If you’ve ever been ballroom dancing, then you know how important it is to communicate effectively with your dance partner. Heck, even if your experience with whirling around a dance floor is limited to weddings and high school proms, you surely know that dance partners must move together to avoid stepping on each other’s toes. It may not seem like it, but as a rehab therapist, you share a similar goal to waltzers and fox-trotters everywhere. That’s because forging collaborative partnerships with your patients can help you avoid any figurative—or perhaps, literal—toe-steppage. Plus, rehab therapists and their patients have a lot more riding on the line than your average dancing duo. After all, creating solid patient-provider partnerships is key to keeping rehab therapy patients motivated and creating better, safer health care for all. And that begs the question: how can you be a partner, not just a provider?

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The Perks of Patient-Provider Partnerships

Before we dive into the “how,” let’s talk about the “why.” The concept of patients partnering with providers to develop care plans isn’t new. Participants at a 1998 Salzburg Seminar concluded that health care would improve significantly if providers worked together with their patients to restructure and implement change within the healthcare delivery system. In March 2001, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Committee on the Quality of Health Care in America released Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century, which also called for patients to play an active role in the redesign of the American healthcare system. The report directs providers, lawmakers, regulators, and other healthcare decision-makers to not only make health care safe, effective, timely, and accessible, but also highly patient-centered.

They lead to increased patient investment in care.

But, patient-provider partnerships don’t just pack a meaningful punch on a grand scale—these relationships greatly impact care at the individual level, too. Thanks to the Internet, patients—as well as their family members—have all kinds of health information at their fingertips. As such, those patients often take their health into their own hands and do their own research, which means today’s average healthcare consumer is far more informed and knowledgeable than patients who sought care in the pre-Internet era. Online research aside, though, patients—particularly those with chronic conditions—also gain a great understanding of their own needs as they manage their health themselves. By leveraging patients’ existing knowledge and understanding of their own diagnoses, you can help them own their care—and thus, increase their investment in therapy treatment.

They create happy, loyal patients.

Perhaps most importantly, treating your patients as partners—not just consumers—creates a better patient experience. And with the right approach to patient relationship management, that first-rate patient experience can translate into major fuel for your reputation. For example, Phoenix-based clinic Spooner Physical Therapy has maintained a stellar rep here in the Valley of the Sun, and its Internet presence certainly reflects this. Spooner’s Yelp page is filled with positive comments like, “My PT did a great job explaining what my injury was and how we were going to move forward to heal.” And, “My physical therapist takes the time to find out what's going on, talks to you about reasons why it may be happening, and designs individual programs to meet your needs.” And all of that personalized, collaborative care has translated into a top-notch online reputation.

The Action Items

1. Foster meaningful interactions.

First and foremost, collaboration is inherent to partnership. As you develop a care plan, you want to make sure it aligns with the patient’s abilities, goals, and lifestyle. For example, East Coast-based MedStar Health makes it a point to “emphasize informed consent and shared decision-making in care,” as stated on the company’s website. One way to do that? Prioritize rapport-building conversations that help providers gain a better understand of patients’:

  • values,
  • preferences, and
  • health goals.

2. Leverage your home exercise platform to make collaboration easier.

Technology can aid in this collaborative process as well. For example, a digitized home exercise program (HEP) delivers exercise plans through an app that patients can access anytime on their mobile devices. And the best HEPs—like WebPT HEP—also make it easy for patients and providers to stay connected by allowing patients to contact their providers through the app itself. That way, patients can communicate obstacles and collaborate with their providers to develop solutions—all without ever setting foot in the clinic.

3. Stay connected between appointments.

Speaking of communication, keeping patient-provider dialogue going outside of the clinic is just as important as fostering meaningful conversations during appointments. Patients want to feel involved in their care, and when you consider that patients are doing a lot of literal legwork on their own time, it’s easy to see why providers should keep an open line of communication between appointments. That means taking a vested interest in the patient's progress and overall health, checking in between appointments, and sending content that aligns with the patient’s treatment as well as his or her other interests. So, when you stumble upon an interesting article that’s relevant to your patient’s diagnosis, email it to him or her. (Hint: Patient relationship management [PRM] software makes sending relevant content to patients even easier.)

4. Collaborate with the other providers on your patient’s care team.

As WebPT’s Erica McDermott wrote here, “It’s a common patient complaint about the people involved in their care: ‘Sometimes the left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing. I don’t feel everyone is working together.’” That’s why roping a patient’s other providers into your plan of care is a game-changer. But, collaborative care teams don’t just boost patient satisfaction—they also make care safer all around. According to this Surescripts survey, “patients feel that lives are at stake when their doctors don’t have access to their complete medication history.” Multiple studies also note a strong link between highly collaborative care teams and increased patient safety, furthering the case for strong provider-to-provider communication.

5. Recognize when patients aren’t a good fit for therapy—and connect them with the right provider.

Part of this Justice League-esque team approach means knowing when a patient may not be right for therapy. If you happen upon issues that could be better addressed by a different healthcare professional, don’t hesitate to refer the patient to other providers or health and wellness agents as necessary. (In fact, depending on your state practice act, you’re likely legally—as well as ethically—obligated to do so.) It may seem counterintuitive, but referring patients to outside providers doesn’t necessarily mean you’re losing a patient. In fact, that patient is more likely to trust you to make the best call—even when it puts you at a disadvantage. And in turn, the patient will likely to seek you out again should he or she need your services in the future.

6. Collect—and implement—patient feedback.

Here on the WebPT Blog, we talk a lot about measuring patient satisfaction—and with good reason: patients respond positively when providers create a collaborative care experience, and that positive response can turn into glowing reviews (like the ones on Spooner Physical Therapy’s Yelp site). And by measuring satisfaction and using tools such as the Net Promoter Score® (NPS®), you can:

  1. identify which patients are happiest with the care you provided, and
  2. tap them for online reviews.

More importantly, though, the honest feedback you receive from patients helps you become a better, more well-rounded provider. Just make sure that you actually implement changes based on that feedback. When you do, your patients will notice, and they’ll certainly appreciate it.


Much like a great dance partnership, a strong patient-provider partnership can help patients chassé their way to peak form. Do you emphasize partnerships with your patients? How does your practice turn patients into partners? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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