The Total Patient Care Experience
Ensure successful treatment with a team approach.
By Julianne Gonzalez, BS, APTA-CPA
Physical therapy practice team members such as front office specialists, physical therapy aides, and members of the billing department play a vital role in providing a positive “total patient care experience.” Providing such an experience means delivering a high level of care throughout the patient’s entire process at a practice. This includes the moment of initial contact, the duration of the treatment sessions, discharge, and even after discharge.
Patient care entails more than just the therapist’s interaction with the patient, and therefore they are not the only ones with the ability to affect a patient’s experience. It is important to keep in mind the impact that support team members have throughout a course of treatment as well. Just think: Who interacts with the patient prior to being on the therapist’s treatment table? Who ensures the patient has the proper paperwork and authorizations to continue treatment? Who interacts with the patient each session to schedule appointments and make payments? The answer to all of these questions is the support team.
When I perform support team training, I emphasize that what we do is not so much “customer service” as it is “patient care.” I want the team to think about their ability to contribute to a positive “total patient care experience.” Below are a few things I find useful.
Moment of Initial Contact
Make a great first impression. The initial phone conversation is the patient’s first interaction with the practice and oftentimes sets the tone of the overall experience. I stress the importance of the three “C’s” to my team members: clear, confident, and compassionate. It is simple, memorable, and effective.
Listen and understand your patient’s needs. A welcoming voice that listens and understands can work wonders with patients who may already have their guard up as they are often in pain, have already dealt with a number of doctors, have had to complete mountains of paperwork, and are wading through confusing and prohibitive insurance policies. Work with your team members to use a compassionate ear to understand the patient’s needs.
During Treatment Sessions
Be helpful. It is an easy thing to do. Throughout treatment, support staff interacts with patients regularly by continuing to assist with insurance, processing authorizations, scheduling, and rescheduling appointments among other things. Simply being helpful can be the difference to keeping a patient on track with their treatment plan or having them get “lost” in a system they see as impossible to navigate.
Get to know the patient. Support staff often have more time to get to know the patient on a more personal level. An example of how having this information can help provide a higher level of care to the patient could be that it allows the support staff member to anticipate the patients’ scheduling needs, whether it is knowing that their daughter has swim practice every Wednesday night or that the patient is going away on Friday. Another example where knowing patients personally allows for “above and beyond” care would be knowing that the patient’s child’s birthday is next week and preparing a card. Each person is a case-by-case basis.
Discharge and Beyond
Celebrate success. A support team can and should celebrate a successful course of treatment with the patient. They have been on the journey with the patient from the beginning and have heard stories such as a patient who was unable to walk initially but is now able to take their grandchild on walks without pain. Celebrate with the patient their successful outcome.
Tie up financial loose ends. The last thing we want as practice administrators is to have a patient with a great clinical result end up confused on the financial end of things and have that confusion diminish an overall successful experience. When a patient is discharged (or soon thereafter), they should have a clear understanding of how their services were billed, what insurance covered, and what, if any, balance is still due.
As a nonclinician administrator of a physical therapy practice, I firmly believe that a “total patient care experience” approach is key to building and sustaining any practice’s success. When a patient is put at ease and feels that your entire clinic is really there to help them, you become that great practice everyone wants to go to.
Julianne Gonzalez, BS, APTA-CPA, is a PPS Administrator’s Committee member and the practice administrator for Greendale Physical Therapy, LLC, in Shrewsbury, Worcester, and Clinton, Massachusetts. She can be reached at Julie@greendalept.com.