As I was getting ready to graduate college and begin interviewing for jobs, I was blown away by the experience I had with Ernst & Young. They were engaging, showed interest in me as a person, and paid attention to all the details. When I flew out to visit the office, they picked me up in a limousine, left a gift bag in my hotel room, and took care of just about every other detail. And even after I accepted the position, they didn’t stop. They even sent me a care package the week of finals.

This experience changed the way I look at the world and made me realize the incredible impact of a well designed experience—especially in business. I love this quote from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better.”

As a clinic owner, you’ve probably already thought about the type of experience you want to create for your patients. This experience is what makes you different; it’s the reason people refer business to you, and thus, the reason you will succeed. My question to you is: does reality reflect that vision? Have you ever audited your patient experience?

Based on our own research here at WebPT, we’ve established the following eight domains of the patient experience:

  1. Finding a PT: How do patients find you, where do you rank on local search, and what is your online reputation like?
  2. Scheduling: How easy is it to book an appointment? Does the patient call roll to voicemail? Does central scheduling confuse the patient?
  3. Pre-Visit Process: What interactions does the patient have with your practice prior to showing up for his or her appointment? What forms does he or she need to complete? How many different emails does he or she receive? Does your practice set expectations for things like what to wear and where to park?
  4. Clinic Experience: What happens when a patient walks in the door? What does he or she see? How does the staff interact with him or her?
  5. Therapist Experience: Does the therapist make a personal connection with the patient? Does the patient understand the plan of care? Does he or she walk away from the first visit understanding the value of PT?
  6. HEP Experience: What happens after the patient goes home? Does he or she understand how and when to complete the prescribed exercises? What does the patient do if he or she has questions?
  7. Payment: Is it easy for the patient to pay for services rendered? Is the patient even asked to pay at the time of service?
  8. Post-Visit Process: Does the patient receive a satisfaction survey? How does the clinic stay engaged with patients in between visits?

Now, members of the WebPT team have started to measure and document our experiences within each of these domains. Today, I’d like to share a little bit of what I have found during my own experience as a physical therapy patient.

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Finding a PT

I’ve been very surprised at how hard it is to find physical therapy clinic locations online. I did simple Google searches for “physical therapy near me” and “physical therapy knee” and was shocked that I didn’t see the physical therapy clinic across the street from my neighborhood.

Pro tip: Make sure you’ve optimized your online presence for local search (for more guidance on how to do that, check out this webinar). While it’s true that many patients come to you via referral, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t Google someone before deciding to use their services.  

Scheduling

I recently attempted to get a physical therapy appointment, and it ended up taking a month. I went to the clinic website, hit the “request appointment” link, and then played phone tag with the front office staff for weeks. One of my biggest challenges was that they kept calling me back while I was sitting at my desk surrounded by coworkers with whom I really didn’t want to share details about my personal situation.

Pro tip: Spend some time thinking about when, where, and how people want to book their appointments. Not every patient will be able to take a phone call at all hours of the day, and understanding the context of each patient’s situation could mean the difference between promptly beginning care—or not.

Pre-Visit Process

After I booked an appointment, the first communication I received was an email asking me to take an outcomes survey. About a week later, I received the welcome email from the clinic. Think about this: do you really want the patient’s first digital experience with your clinic to be a request for outcomes data?

Pro tip: There are a lot of touchpoints that occur before a patient actually has his or her first visit, so take the time to make sure they are done in the proper order.

Clinic Experience

When I showed up for my first appointment, I was greeted with the smell of pizza. Yes, that’s right—it was around 1:00 PM, and there was a pizza on the table next to me that the staff were eating. Is this happening at your clinic? Surely not. But while there are some very obvious things to avoid in your clinic—like afternoon pizza parties—there are many not-so-obvious things. For example, one thing that was uncomfortable for me was I had my phone, keys, and wallet in my pocket with no clear place to store them during my appointment. I also needed to change clothes after my appointment, but wasn’t sure whether—or where—I could do that.

Pro tip: There are probably hundreds of little things you could do to help make the experience better in your clinic. (One of my favorites that I’ve seen so far was a clinic that put my name on the welcome board.) So, be sure to continually evaluate your processes and communications to identify opportunities.

