Recently, we’ve focused a lot of our content on marketing to acquire new patients, whether that's via physician referral or self-referral à la direct access. But, we'd be remiss not to talk about marketing to the patients who are currently in your care (i.e., retention marketing). After all, it's much more cost-effective to keep the patients you have than it is to continuously bring in new patients to keep your schedule full. And, as WebPT President Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, pointed out here, early patient dropout is a huge—and costly—industry-wide problem. So, without further ado, here’s how to retain patients (beyond providing exceptional care, of course):

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1. Build rapport.

Of course, you want to provide the very best care to your patients, and that includes building rapport—you know, getting to know each patient as an individual rather than simply a diagnosis. After all, in order to keep winning a patient’s business, you must foster a personal connection, and that starts at the very first interaction. Before jumping into a discussion about what’s wrong—and how to fix it—consider asking a few personal questions to get to know your patients. And make a note of what you learn; that way, you can reference it during future interactions.

2. Check your culture.

Your clinic's culture and vibe—as well as the way your staff interacts with patients—are part of your retention marketing efforts. After all, it’s a packaged deal. No matter how good your care is, if your patients don’t feel comfortable in your clinic—or well-treated by your staff—then they’ll likely look for another practice that’s better aligned with their needs. Or, they’ll bail on rehab therapy altogether in favor of more traditional—and potentially invasive or addictive—treatments. And that’s bad for your practice and the profession (not to mention that it could also be risky for you patients). Instead, make sure you’re projecting the image you want by establishing core values that are supported by your entire staff.

3. Connect between sessions.

Today’s patients want to connect with their healthcare providers between sessions. But unfortunately, that’s just not something a busy provider is always able to do. That’s where technology can be a big help. Software such as WebPT Reach can automate email sends, so no matter how busy you are, you can be sure you’re providing relevant content to your patients between sessions—and after discharge. After all, you never know when a past patient might need your services again. This type of regular communication can help keep you top of mind and encourage patients to remain compliant with their HEPs. To that end, WebPT’s HEP has built-in patient-provider communication functionality, so patients can reach out with questions as they arise—and you can make modifications immediately instead of waiting until the next appointment. Talk about a great way to stay connected—and keep patients on track with their goals.

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4. Track patient data—and act on feedback.

The best way to know how your patients are experiencing your practice is to ask them. But traditional satisfaction surveys have several big drawbacks. That’s why we recommend using Net Promoter Score (NPS) tracking to gauge patient loyalty. With this tool, you simply ask your patients how likely—on a scale of 0 to 10—they would be to recommend your practice to a friend or family member (and provide a free-text box for patients to explain their response). That text box is key, because in addition to being able to calculate your NPS score—which you can use to improve certain aspects of the patient experience and market to potential referrers—you can also identify displeased patients early, before they drop out of your practice, so you can address their concerns and retain their business. Track NPS consistently enough, and you’ll be able to catch issues and fix them in near real-time.

Speaking of important data to track, you’ll also want to keep tabs on your patients’ outcomes data. You can then use it to objectively show patients their progress and encourage them to continue attending their appointments. This can be crucial, especially for patients who may have a long road to recovery.

5. Use technology.

Here’s hoping that by now you’ve adopted a high-quality EMR, because there’s really no way to remain compliant without one. There’s also something to be said for healthcare providers being comfortable with the latest technology, because patients are coming to expect it. As WebPT’s Kylie McKee pointed out here, “research from The Beryl Institute showed that providing interactive technology (like digitized home exercise programs) in hospital settings sparked a 10% increase in patient satisfaction and a more than 40% improvement in satisfaction with educational materials.” And here, she cites research from Nuance Communications (featured in HIT Consultant), stating that “‘58% of patients feel technology improves patient experience’ when providers use technology to educate or explain procedures.”

In other words, beyond an EMR, you may want to consider other technological add-ons that better serve your patients—and keep them coming back to you (including, say, automated appointment reminders and a peer-reviewed, interactive, and mobile HEP platform that can help increase patient compliance with prescribed home exercise programs).

6. Measure your efforts.

As with all marketing endeavors, you’ll want to track your efforts. How else will you know what’s working—and what’s not? That means calculating your baseline churn rate—the percentage of patients who leave therapy before completing their plans of care—and then tracking it over time as you implement your retention marketing strategies. While you can certainly calculate churn on your own—the equation for doing so is here—you can also use the lost patient log within WebPT to do that for you. Plus, the log will show you exactly who’s churned, which means you’ll have the opportunity to try to reconnect and potentially win those patients back before they’re gone for good.

There you have it: six strategies to keep current patients coming back for more. Ultimately, the better experience you provide for your current patients, the more new patients will seek out your services, too—and the more referrals you’ll receive. Trust me: it won’t be long until word gets out!


Have your own strategies for retaining patients? Please share them in the comment section below.

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