Improving The Patient Experience From Start To Finish

Sep 23 | , , , , , , ,


Even if your clinic offers a top-notch patient experience, there may still be room for improvement. Do you treat your patients like consumers? Taking cues from consumer industries can help you prioritize the patient experience.

What frustrates patients most?
According to data from the Cleveland Clinic, 85 percent of patients think their doctors could improve at least one aspect of the care experience. While most patient interactions in your clinic may be positive, it’s possible there is something that bothers people. Fierce Practice Management identified the top health care experience complaints:

  • Long wait times in the clinic: Patients hate to wait to see a physical therapist. Improving wait times may require that you streamline front-office operations. In addition, informing patients of wait times when they arrive or in advance can reduce frustration.
  • Long waits to get an appointment: Depending on the area, there may be a shortage of physical therapists, which may make patients have to wait weeks to get an appointment. More strategic scheduling can prevent this from happening.
  • Having to repeat the same information: Because patients may have to interact with different people within a practice, they may get annoyed if they have to describe an injury or ailment multiple times. Team-based care and better recordkeeping, including electronic medical record software, help physical therapists collect all the information.
  • Lack of empathy and poor rapport: Patients are willing to overlook many other issues as long as health care providers are empathic. In particular, physical therapy is relationship-based, and patients want this connection with their therapists.
  • No follow-up between appointments: To build on relationships with physical therapists, patients want contact between appointments.
  • Unclear treatment plans: Physical therapy patients are often dealing with injuries that take time for recovery. Therapists need to document a detailed recovery plan for patients to strengthen the relationship.

How can patient experience be improved?
Many different elements factor into patient satisfaction, and this can determine how long individuals stay with your clinic. It may be a good idea to consider whether there are any key gaps in physical therapist-patient interactions. However, self-assessments may not be enough. Clinics can utilize patient satisfaction surveys to gauge performance, Web PT suggested. Offering a survey won’t necessarily provide valuable insights unless you ask the right questions. Inquire whether patients are able to complete home exercises. Is there anything else happening in their lives that may make it difficult to stick to a treatment plan?

How do patients first contact your practice? What information do they need before arriving for their first appointment? Surveys provide insights, but you may need to consider each step of the patient experience, from the initial contact to checking in for appointments to follow-up instructions to identifying areas for improvement. The best thing clinic staff can do is try to put themselves in the patients’ shoes.

Initial contact and appointment reminders
Front-office staff should promptly answer all calls and be able to answer any questions patients may have before they come to the clinic for the first time. For example, if it’s difficult to find parking, you may want to warn patients before they arrive. Direct them to your website if necessary.

You can consider asking patients how they prefer to be contacted. Would they rather receive appointment reminders over the phone or through email? If possible, remind patients through their preferred channel. It can get the relationship started on the right foot.

Check-in process
Your front desk staff should be friendly and helpful to put patients at ease. If physical therapists are running behind, inform patients of an extended wait. It may be a good idea to collect billing information and copays upfront to avoid a hassle when patients are leaving their appointments.

During appointments
Physical therapists have a unique opportunity to build strong relationships with their patients. Although the lead-up to a patient’s meeting with a physical therapist influences his or her perception of the appointment, the direct interactions with professional therapy providers are crucial for recovery, according to Utica College. Patients need to trust their physical therapists to set them up for a successful rehabilitation. Without trusting their providers, patients may not stick to their recovery plans, which can significantly affect outcomes.

Whenever possible, physical therapists should work to build a rapport with their patients. Setting small goals, such as weekly progress objectives, to work up to major treatment milestones may improve care. Like other medical professionals, physical therapists need to be empathic, but they also need to push patients to succeed and meet their goals. Educating patients as much as possible can help this process and makes them feel like their therapists are highly involved in their recovery plans.

Follow-up care and recovery plans
Patients are far more likely to stick with physical therapy if their home exercise plans are easy to understand. In the clinic, patients have supervision and the pressure to complete exercises correctly. However, they may not have the same accountability at home. Patients can also get distracted and fail to adhere to their exercise plans. They are more likely to complete their home treatment when exercises fit into their daily routines.

Physical therapists may need to suggest alternatives for equipment patients may not have at home, such as stretching straps. In addition, it’s important to make sure home care matches a patient’s learning style. Online videos of how the exercise should be done can be more effective than a written list of instructions for visual learners.

Appointment scheduling
How does your clinic approach scheduling a patient’s next appointment? What do patients prefer? Some may want to schedule another appointment before they leave the clinic, while others may want to call. Try to accommodate different preferences so all patients have a better experience.


This article is brought to you by PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. PREFERRED is the nation’s leading payor management services network. Our expertise is working with physical, occupational and speech therapy practices – from single clinics to multiple clinic locations.