New patients are the lifeblood of any successful practice. After all, even if you offer wellness services that extend beyond a patient’s course of care—and you should—many of your existing patients will graduate from therapy, never to return. Thus, all successful therapy practices should have a plan in place for not only bringing in new patients, but also establishing patient trust and building solid patient-provider relationships. That way, your patients will be happy, which means they’ll be more likely to experience better outcomes, rave about you to their friends, and perhaps even come back to your clinic in the future (for wellness purposes or to obtain additional therapy treatment). With that in mind, here are three strategies for building rapport with patients from the moment they call to schedule an appointment:

The Private Practice’s Guide to Pay-for-Performance - Regular BannerThe Private Practice’s Guide to Pay-for-Performance - Small Banner

1. Maintain a friendly and professional demeanor.

There’s a lot to be said about the benefits of maintaining a friendly and professional demeanor during all interactions with your patients—from the very first phone conversation to the last follow-up email after discharge. According to Dr. Robert Wolff—the program director of Health Science at South University, Columbia—being professional is even more important for healthcare providers: “Healthcare professionals have a tremendous obligation,” he said. “The most important thing is that healthcare professionals have higher standards than most professions because they are dealing with the dignity of patients and their ability to be healed.”

A negative interaction with a patient can alter that patient’s trajectory.

That being said, remembering to be friendly and professional at all times can be challenging when you—or your staff—are busy, stressed, or just plain tired. That’s where hiring the very best front office, clinical, and billing staff—and providing them with the tools necessary to do their jobs—comes in. After all, even one negative interaction with a patient during his or her her course of care can seriously alter that patient’s trajectory—and significantly increase your chances of losing the patient to a clinic he or she perceives as a better fit. That patient might also leave you a negative online review, which could deter other would-be patients from seeking out your services. And once that review is online, it’s there to stay. As WebPT’s Kylie McKee reported in this blog post on the topic, “a recent survey found that respondents who experienced a negative interaction were 50% more likely to share it on social media than those who had a positive experience. Those who had bad interactions were also 52% more likely to post their experience on an online review site.”

2. Communicate effectively throughout the course of care.

Of course, your communication should be friendly and professional, too. But it also must be effective, which means the patient understands what you’re saying. Thus, it’s absolutely crucial that you save the medical jargon for your next industry conference—cough, Ascend—and instead speak in clear, simple sentences that are meaningful to your patients. Now, that certainly doesn’t mean dumbing things down—or withholding important information about a patient’s progress or functional abilities. It simply means finding a shared language with which to express yourself, so that individuals who didn’t go to PT, OT, or SLP school can follow along.

PRM software can help.

This type of valuable communication should continue throughout the patient’s course of care—and beyond. As Dr. Heidi Jannenga, WebPT’s president and co-founder, writes in this article, practice owners may benefit from adopting patient relationship management (PRM) software: “with the right patient relationship management or patient engagement software, you can connect with current patients by sending them relevant blog articles and content to enhance their therapy experience, appointment reminders to ensure they’re making it to their sessions, and home-exercise program instructions to help optimize their progress—in other words, you can provide even more value, thus encouraging your patients to continue choosing (and paying) you as their provider.” Additionally, providers can use this type of software to not only “reach out to lost patients to encourage them to schedule their next appointment,” but also “follow up with past patients to check on their progress, make yourself available for questions, and share information on new cash-based service offerings.” According to Jannenga, “patient relationship management can be a big differentiator in generating new patients and keeping existing ones.”

3. Engage the patient in his or her treatment.

We’ve discussed the importance of patient engagement a lot on our blog. It plays a key role in not only patient satisfaction, but also positive therapy outcomes—two things that are becoming increasingly crucial for both patients and providers. In addition to effectively communicating with your patients, there are several other things you can do to help keep them engaged in their care, including:

  • Adopting technology that enables you—and your staff—to spend more dedicated time with them (e.g., a therapy-specific EMR that streamlines your workflow and enables point-of-care documentation as well as an integrated billing solution that eliminates the need for double-data entry).
  • Collecting and sharing outcomes data in order to positively reinforce patient progress. (As I wrote in the above-cited post, “when patients feel a sense of accomplishment—and when you praise them for that accomplishment—they are more likely to continue the behavior that led to their success.”
  • Selecting a financial model that enables you to provide unique and specialized care that patients want—and confidently communicating that value to potential patients and referral sources. (If you’re considering going out-of-network, watch this complimentary webinar hosted by Jannenga and cash-pay expert Dr. Jarod Carter.)

There you have it: three ways to build rapport with your new patients. (Hint: these strategies can also work wonders on current patients. And once you’ve won them over, be sure to ask for referrals and reviews, so you can bring in even more new patients.) How do you build rapport? Share your strategies in the comment section below.

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