How Technology Can Help Create a Patient for Life

Tree heads with roots holding hands

Keep clients close with frequent communication.

By Dale Reckless, PT

Communication and Connection—they go hand in hand when your patient arrives for their initial evaluation. From the first impression at the front office, to your thorough diagnostic testing and treatment skills, the patient experience must be positive and encouraging. Leaving your impressive brand with the patient will help you as an owner, director, and therapist meet the needs of the patient from both a physical and emotional perspective. This is the reason our patients come to see us, correct? Oftentimes, even excellent clinicians overlook the importance of necessary communication and ultimately leave the patient with questions, either from a misunderstanding or a lack of information. Patients may go home with unanswered questions, leading to a poor awareness of their exercises or treatment plan. Or perhaps a patient may complete a treatment plan, only later to find out that they pursued therapy elsewhere even though it appeared that they were happy with their care and had great outcomes. Did a therapist miss an opportunity for connecting? The question then becomes why they went elsewhere? How can the therapist close the loop to keep satisfied clientele coming back when they need additional therapy services?

Having a plan in place that addresses the customer will be an advantage to your clinic’s success. When developing your plan, consider the following questions:

  • What can we do to help improve outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and ensure returning customers in our practices?
  • What metrics are important to you and your business? Are conversion rates on your radar?
  • Did you follow up with that patient who came in for the initial evaluation but never came back?
  • How about the patient who dropped out of their plan of care?
  • Do your patients return to your practice when another injury occurs?
  • Do your patients become active marketers for you and your practice by referring their family and friends?

Having a plan in place that addresses the customer will be an advantage, to your clinic’s success. On the other hand, a lack of organization and planning can be a roadblock for opportunity in your practice.

So where do you start? Have a system in place that will allow interaction with your customers at any time. Your hours of operation are not 24/7, but your communication can be. Your clients want connection and giving your clients what they want will gain you a patient for life. connection begins with the front office experience and continues throughout the course of care. Front office staff should be friendly, engaging, and informative. Therapists should provide education readily and with enthusiasm. Ensure your clinic has a process to continue the established connection through discharge and beyond.

When someone walks in your door, this is your time to shine and make this patient yours for life. Patients still have a choice where they go for physical therapy, but it is on your shoulders to encourage each patient to choose you. This choice is even more important when competing with hospital and insurance-owned systems.

Imagine having a system in place that provided you the organization and plan for each day and ensured that every client who walked through your door was tracked, contacted, and followed during the course of their treatment and afterwards as they are engaged as a patient for life. There are several automated systems that can assist with this process. Finding the right system for your clinic will ensure your success.

Automation of the process will increase your staff members’ followthrough and accountability. The system can also track the interaction with the clients and the communication. Have you ever found yourself wondering how a certain client has been doing after a planned or unplanned discharge? These systems make it easy to pull up their email and drop them a note. Your communication will provide an opportunity to keep the client engaged, and keep your clinic top of mind. These systems work by providing a line of communication that is both open and consistent.

Not everyone appreciates the same types of communication. You have three basic options: telephone, email, or text messaging. In one of our clinics, phone calls and emails are highly preferred over texting while in the other clinic—which has a markedly different demographic—text messaging is preferred. The communication is provided through a secured system that maintains HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance. The system requires approval from the patient to initiate any text or emails.

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I use this system in my clinics for three phases of patient care: welcoming the patients; providing ongoing communication during their care; and postdischarge connection. Upon welcome, I want the client to understand that I am available for any questions, updates, or concerns through the course of their care. I receive notifications in my email when there is correspondence awaiting a response so I can respond within 24 hours and there is no hesitation or loss of communication during the treatment plan. Sending ongoing messages during their plan lets them know I care and am keeping current with their progress. Postdischarge, I want to see how my patients are doing, letting them know we are available for any follow-up needs or if there is a new event that we can help them with. On the social side of our communication we also send out birthday wishes to let them know we are thinking of them.

Our patients have conveyed their appreciation for this type of communication through the course of their care. Discharged patients have come back for a new treatment plan after a recent postdischarge communication with them. Just today I had a patient respond to an autogenerated postdischarge text, regarding how they were doing since we last treated the patient six months ago. They are coming in this afternoon for me to evaluate a new diagnosis!

My first hesitation about this system was where I would find the time to implement and follow it in my daily routine. For the past two years we have used this type of communication and it does not take me more than five minutes in my day to respond to questions. The initial and follow-up communications are autogenerated, so I am typically just responding to those who have questions or have remarked on how they are doing. The system also autogenerates reminders for delivering birthday wishes and asking a patient postdischarge at different intervals of time about how they are doing.

Of course, there is a cost to these systems but the value of keeping our customers connected, happy, and coming back to our doors when necessary far outweighs the price. It is much less expensive and time consuming than alternate methods of contacting former patients and I believe it creates a more personal level of connection with our patients. Frequent contact through communication will get you connected and keep you there!

Dale Reckless, PT, is a private practice partner with MRS Physical Therapy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He can be reached for comment at d.reckless@mrsphysicaltherapy.com.