New patient volume is incredibly important for rehab therapy practices. After all, you’ve likely spent quite a bit of effort marketing directly to patients or referral sources to ensure those patients who could benefit from your services actually do. So, when that new prospective patient calls to book his or her first appointment, it’s imperative that your practice handle that call well. Otherwise, you risk setting the tone for a less-than-stellar patient experience—or worse, turning that patient away for good. With that in mind, we’ve put together six things to say when scheduling patient appointments:
1. Tell me why you’re seeking care.
Not only will this request enable you to collect valuable information about what ails the person on the other end of the line—information you can use to form your value proposition for the patient—but it also opens the door for the prospective patient to share his or her story. Practice active listening, and you’ll ensure the patient feels heard—an important step in building connection and rapport that will set the stage for future interactions with your practice.
2. We can help you with that.
Next, assure the patient that your practice is well-equipped to handle his or her concerns (as long as you are, of course). Chances are good that any prospective patient contacting your office isn’t feeling his or her best, which means you have a huge opportunity to provide relief from the get-go simply by sharing how your practice adds value.
And be sure to supply relevant data to back up your claims. For example, if your physical therapists just completed advanced training on supporting post-operative shoulder injuries—and that’s relevant to your patient—then share that. If your practice is known for helping patients with low back pain recover faster than the national average, mention it. Just make sure that you present this information conversationally; this person has already reached out to you, which means there’s no need for a hard sell (not that there ever really is). Instead, simply try to help the patient confirm that he or she made the right decision by seeking your services.
3. Would you prefer an appointment at this date and time or this one?
While it may be tempting to let patients choose their own appointment times, this can wreak havoc on schedule optimization. Additionally, it’s never fun to ask a patient when he or she would like an appointment, only to respond that the time and or date the patient prefers isn’t an option. Instead, offer up your next two appointment dates and times, and let patients select between them. If a patient has a preference outside of those, then he or she will certainly let you know—at which point you can see if that date and time is available or offer the next best alternative.
On the subject of scheduling, this is also an opportune time to ask patients if they would like to opt into automatic appointment reminders, and if so, what their preferred form of communication is. Automatic appointment reminders can significantly reduce no-shows and cancellations, which is huge for practices of all sizes. And speaking of cancellations, sharing your cancellation policy verbally (as well as in writing later) can also be helpful in ensuring that everyone is on the same page from the get-go.
4. Do you have any questions about rehab therapy—or your upcoming appointment?
Many patients—especially those who may not have received rehab therapy before—may feel anxious about their upcoming appointment, whether that be about what to wear, where to park, or the potential for a painful session. This is an excellent opportunity to give patients the space to ask a question they may be too shy to bring up on their own. When they do, this is yet another chance to reassure and allay concerns, thereby further strengthening your already burgeoning bond.
You can also direct patients to already-curated information about your practice—for example, a list of frequently asked questions and their answers on your website. In addition to being excellent for SEO, this type of content can serve to inform patients about best practices that they may not remember to ask about on the phone.
5. What insurance do you have?
Hopefully, this one is already in your first-call repertoire, but it really is essential to collect patient insurance and demographic information on the very first interaction with a patient. That way, you can verify coverage and, if necessary, seek prior authorization before the patient’s first visit. While you’re at it, be sure to ask any follow-up questions that you believe may be relevant. For example:
- Are you the primary account holder on the plan?
- Do you have secondary insurance?
- Are you currently receiving any at-home care? (This is essential for Medicare patients, as Medicare will not pay for Part B services while services are being provided under Part A.)
If there’s any new patient paperwork or intake forms for clients to fill out prior to their first appointment, this would also be the time to direct them to do so.
6. How did you hear about us?
Finally, at the end of every call, don’t forget to ask patients how they heard about you; then, document the answers. This is the best way to track referral information to determine which sources and campaigns are providing you with a consistent stream of patients (and therefore a solid ROI) and which ones either need more nurturing—or perhaps aren’t worth continuing.
While all six of these things to say when scheduling a patient appointment can be very helpful, it’s ultimately less about the specifics and more about ensuring that you’re not only collecting the information you need to set up each patient’s appointment, but also providing value from the start—value that hopefully will be a common thread throughout that patient’s entire experience with your practice. First impressions matter—even over the phone—so make it a point to show warmth and engagement above all else. Showing you care and that you can help will go a long way.