Physical therapy is no quick fix solution. According to published academic research, typical therapy treatment regimens run the gamut from two weeks all the way to two years with session lengths that vary from 15 minutes to as much as six hours. It is therefore no surprise that outcomes are strongly linked to a patient’s commitment to their treatment plan and overall wellness journey. The sobering reality is that actual rates of completing physical therapy plans of care have been as low as 45.5% per the same article. Evidently, some patients are not seeing enough value for the time and cost invested. Increasingly high insurance copays and deductibles make the problem harder. Consistent, frequent engagement through digital technology, both in and out of the clinic, can help retain patients by building relationship and trust. If communications were to happen only when the patient is in the clinic then it would likely be too little. Also, just relying on therapists to take care of communications would be expecting too much of them. Today’s consumer technologies have created a bevy of expectations from patients like personalization, real-time notifications, 24/7 access, interactivity, device accessibility, and integration with frequently used applications. For therapy to stay relevant in the digital age, practices need to address these expectations for technology and accessibility. At a high level, a cohesive digital communications program has two pillars: communicating the clinical care plan and progress and increasing the level of connectedness.
Clinical Care Plan & Progress
Creating a structured, well thought out plan of care with the prescribed number and frequency of visits to improve outcomes is of course the first step. The result would be a roadmap that keeps all stakeholders in sync: the therapist, referring physician, and the patient. This would be backed by a video-based home exercise program that educates patients on proper form, but more importantly, should include tools and technology to monitor and communicate progress. If the ultimate goal is to improve patient outcomes, it is not enough to simply prescribe a treatment plan. True patient engagement and investment occurs when patients feel connected to your clinic’s team and services throughout their journey, especially outside of scheduled clinic appointments.
Appointment reminders and other timely communications with patients are another piece of the puzzle to increase the number of touch points and stay top of mind. The therapist (and your practice as a whole) needs to become an important part of the patient’s life and regular communications can make that happen. Increasing engagement would also offer the opportunity to introduce the patient to other ancillary services such as Pilate subscription, gym membership, wellness programs and become a part of their healthcare journey. Therapist time is valuable, so practices should look to implement technology and automation solutions to step up their patient engagement efforts. Here are some solutions to consider:
a) Patient Portal
A personalized patient portal that provides patients with direct access to the clinic and delivers engaging experiences across their treatment journey is a critical foundation for a good engagement initiative. For example, the Practice Pro Patient Portal offers a suite of features that empower patients and increase access to important services such as onboarding, appointment management and online bill pay.
b) CRM and Marketing Automation
The referring physician can be a key ally in the quest for patient retention and loyalty. A multi-faceted approach is called for that begins with managing physician relationships using a suitable CRM system. Add digital tools that make it easy for them to refer patients and marketing automation programs that further nurture the referral relationship. When referring providers are properly engaged in the therapy progress, patients are more likely to stay committed and invested in their treatment plans.
c) Mobile apps and gamification
Mobile apps can smoothen information flow and customer service for patients, infuse new vigor into treatment workflows, and boost patient communications. Such an app could enable therapists to talk to patients anytime, closely monitor progress on their care plan and home exercise program, and send out relevant news and therapy updates. In turn, patients can turn to the app to get quick answers, schedule appointments, and obtain alerts about actions needed. Gamification can also step up the effort to an entirely new level with elements such as feedback, rewards, progression, and social features. Patient retention is ultimately about communication and constantly reinforcing value. For patients, it is realizing desired outcomes and improving the quality of life. For practices, it is happier customers and more predictable revenues. The battle for retaining patients is being played out in the digital arena and technology is front and center on the pathway to patient loyalty.