How to retain clients in your physical therapy business

When it comes to client retention, it’s crucial to run your physical therapy clinic like the business it is. Patient retention statistics speak volumes: Research shows that increasing your customer-retention rate by just 5 percent increases your profit by 25 to 95 percent.

A physical therapy business isn’t just about profit, of course; your ultimate goal is to improve the lives of your patients by helping them decrease pain, increase mobility, and improve performance. A robust patient retention strategy coupled with a caring staff will help you do that.

Unfortunately, the physical therapy patient churn rate is high. “More than half of patients, probably across the board, don’t finish all recommended visits,” says Greg Perry, senior vice president at EXOS Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine.

End each session with a pat on the back and a clear goal for their next appointment.

Time and cost are huge factors, often leading patients to question the necessity of physical therapy. Treatment plans usually involve two or three visits per week for several weeks. Plus, many patients pay high copays or coinsurance fees for each of those appointments.

“The biggest problem I see is that physical therapists aren’t hitting a home run every time the patient comes in,” Perry says. “But if they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, they will come. They’ll make arrangements, they’ll drive through traffic, they’ll take off work.”

The good news is that the best physical therapy patient retention strategies involve using the resources you already have to express your value to the patient. Use these tips to keep your clients coming back.

1. Educate clients about treatment plan consistency and completion at the outset.

The first visit with a patient is key for arming that person with info. “Explain not only how the process of therapy is going to go and the importance of therapy but also why they even came to therapy or why their doctor sent them,” Perry says.

The education and conversation shouldn’t stop there, however. Physical therapists need to reinforce the value to clients as they progress through their treatment plans to ensure they don’t self-discharge. The initial improvements the patient acquires from starting a physical therapy routine can create a false sense of confidence or security.

“They feel like they’ve gotten over the hump,” explains Brett Rivers, vice president of operations at EXOS Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. Rivers compares the concept to people stopping an antibiotic after their fever breaks or initial symptoms of illness dissipate. “We know that the prescribed regimen is to take the full course to reduce the chance of the infection reocurring,” he says. “The same goes for physical therapy. What happens with many patients, however, is that their swelling will go down or they’ll experience reduced pain or increased range of motion. As a result, they’ll think they’ve met their goal and skip out on the rest of their recommended sessions.”

To combat dropout, Rivers recommends ending each appointment with a review of what the patient has accomplished so far, especially in that specific meeting. Then, determine a task or functional goal that will be the focus of the next visit. “If they have that perceived value and they have a very straightforward intermediate goal that’s right in front of them, they’re much more likely to come back to therapy,” he says.

Check out five daily habits that can make you a better physical therapist.

Research shows that increasing your customer-retention rate by just 5 percent increases your profit by 25 to 95 percent.

Use the concepts and mindset of performance to help customize treatment for athletes and their unique goals.

2. Create unique treatment plans for every patient.

In order for your clinic to stand out and help patients achieve goals, every patient should have a customized plan of care. Unfortunately, too many clinics get caught up in the same old therapy programs regardless of patient evaluation, lifestyle, and goals.

Perry gives the example of the “Thrower’s Ten” exercises to treat shoulder pain. He says that if you walked in the door of about 20 different physical therapy clinics complaining of shoulder pain, about half of those clinics would treat you very similarly. “That’s what not to do,” he says. “There might be bits and pieces of the Thrower’s Ten that make sense, but you have to individualize treatment for every patient and think outside the box with your approach.”

Try to marry training and performance whenever possible with cross-functional exercises, he says, instead of separating the two and reserving performance for when physical therapy is complete. “That doesn’t mean we’re going have somebody who had an ACL tear running 40-yard dashes,” Perry says. “But it does mean we’re going to use the concepts and the mindset of performance — whether it be a high-level athlete, a weekend warrior, or just somebody who wants to get fit.”

Determine the functional goal and know that it will be different for everyone. For some it may be going back to work with less pain, for others it will be having the ability to do light work in the garden. For many it will be excelling once again at a specific sport or activity. “You have to keep that functional goal in mind, and everything you design for that patient’s treatment program has that functional goal as an end task,” says Rivers.

Try to marry training and performance whenever possible with cross-functional exercises, instead of separating the two and reserving performance for when physical therapy is complete.

Satisfied patients are your best marketing tool for referral business, so be sure to hit it out of the park every time.

3. Let your work speak for itself.

Many physical therapy clinics get caught up in providing free services, like injury screenings, to get new folks in the door. In reality, your patient-retention strategies are actually your best marketing efforts, and you should focus your energy on your current client base. “There’s a lot that goes on from a grass-roots marketing standpoint that happens when you positively impact a patient’s life,” Rivers says.

Every treatment you design for a patient's program should keep their functional goal in mind.

He offers the example of an injured high school athlete who recovers and returns to the field or court. “Not only are they going to go back and tell their friends and their coaches how great of an experience they had in physical therapy but also their mom, their dad, and their grandparents are going to see the results,” says Rivers. “The people who they live around, go to church with, and interact with in the community are going to hear about that experience.”

If you’re giving something away for free, make sure it’s a logo T-shirt or hat for the patient when they “graduate” from their treatment plan so that they wear it around town and spark positive conversations about what happens in your clinic.

Want to learn more? Join us for our performance therapy mentorship.

About the Author

Jennifer Chesak

Jennifer Chesak’s health, fitness, and adventure journalism has appeared in Healthline, Prevention, Runner’s World, SheKnows, and Field & Stream online, to name a few. She earned her master's degree in journalism from Northwestern. She’s also a distance runner and avid yogi.

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