Written policies and procedures are standard practice in any business—and they’re absolutely crucial for businesses in health care. After all, they’re important an important means of legal and financial protection. Plus, it’s imperative that your patient-consumers know what to expect from you—and what you expect from them—from the get-go. And the same goes for your employees. The best way to accomplish all that is to put everything in writing. With that in mind, here are four written policies your rehab therapy practice absolutely must have:

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1. Patient Payment Policy

In the current healthcare ecosystem, patients are footing a significantly larger portion of their healthcare costs than ever before. As a result, patient payments are making up a larger piece of each clinic’s revenue pie. Thus, it only makes sense to ensure your patient policy clearly communicates the patient’s responsibility to pay at the point of service—as well as how your staff will go about collecting payments, verifying demographic and insurance information, processing claims, and handling past-due accounts (i.e., collections). As WebPT President Heidi Jannenga suggested here, “make sure you cover everything [in your policy], including how the front desk will determine fees, what the process for patient acknowledgement is, and the ways you’ll collect payment.” According to Kylie McKee—the author of this post—if you sell equipment or supplies, such as cold packs, tape, or foam pillows, you’ll surely want to include a refund policy, just in case a patient isn’t completely satisfied with his or her purchase.

Prepare patients to pay at the time of service.

In terms of communicating the policy to patients, you may want to establish a process for sending the patient payment policy to patients before their first visit, so you have time to follow up to ensure they understand it as well as answer any questions they may have. (To see a sample patient payment policy, check out this resource.) And be sure to set aside time to review the policy with your employees, too. After all, it’ll be imperative that they’re willing and able to enforce the policy once it’s in place—and that may require having difficult financial conversations with patients.

2. Cancellation/No-Show Policy

Cancellations and no-shows are a pain—and they can do serious damage to a clinic’s bottom line, especially if you’re unable to fill those spontaneous openings. To minimize patient cancellations and no-shows in your practice, develop and enforce a policy that covers how you’ll handle patients who bail on their scheduled appointments. In it, be sure to provide some context about why the policy is in place (i.e., explain how missed appointments negatively impact your clinic and other patients). That way, patients are more apt to prioritize attendance. As I wrote here, “It’s not enough to just set rules. Instead, make sure your patients understand the reasoning behind your policy and you’ll immediately increase their compliance.” That being said, “avoid language that is critical, dramatic, or punitive. Rather, be polite and appeal to your patients’ empathetic sides. Most will understand and respect you more for your honesty.”

Set rules—and consequences—to ensure your patients prioritize appointments.

Now, in terms of the rules to set, that’s totally up to you. As we explained here, “every clinic is different; there’s no single ‘right’ way to structure a cancellation/no-show policy.” However, Jannenga happens to be a big supporter of establishing a cancellation/no-show fee: “When she was a clinic director, she implemented a $25 fee for patients who no-showed or cancelled without providing adequate notice. While she didn’t always charge patients the fee, she had it as an option for patients who chronically missed appointments.” And most of her patients understood the need for the fee, “especially because she and her team always clearly communicated attendance expectations and repercussions upfront,” as well as the “reasoning behind the fee (i.e., we hold your appointment time for you, and if you do not provide us with enough cancellation notice, we can’t fill that spot with another patient).”

3. Employee Handbook

According to Nathan Christensen, the author of this Fast Company article, your employee handbook serves as “the road map for how to operate within your company—an introduction to your culture and a guide that your employees interact with on a regular basis.” It’s usually one of the first documents your employees receive during onboarding, which means it sets the tone for their experience with your company from the beginning. With that in mind, it’s important to craft this document in such a way that your employees actually want to engage with it. In addition to naming it something other than “employee handbook,” Christensen recommends starting with your mission—and then connecting each policy and procedure to your company’s values. “For instance, your dress code policy can articulate the image your company seeks to present internally and to clients,” he wrote. “Your job vacancy or performance evaluation policy can explain your company’s commitment to developing employees and promoting from within. And your benefits policy can describe your company’s view on work/life balance.”

Make a great first impression with new employees.

According to Christensen, the bulk of most handbooks “is filled with the expectations you have for your employees and how they are expected to invest in your company.” Instead, he recommends “turn[ing] your handbook into a dialogue by telling your employees what they can expect from you, and how you plan to invest in them.” In other words, be sure to include the benefits you provide to employees upfront and center—not buried “deep in your table of contents.”

4. Social Media Policy

With more patients looking to connect with their healthcare providers online, social media can be an important marketing tool for rehab therapists. However, it’s crucial that you outline the exact ways employees are to manage your social media channels and interact with patients—in alignment with your brand, of course. Otherwise, you could risk alienating patients and other providers as well as damaging your reputation. As WebPT’s former social media manager explained in this post, “your employees most likely love your brand and would welcome the opportunity to make you look good if you take some pressure off by providing training, establishing guidelines, and identifying the appropriate channels for engaging.” Now, this policy can be as short or as long as it needs to be in order to get your point across. Apparently, Mayo Clinic’s policy is 12 words: “Don’t Lie; Don’t Pry; Don’t Cheat, Can’t Delete; Don’t Steal; Don’t Reveal.” Pretty straightforward.

Keep your social media channels professional and friendly.

In addition to implementing a general social media policy for your staff, you may also want to establish—and publish—guidelines for how your community can interact with you and each other on your pages, including what is acceptable to post and what isn’t. For example, WebPT does not allow “offensive, hateful, disrespectful, or otherwise inappropriate comment[s]” on any of its social media pages—and will remove them immediately.

There you have it: four written policies your rehab therapy practice absolutely must have. Do you have other written policies that your practice can’t live without? Share the details in the comment section below.

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