they are less stressed and anxious, and more committed to the treatment plan.

The best time to do this is during the first consultation. First impressions are vital and to lay the groundwork for a long-term relationship, you need to communicate that they have chosen the right practice and the right physical therapist to help them. You do this by connecting with them and laying out a treatment plan that addresses their needs.

Education and Empowerment Tips:

  • Use easy-to-understand language to communicate the concepts.
  • Be prepared to explain concepts multiple times, you’ve been doing this for years, but for your client, it might be the first time they’ve ever heard of certain conditions, treatments and terms.
  • Keep educating clients – don’t just dump information on them in the first session and expect them to remember.
  • Include a home exercise plan, so the client is empowered to continue their care at home.

3. Commit to Ongoing Staff Training

Regular staff training offers three important benefits, all of which contribute indirectly to the bottom line of your practice. First, it helps to motivate your staff because they feel that you are committed to their growth. Second, it makes them better therapists because their skills are improving. And third, they are empowered to up-sell and cross-sell.

Staff Training Tips:

  • Cover different topics including treatments, client communication, alternative therapies, and education on additional products or services.
  • Schedule regular meetings (usually once a week) but keep them short and to the point.
  • Set aside time in each session to get feedback on the previous week’s session and how it impacted your therapist’s efficacy and efficiency.
  • Ask for suggestions about what your staff would like training on, this will help you identify weak areas.

4. Build Loyalty

When thinking about how to retain physical therapy patients, it’s important to remember that every touchpoint you have with your clients is an opportunity to further build a personal relationship with them and engender loyalty. This starts when the client first contacts your practice (whether by email, through your website or by calling), and then continues to their first appointment and for the duration of their treatment. Even once their treatment plan has been completed, if they’re in your database, there is still a lot you can do to keep connected and build loyalty. It’s important that your client feels cared for; they’re not only interested in your expertise, they want to know that you’re interested in them as a person too. You also need to be prepared to follow through, if you’ve committed to doing something, do it.

Loyalty Building Tips:

  • Send a regular email newsletter to keep your practice top of mind and let existing clients know about your service and product offering. You can include new services, research that backs up the treatments you offer, and referral incentives.
  • Call past clients to find out how they are doing. You can add value by offering advice if they have any issues, and suggest other services you offer that could help them.
  • Offer printed materials free of charge. This could be in the form of information about their condition, which they can review at home to educate themselves, or at-home exercises that they can do to support the treatment they receive at your practice.
  • Send appointment reminders, as many clients appreciate a prompt that helps them keep up with their treatment plan, even when life gets busy.
  • Ensure your clients have all the information they need in advance. Particularly for new clients and those who haven’t been for physical therapy before, it can be daunting to arrive at a practice for the first time. An email that lets the client know what to wear, what to bring and what to expect from their session can help them feel more comfortable and relaxed as well as making them more committed to the treatment process.

5. Use Automated Technology

Technology doesn’t replace the client connection. Rather it enhances the relationship as it allows you to connect more frequently, consistently and effectively. Practice management software, along with other technologies, can help you build relationships with your clients on auto-pilot which supplements your in-person efforts.

The right software will help you reduce patient churn, increase retention and move clients from first time consults to loyal advocates of your practice. Engagement solutions allow you to monitor the client experience in real-time, reduce no-shows and client drop-off, and increase client referrals.

Technology Tips:

Some of the most important customer relationship-building strategies include:

  • Appointment reminders – we’re all busy, and it’s easy for a client to forget an appointment even if they are committed to their treatment plan.
  • Email newsletters – staying top-of-mind can be done automatically if clients receive value-adding newsletters in their inbox on a regular basis. Practice management software should integrate easily with newsletter software such as MailChimp.
  • Online booking – remove barriers to appointment booking by making your calendar available online so clients can select an appointment at a time that is convenient for them without having to call your practice.
  • Telehealth – many of the services that a physical therapist offers are done in-person, but there may be some appointments that can be done remotely, making it easier and more convenient for your clients.
  • Payments and invoicing – streamlining the billing process makes it simpler for clients to settle outstanding invoices, and frees up your staff to concentrate on other aspects of the client experience.
  • Referral Programs – make it easy for your clients to share your services with others.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

These tips form the foundation for how to retain physical therapy patients through excellent client service and support, which translates into satisfied clients and, in turn, improves return rates and your bottom line.

If you tend to focus on new client acquisition and haven’t given much thought to retention, you will struggle to build a loyal customer base. This means that you’re missing out on revenue and you will forever be on the hamster wheel of trying to fill your available appointments with people who are new to your practice (and the costs of acquisition are eye-watering).

*Strive Labs conducted statistical analysis on over 30,000 pieces of insurance data from claims that were processed in 2012 by privately owned outpatient physical therapy practices.


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