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6 Fresh Ideas for Keeping Patients Engaged Between Appointments

Patient engagement is key to better outcomes. We’ve got surefire strategies for helping you and your patients stay on the same page.

Charlotte Bohnett
5 min read
July 18, 2022
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There are no guarantees in life, and that certainly applies to retaining patients. Each time a patient walks out your door, it could be the last you see of them. One of the main reasons for this all-too-common problem is a lack of engagement and communication between rehab therapists and patients. 

In Clinicient and WebPT’s recent PT Patient Experience Report, we discovered that communication—specifically, between-visit communication—is the most important driver of patient-perceived motivation and success. Yet, only 30% of the patients we surveyed reported that they received regular check-ins between appointments from their therapist.

If you’re worried about your own patient engagement, there’s good news: tools like patient engagement software, automated appointment reminders, and interactive home exercise programs give providers a way to keep patients engaged throughout the duration of care, making it much easier to catch patient dropout before it happens—and even prevent it. But, it’s not enough to simply have these products—you’ve got to use them effectively.

Identify easy-win strategies to better attract, retain, and satisfy patients by downloading our first-ever PT Patient Experience Report.

1. Set appointments—and schedule reminders—during checkout.

If you’re looking for an easy, effective way to curb patient dropout, then I’ve got three words for you: automated appointment reminders. If your front desk staff still distributes handwritten appointment cards, then there’s a good chance your patient attrition rate is significantly higher than it should be. After all, appointment reminders sent via text message or phone call are significantly more effective at preventing patient no-shows than reminder cards are. (Seriously, there’s a whole lot of research on this subject—like this case study from Columbia University, which found that automated appointment reminders reduced patient no-shows by 34%.) What’s more, our own report found that 81% of patients preferred digital appointment reminders. 

That’s why your front office check-out process should, at minimum, require that:

  • every patient check out at the front desk after each appointment, and
  • staff asks each patient if he or she would like an appointment reminder for his or her next appointment. (Bonus points if the therapist physically walks the patient to the desk.)

Boost retention by scheduling appointments in a series.

Per our report findings, one easy way to increase the chances of patients completing their recommended course of care is to lay out the anticipated number of appointments from the start—and then schedule all of them at once during their first visit. Not only do 56% of patients prefer this method, but it also resulted in patients completing 1.5 more visits than patients scheduling one appointment at a time. 

Talk about a simple fix to preventing patient cancellations and no-shows, as well as keeping your revenue stream steady!

2. Stay in touch on social media.

In the early ’00s, most people viewed social media as a fleeting trend for Internet-obsessed teenagers. Fast forward to 2018, and everyone and their grandma has a social media presence—including rehab therapy practices. And with folks spending so much time on social media—more than 2 hours every day, on average—platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have become powerful tools for bringing in new patients and engaging with existing ones. That’s because social media:

  • showcases your company culture to prospective patients, 
  • lets patients interact with your staff outside of the clinic, and
  • allows you to gamify engagement through contests and drawings.

3. Use an interactive home exercise program.

As a provider, you know that patient adherence to prescribed home exercise programs is key to achieving therapy goals. Per our report, HEP use was the second highest driver of patient-perceived success among patients who would recommend PT or return to PT. 

But, ensuring your patients actually complete their at-home exercises can be a challenge—which is why using a high-quality, evidence-based, interactive HEP is worth its weight in gold. Not only do digital HEPs—like the one WebPT offers—let providers know when patients have completed their exercises, but this type of software also helps patients stay motivated by making it easy for them to contact their therapists for additional guidance and feedback.

You’d be surprised to find how many people prefer a digital HEP delivery method. We discovered in our report that the majority of patients surveyed said they preferred a digital HEP—and that includes those who are older than 45 years of age, too.

4. Connect outside of the clinic.

Now that  Medicare is reimbursing rehab therapists for telehealth services, practices that don’t have any telehealth offerings are doing themselves—and their patients—a major disservice. Much like a digital HEP, telehealth services allow your patients to connect with providers remotely and receive additional assistance with exercises. It also helps patients who live in remote areas or have limited mobility by allowing them to connect with providers from the comfort of their own homes—thus decreasing the likelihood that they’ll drop out of therapy.

Check-in on patients with RTM.  

Remote therapeutic monitoring (RTM) could also prove to be a gamechanger in rehab therapists’ quest for better patient engagement. RTM allows therapists to better measure adherence outside of the clinic and equips therapists with the data they need to understand what parts of the treatment are working and what needs to be adjusted.

5. Measure patient satisfaction.

When a patient drops out of therapy, the therapist is often left with a lot of unanswered questions like:

  • Was the patient not progressing fast enough?
  • Were they not well-suited to therapy treatment?
  • Was there something I could’ve done differently?

One of the biggest hurdles for patients is the difficulties of treatment on both their body and their schedule; in our report, 36% of patients who didn’t complete a plan of care said that their treatment was too challenging, or they didn’t see enough improvement, while 27% cited that the time commitment and scheduling challenges were their biggest hangups. Cost is a consideration as well, with 34% of patients giving that as the primary reason for stopping treatment early. 

Setting treatment expectations early on (including any potential out-of-pocket costs), as well as working with patients to create their treatment plans are important aspects of patient satisfaction and can go a long way to mitigate these issues. As John Woolf notes in this blog post, creating a plan alongside a patient with a tangible goal in mind will help you not only form stronger bonds with your patients, but also help them better understand (and remember) why they’re seeking your help in the first place.

Use surveys to prevent patient churn.

Even if the reason the patient dropped out early was entirely beyond your control, it’s good to know what’s causing patient churn in your practice. And in many cases, there probably was something you could have done—but the patient might not have known how to communicate his or her needs. Fortunately, by measuring and tracking patient satisfaction—and using tools like Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys—you can catch early dropout warning signs before the patient actually quits therapy. Then, you can leverage this data—along with outcomes data—to pinpoint any problem areas and adjust your therapy plan as needed.

6. Automate communication with patient engagement tools.

Another way practices can keep patients invested in therapy is through proactive outreach. Consistent patient-provider communication before, during, and after therapy not only increases engagement but also keeps your practice top of mind should a discharged patient ever seek therapy services again. But, remaining consistent in these efforts can become a challenge, especially as your practice grows. Enter patient relationship management (PRM) software. With PRM software, you can send admission forms, collect satisfaction and NPS data, email newsletters, and send out targeted marketing messages to keep patients engaged throughout the care journey—and beyond.

In a world without guarantees, patient dropout can be a common—yet discouraging—reality. But, with the right tools—and some proactive process improvements—you can be sure your patients won’t forget about you. Got any patient engagement tips of your own? Let us know in the comment section below!


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