If your baby leaves you, The King suggests a place to dwell: the Heartbreak Hotel. But whether or not a patient intends to be cruel, if he or she leaves you, it doesn’t just break your heart—you also lose a shocking amount of revenue. And as we mentioned in this post, 20% of patients drop out of therapy after the third visit, and 70% fail to complete their full course of care. Talk about a major blow to your bottom line.

So, why do these patients leave? After all, you always do your best to make them not only healthy, but also happy—right? Even so, many patients will find perfectly valid reasons to go and break your heart. So, to keep your patients from calling it quits too early, be sure to avoid these major deal-breakers:

1. Your patients don’t think they’re improving.

Why it’s Damaging

Let’s face it: people don’t want to feel like their time—or their money—is being wasted. Your patients want results, and they want those results to be immediate. So, if they don’t see tangible evidence of improvement, then there’s a good chance they’ll bail and set out to find a quicker fix—or worse, resign themselves to living with pain or impairment permanently.

How to Fix It

Rehab therapy is effective—you already know that. But, your patients might not. And even if they do, they might not understand why it’s effective. That’s why it’s crucial to have a conversation with each patient at the start of therapy to explain:

  • how therapy works,
  • what realistic goals are,
  • what the process looks like,
  • what they can expect from you as the therapist, and
  • what their responsibilities are.

During this conversation, be sure to stress the importance of home exercise program (HEP) adherence. Then, make sure you hold up your end of the bargain by delivering the patient’s HEP in an engaging format. (Hint: Use an interactive, digitized HEP platform like WebPT HEP.)

Now, even those patients who understand that therapy isn’t an overnight process risk losing motivation at some point in their care. Enter outcomes tracking. As WebPT’s Charlotte Bohnett mentioned in last month’s webinar, when you use “HEP technology in conjunction with outcomes tracking, you can use the resulting data as positive reinforcement for those patients who do adhere to their programs. This reemphasizes the importance of home exercise compliance as well as the overall value you deliver as a rehab therapist.”

2. There’s radio silence between appointments.

Why It’s Damaging

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about rehab therapists, it’s that their lives are crazy busy. Between treating, documenting, continuous learning, and all of the other commitments they take on, it’s easy for less-immediate tasks to fall by the wayside. But keep in mind that in many cases, your patients are in a similar boat. Therapy isn’t their only commitment, so it’s easy for therapy appointments and prescribed home exercises to slip their minds if you aren’t communicating and engaging with them on a regular basis.

How to Fix It

To keep folks engaged, you’ve got to keep in touch. And the easiest way to remain top-of-mind is by establishing a consistent cadence of outreach. This includes everything from checking in with patients between appointments and sending them relevant educational content to providing automated appointment reminders at the interval of their choosing. (In fact, as we reported here, a 2013 case study from Columbia University found that automated appointment reminders reduced patient no-shows by 34%.) When you hold patients accountable to their commitments inside and outside of the clinic, it increases their motivation to actually make good on those commitments.

Additionally, an engaging HEP platform—specifically, one that features two-way messaging like WebPT HEP—can help facilitate engagement and adherence. After all, such software allows patients to communicate any immediate exercise questions or concerns without having to wait until their next office visit. That way, providers can assist those patients promptly and directly—thus deterring them from turning to “Dr. Google” or sketchy YouTube tutorials.

3. You’re not explaining your fees prior to treatment.

Why It’s Damaging

Parties, thoughtful gestures, custard filling: To me, these things are infinitely better when they’re unexpected. Costly medical expenses? Not so much—and I’m willing to bet your patients would agree. Like any surprise bill, an unexpected medical expense can have a serious impact on a patient’s quality of life. And in this particular case, surprise expenses can deter patients from returning to therapy and completing their course of care.

How to Fix It

It starts with a conversation. I know, I know—chatting about medical expenses can be uncomfortable. But I’d argue this conversation isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as the one that may occur after your practice slams a patient with an unforeseen medical bill. To avoid this awkwardness, make sure you’re upfront about the cost of services before you begin treatment. This will also show patients that you respect them enough to be honest with them, help them plan accordingly, and keep them on the road to achieving their goals. So, before the start of care, go over the cost of your services as well as what you expect the patient’s insurance to cover. Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly what the patient will owe ahead of time, but a thoughtful estimate is way better than no estimate at all.

4. Your technical jargon is making you seem inaccessible.

Why It’s Damaging

It’s important to sound like an expert, but when you get overly technical, it creates a barrier between you and your patients. For one thing, patients might feel foolish if they don’t know what you’re talking about, especially if they feel like they should know. For some patients, this could be enough to make them afraid of asking for clarification—thus making them feel less involved in their own care. Plus, jargon isn’t conducive to clarity, which means your patients won’t be as informed about their treatment—and that, in turn, negatively impacts engagement levels.

