Using automation increases efficiency, referrals, and profits.
By Steve Young, PT, DPT
Fourteen years ago and out of school only 16 months, I said “yes” to taking ownership of a struggling physical therapy clinic. My sense of excitement was only slightly overshadowed by a sense of burden: The clinic was losing $7,000 a month. I had before me the challenge and the opportunity to turn things around and to build the practice of my dreams.
My experience as a practice owner is that the growth of a physical therapy practice occurs in phases. The first phase is limitless optimism and lots of learning, next comes nailing down the structure and management phase, and finally the systematizing and automating phase. The automation phase of practice growth can be one of the most important and beneficial to your practice.
So what are the benefits of automation?
When you automate, you put systems in place that will generate beneficial output with minimal manual input. In other words, automation can produce benefit to your practice by utilizing minimal staff time or effort. Automation systems can help grow your profits, allow for you and your staff to use time more efficiently and productively, and help build the value of your practice while increasing the quality of your service.
So what can you automate?
You can automate many of the activities in your practice that are repeated exactly the same way more than a few times a month. Examples would be inventory management, generating new patients online, charging copays, sending correspondence to patients, prompting patients to write online reviews, education, and prompts to decrease patient cancellation rates.
What do you need to automate certain systems in your practice?
Depending on what you want to automate, the resources can vary. In most cases you may want software that has autoresponder capabilities, credit card process capabilities, your electronic medical record (EMR) system, and a mind mapping software or a whiteboard to map out clinic processes.
Let us explore several useful ways to use automation that when implemented could have an impact on your practice profits and efficient use of staff time.
I have estimated that it takes a receptionist working in an average practice two minutes to take and process a patient copay. That includes taking the payment, possibly making change, writing the receipt, and getting a signature on a credit card slip. So, how can we save two minutes on every visit?
By using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that includes a credit processing system. Several examples include, but are not limited to, Infusionsoft, Salesforce, Pipedrive, Insightly, Base, and ConnectWise PSA.
When your patient first registers for their initial evaluation, you can ask them for payment by using their credit card. With a simple script focusing on the benefits to them by using their credit card (saves time, less paperwork, easier to track), you can obtain card information. This information can then be entered into a credit processing system. From there, many CRM systems can be set up to autocharge with a simple “push of a button” for specific events like cancellations, visit arrivals, or equipment sales made during their treatment visits. Now, two minutes can be cut down to only a few seconds.
You can do so much more…
From day one, our patients are entered into our CRM system. They now can be sent a sequence of emails telling them more about our practice, our staff, our management, our practice specialties, and our practice culture and vision. This email sequence is designed to build a connection between our patients and our practice. It is used to educate them regarding cancellation policies, to encourage them to complete home exercise programs, and to encourage them to refer friends and family to our practice. We use a sequence of seven emails to help improve visit compliance (more profits and better treatment outcomes), to improve compliance in performing their home exercises (better outcomes), and to increase friend and family referrals.
Here is an example of a sequence of emails we have successfully used:
Day 1, email no. 1: Share your practice vision and office culture.
Day 2, email no. 2: Give a health tip and offer that you are never too busy to help their friends and family as well as them.
Day 5, email no. 3: Educate on the healing process while emphasizing the importance of consistent home exercise.
Day 9, email no. 4: Give health tip.
Day 14, email no. 5: Get feedback from them via a patient satisfaction survey (example: Net Promoter Score).
Day 20, email no. 6: Give a health tip and an additional reminder that you are never too busy to help friends and family.
Day 30, email no. 7: Ask the patient to write a review on your Google page.
Now that you know how you can save time and connect regularly with present patients, how can you generate new patients using the same autoresponder concept?
Using your web page, you can insert an opt-in form for visitors to enter their email address. There are ways to prompt a prospective patient to do this. For example, in exchange for their email address, you can share with them a health care–related video, more information about your practice, or a printed report or article related to the benefits of physical rehabilitation. The articles or video could be specific to your practice specialties. Many potential patients will find that information obtained via a special video or article will solidify their decision to make an appointment with your practice. Others may still hesitate. For those that hesitate, you now have their email address and can send them additional information and even ask them to contact you by phone if they would like to discuss possible options for physical therapy treatment. This automated system can generate patients consistently without effort once it is built.
Begin automation one step at a time and work with what you are comfortable with. It may take some time and effort to research the CRM and autoresponder system you wish to use, but once implemented, it can save you time and money and will help build your practice. Automation and autoresponder systems can also help you to better establish and maintain relationships with present patients as well as attract new patients to your practice far better than many other marketing mediums such as television, radio, or print ads.
Automation is the present and the future. It will be important to every private physical therapy practice to continue to explore all of the ways automation can keep our practices alive and well—and also save us precious time.
Steve Young, PT, DPT, is chief happiness officer at Body Solutions in Voorhees, New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.