Every day, as a physical therapist, you’re working to minimize your patient’s pain. But is your practice inadvertently making them feel worse?
Hopefully not, but we’ve all been in situations where customer service could be better, or we’ve left a doctor’s office thinking, “I paid a co-pay for that?” If you have a PT practice, even if you’re extremely skilled and your staff is top-notch, there still may be ways that you could be improving your patient’s experience.
So if you’re looking for ways to show your patients that they are your top priority, you may want to consider a few strategies.
Think about the overall experience.
This is obvious, but we’ll start here. The patient experience isn’t all about the medical treatment you provide. From start to finish, you want to make sure that you aren’t overscheduling people, especially in the age of COVID-19, and that nobody’s going to be waiting in a waiting room or exam room for what feels like hours.
Hopefully, both rooms are pleasant and comfortable and perhaps offer reading material; not everybody has a cell phone to keep them busy (these days, most people, but not everyone). Hopefully, it was easy to schedule in the first place, and that your technology — your website, for instance — makes it easy for patients to stay in touch and set up or cancel appointments without having to wait on hold for long.
In general, you want people to enjoy coming to your practice — and not first think about the lousy parking or the interminable wait in the waiting room and suddenly wonder if it’s worth going. Moreover, with any luck, your staff isn’t so rushed and burned out that they can’t spare a few moments for friendly small talk, which isn’t good for the patient experience — or for keeping talented employees.
Think about the treatment.
That is, are you able to offer the latest and greatest in diagnostic treatment?
Or any diagnostic treatment? Too often, physical therapists are evaluating patients and offering a treatment plan based only on their patient’s history — without doing diagnostic testing. That’s bad for the PT practice — they can’t receive as high a billing reimbursement from insurers as they would if they offered diagnostic testing — but it also can lead to less desirable outcomes for the patient.
A patient’s history is important, of course, but you want to make conclusions based on current evidence and not only past data. Just as you might be able to forecast an accurate weather report based on the numbers you have, meteorologists know that things can change and that what was certain may not be the case five days later.
Well, one could say the same about a patient’s history. The patient’s history is extremely important, but you want to base treatment on what you know and not what you think you know. For instance, diagnostic treatment, such as electromyography testing, can analyze muscle health and their corresponding nerve cells in the moment.
A small pin is inserted into the problematic muscle to determine whether there are any nerve or muscle disorders, and in short order, the physical therapist will soon know if the patient has muscle or nerve dysfunction or any other issues. There’s no guesswork, and so the physical therapist and patient can both feel confident that they’re on the right track to treatment.
And, again, as a plus, when you can offer diagnostic testing, the physical therapist will receive a higher reimbursement from the insurer. Your patient, once you explain how effective diagnostic testing is, may feel more confident in your physical practice as well.
Listen to your patients.
This is a small point that you already know, and so we won’t belabor this. But bedside manner — even when there is no hospital bed involved — is so important to keeping a patient happy.
Yes, your practice is managing a million patients, or so it feels, but when you’re in the room with your patient, it’s important that you tune out the rest of the world. If your patient feels heard, odds are, you’ll continue to see your patient.
Talk to your patients.
We mean, really talk. Explain the “why” behind the treatments. If you want your patients to continue doing their work at home, and you do, it’s far more likely they’ll continue their treatment – and will keep coming back to your practice.
And be sure to ask your patients to repeat what you’ve told them before they leave you (in a non-condescending way, of course). If you’re giving somebody an information dump, they’re likely to nod and look like they understand what they need to do, which could result in them going home having little understanding of what they should be doing, seeing no relief, and then not showing up in your office.
We know you know this, but it never hurts to remind ourselves to slow down for our patients and give them a chance to catch up.
Check in with your patients.
Especially when it’s a new patient, you want to make sure that they’re doing their exercises routinely — and to see if they have any questions.
It’s a lot easier to keep a patient than find a new one, so you really want your staff to do some hand-holding in the beginning. It’s also better in the long run for the patient because if they start to lose focus or interest in their treatment, a quick phone call may turn things around. After all, a patient may need some clarification on some instructions that they’ve been given — and it may simply help to know that their physical therapist’s office is looking in on them and that the staff cares about their well-being.
Talk to your patients after their experience.
That can be hard sometimes. If somebody drops out, they may not want to explain why they left their program. If somebody successfully completed their program, they may just want to be done — and move on.
But some patients will be happy to offer feedback, and that’s the best way you can determine whether you need to change something about your treatment program and patient experience.
Of course, we would argue that if your practice is offering diagnostic testing, which is far more accurate than conventional physical therapy treatment programs, you’re going to have far more patients complete their treatment than other patients who may have been misdiagnosed (and thus have good reasons for dropping out; the treatment isn’t fixing their problem).
But the bottom line is that patients want to be heard, and physical therapists should do everything they can to make sure they are heard. Yes, the quality of the diagnosis and treatment plan the patient receives is extremely important — in other words, the physical part of physical therapy. But that emotional component, where the patient decides whether they’re happy or unhappy when going to see a PT, can make or break a physical therapy practice.
If the patient experience isn’t a positive one, there’s going to be a bad outcome for both the patient and the physical therapist. The patient doesn’t get better, and the physical therapy practice, oblivious to its shortcomings, may get a little worse.
But get the patient experience right, and your physical therapy practice will be healthy forevermore. We think we can help you with that, which is why we hope you’ll give HODS a call or send us an email. In fact, we believe if you become a Hands-On Diagnostics member, you’ll be giving everybody who walks in your doors an amazing patience experience — and that working together will be a wonderful experience for all of us.