How to Fix It

You weren’t always a therapist. In fact, many therapists chose the rehab profession because they were once patients themselves. If that’s the case for you, use your experience to foster empathy for your patients. Additionally, make it clear that they’re free to ask you questions. Open and honest communication between patients and providers does more to build trust than jargony explanations or medical textbook definitions.

5. Your bedside manner leaves something to be desired.

Why It’s Damaging

As a rehab therapist, you’re not typically treating patients bedside, but that doesn’t mean good bedside manner isn’t critical to preventing patient attrition. Therapy involves a lot of intensive, one-on-one treatment, which means you and your patients are spending a lot of time together. You don’t have to be bosom buddies, but it’s important that your patients enjoy your company and, at the very least, feel like you’re treating them with dignity. Failing to do so could leave your patients feeling disrespected or undervalued.

How to Fix It

Many patients have gone through a traumatic experience and are dealing with pain, and it’s likely taken a toll on them emotionally. So, it’s important to remain empathetic and practice emotional intelligence (EQ) during every interaction in order to continually encourage, motivate, and inspire your patients. But, as Brian Allery, Vice President of Employee Success and Administration at WebPT, mentioned during a recent interview for the WebPT Blog, be sure that you’re not mistaking sympathy for empathy, because there’s a big difference between the two. As he explains it, “Sympathy leads to enabling—whereas empathy encourages a genuine, emotional connection that helps you speak to patients on their level without allowing them to fall off the wagon.” (Read the full post here to get more tips on how EQ can help you and your staff improve the patient experience and foster patient loyalty.)

6. Your front office staff delivers sub-par customer service.

Why It’s Damaging

The way your front office staff interacts with patients is just as important as the way you treat them. The front desk is responsible for delivering a welcoming, professional first impression, and failing to do so can leave a bad taste in patients’ mouths—one that could keep them from coming back.

How to Fix It

To start, be sure you’re hiring the right people for your practice. All members of your front office staff—as well as your clinical staff—should align with your clinic’s existing culture. Additionally, be sure to create—and enforce—a policy that outlines your expectations for front office staff, including the manner in which they should interact with patients. If you find that a staff member isn’t jibing with your clinic culture or upholding your policies, be sure to address the problem ASAP.

7. Your office space is shabby or outdated.

Why It’s Damaging

You may not realize it, but the appearance of your clinic—especially the waiting area—sends a subconscious message about how you feel about your patients. When your reception area is messy, drab, or outdated, it tells patients that their comfort is not a high priority, even if that’s far from the truth.

How to Fix It

There are several ways to make your reception area great without spending a whole lot of green. To start, keep the waiting area clean and uncluttered. This is an easy, cost-effective way to ensure your patients’ comfort while they wait. Additionally, a fresh coat of paint can quickly brighten up a space or create a more soothing environment. However, if you have a little more room in your budget, updated and aesthetically-pleasing lighting, decorations, and furniture can do a lot to create a more pleasant atmosphere.

Also, consider adding some complimentary, healthy refreshments such as coffee, water, or assorted herbal teas. Small amenities like these are a great way to show patients that you value their time as well as their comfort.

8. You ignore patient feedback.

Why It’s Damaging

It’s inevitable: at some point, a patient will leave your practice with a chip on his or her shoulder. The fact is, there will always be patients who just aren’t a good fit for you, your practice, or therapy in general. But even in these instances, the absolute worst thing you can do is fail to take action.

How to Fix It

To avoid falling into this trap, you must listen to your patients—even after they’ve left your practice. Pay close attention to online reviews. If a patient leaves your office unhappy, there’s always a chance he or she will take to the Internet and share that experience.

Ideally, you want to catch these problems before the patient is upset enough to post about it online, and the best way to do so is by collecting actionable patient satisfaction data. Many practices attempt to meet this need via satisfaction surveys, and that’s certainly better than nothing. But, there’s one problem: satisfaction survey scores are typically biased, and they can’t accurately gauge whether a patient will remain loyal to you and your practice. That’s why we here at WebPT prefer Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) tracking. Not only are patients more likely to complete an NPS questionnaire honestly, but it also gets at the heart of patient loyalty by asking one simple question: “How likely are you to recommend our services to your friends and family?” And with the help of patient relationship management (PRM) software, you can instantly send NPS questionnaires at appropriate intervals throughout the course of care and monitor changes in patient feedback. Then, once you’ve collected those valuable nuggets of NPS gold, you can create an action plan to address those issues head on.

Unless you want your practice to get “all shook up” by patient dropout, you absolutely must prioritize the patient experience. That means having a little more conversation and a little more action. Do that, and you won’t be checking into the heartbreak hotel anytime soon.