A positive patient experience is essential for instilling confidence and security in your patients—and for sustaining a healthy practice. When patients feel rushed, dismissed, or expendable, they’ll often drop out prematurely—and possibly seek care from a different PT (or move on to a whole other discipline). With that in mind, here are some of the common ways you’re subtly sabotaging the patient experience that you work so hard to create in your practice:
1. Providing a Poor Front-Office Experience
Your front office team answers phone calls, schedules appointments, and greets patients—which means they make a pretty big impression on your patients before they even set foot in your clinic. So, if your front office employees demonstrate either of the following traits, it can destroy your patients’ experience before your therapists even have a chance to work their magic.
Rude, dismissive, or unfriendly staff members can make patients feel unwelcome and distrustful. Even if your therapists are uber-welcoming, it might be too late to for them to regain their patients’ goodwill.
The front office staff should understand copays, coinsurance, scheduling, and other basics. When you have an uninformed or unhelpful staff member, it comes off as highly unprofessional and shatters patients’ confidence in your practice.
First and foremost, properly train your front office staff. Being informed goes a long way; invest the time to create a clear, concise employee handbook. Furthermore, be sure the front office team knows who to ask when they are uncertain of how to answer a patient’s question. To a patient, nothing feels more dismissive than being told, “I don’t know” with no recourse or follow-up. Also, ensure you hire friendly folks with warm smiles, and encourage them to greet patients by name by the third or fourth visit at the latest.
2. Failing to Involve Patients in Conversations
Good communication is paramount to achieving optimal outcomes and fostering the best possible patient experience. Thus, therapists should avoid the following behaviors.
Chatting with Other Therapists or Patients
When I was a student, I spent time at a clinic where I found myself chuckling frequently. There would be six patients on tables, all on their sides receiving treatment—and their therapists would just chatter and joke across the entire row as the patients lay there in silence. While it was funny at the time, I realized later that it was pretty unprofessional of us, as our patients had to compete for our time and energy. In fact, when I was a patient at a similar clinic—one where my PT often chatted with other staff members while treating me—I often felt I had to interrupt her to say the pressure was too hard or that she was treating the wrong side.
Keeping Patients Out of the Loop
Have you ever received a patient’s MRI results from a physician, and then shared those results with another therapist who was going to fill in for you? We all have, right? But, how many times have you done this without first showing and explaining the results to the patient? Or, perhaps you and another therapist decided to change a patient’s plan of care—but you didn’t involve the patient in that decision. And what about simply slapping on some iontophoresis without explaining the how and why? Remember, your patients will never know the value of your clinical expertise if you don’t capitalize on opportunities to share it with them.
While interruptions happen to the best of us, it feels insulting and dismissive to patients when you’re constantly cutting them off or letting other patients or therapists interrupt them.
Develop a script for necessary interruptions, and train your front office staff to answer as many questions as possible. That way, patients don’t feel the need to interrupt you during other people’s treatments. Additionally, try to limit the office chatter to the lunch hour, and whenever possible, be sure to communicate pertinent information with patients before sharing it with other staff members.
3. Passing Patients Around
I’ve worked in clinics where we’d “pass patients around” like a church collection plate. Sure, you occasionally need to share patients so therapists get their much-needed vacations, but excessive passing—so you can cram more patients into a day, for example—is insulting to patients. It makes them feel expendable, and who likes having to re-tell the MOI to new therapists every few visits?
Train the front office staff to encourage patients to book all appointments with their existing therapists—rather than new ones—whenever possible. Additionally, as a therapist, when you see one of your patients on another therapist’s schedule—and then another one of your patients cancels—see if you can treat the first patient instead (unless that patient deliberately wanted to see another therapist for his or her own reasons).
4. Forgetting About Closure
When there’s no established checkout process, patients might loiter in the gym, waiting to be “dismissed.” And if your practice doesn’t do anything special when you discharge a patient, completing the course of care might feel a bit anticlimactic. So, whether your patients are completing a visit or finishing a course of treatment, it’s good form to acknowledge it—by ringing a bell on discharge day or stopping by the front office to schedule the patient’s next appointment on a normal treatment day, for example. This type of closure feels nice for patients.
Explain your clinic’s operational processes on the first visit. The front office staff can do this, or the therapists can. Either way, patients should understand:
- when to arrive;
- where to park;
- how to get parking validated;
- how to get HEP updates (as needed);
- how to schedule/check additional appointments; and
- what happens when their visits are complete.
Clearly, inadvertent and unintentional slights can severely compromise the patient experience. And the sooner you know about those issues, the better—and the faster you can correct them. That’s why we recommend collecting patient feedback at regular intervals using a patient engagement solution like WebPT Reach. What other methods have you used to improve the patient experience in your practice? Let us know in the comment section below.
Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways. Meredith is also the co-founder of NewGradPhysicalTherapy and works as a freelance writer and editor for a variety of publications.