Therapist Experience

In all of my PT experiences, I’ve always been impressed with my therapist’s ability to connect with me. In fact, it’s often the best part of the visit. I believe this stems from the passion these individuals have for their profession and the art of healing. However, I think something that gets lost in the shuffle of manual therapy, exercises, diagnosis, and the like is the fact that I—like many patients—need to be sold on the value of therapy. I feel this mainly needs to be an outcomes discussion. After all, you are asking me, as a patient, to come back to your clinic multiple times over the next month or so—and fork over a hefty co-pay every single time. This easily could be a $1,000 or $2,000 expense—and a lot of hassle to boot. There are probably a lot of other things I’d like to spend that money on, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that after three visits—right around the point when many patients start to feel better—those patients drop out of care.

Pro tip: The therapist is uniquely positioned to promote the benefits of PT—specifically in terms of what the patient should be able to accomplish if he or she completes his or her entire course of care. The PT also can—and should—highlight patient progress with each passing appointment. It’s that sort of positive reinforcement that will keep patients excited about coming back.

HEP Experience

I personally feel that home exercise programs are one of the most overlooked aspects of physical therapy. The clinic may be great, the therapist may be awesome—but the rubber really meets the road when I’m at home and need to do my clamshells. In my PT experiences, HEP has been somewhat of an afterthought. The therapist might hand me a photocopy of an exercise that will make no sense to me five minutes after I walk out the clinic door and say something like, “Here you go—do it five times every day. I hope you don’t have any questions.” Really? This is what is supposed to help me get better, faster?

Pro tip: HEP can be a powerful tool to help patients achieve the best possible outcomes. However, it needs to be more than a photocopy—and instruction needs to be more than a half-hearted line as I’m walking out the door.

Payment

Payment was actually not on my original list of domains, but I later added it because I was shocked at how difficult it was to give clinics my money. In one PT experience, I was a cash-pay patient. When I called the clinic to book my appointment, I was quoted a price of $74 for my first visit. After the appointment, I went to the front desk to pay. The man at the front desk was totally blown away that I wanted to pay cash and not use insurance. He fumbled around a bit before telling me he wasn’t sure how much to charge me. He eventually said it would be $72 or $74. I told him I was expecting to pay $74 and that I’d be happy to pay that amount (my credit card was out and ready). He refused and said that he’d get back to me. I tried two more times before finally giving up. Unfortunately, I think this is a more common occurrence than anyone really wants to believe.

Pro tip: Collect the patient’s financial responsibility at the time of service, and create—and enforce—a consistent procedure for doing so. This could mean processing payment before the appointment begins or requiring your therapy staff to walk the patient to the checkout area at the end of each visit. Furthermore, educate your front office staff on how to process payment for all patient types, including cash-pay patients.

Post-Visit Process

Don’t let your patient walk off the therapy cliff, never to be heard from again. Physical therapy is not a one-and-done treatment route. To achieve the best possible results, patients typically need to attend multiple appointments over the course of multiple weeks—and it’s on therapists to keep patients coming back. This is why patient engagement is so important. It’s also the perfect place in the patient care journey to leverage technology that extends your reach beyond the clinic and keeps the lines of communication open.

Pro tip: Send a satisfaction survey (e.g., an NPS® survey); you’ll likely be amazed at the feedback you get. Or, use an HEP program that allows for patient-to-therapist communication—and run reactivation programs to find lost patients. The possibilities are limitless. 

I hope you’ll consider these eight domains of patient experience as you grow and improve your practice. After all, as health care becomes increasingly consumer-driven, experience will become an increasingly important differentiator for your practice. Remember, your patients are your party guests, and you want your practice to be the party people are still talking about several years down the road.


Russell Olsen is WebPT’s Vice President of Innovation and Product Management. In this role, he is responsible for category design, product management, user experience, and product discovery—as well as applying disruptive innovation approaches to accelerate growth while solving customer and market problems. He is passionate about disruption, behavior change, habit design, and integrated care models. He also has more than 10 years of experience as a youth basketball and soccer coach.

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