People are complicated.

Physiologically and psychologically, we are extremely complicated beings.

When I take my dog to the veterinarian, my dog doesn't care if she's the best vet in town or if that’s the kind of care all the other dogs are getting. My dog merely wants to feel better. It's easy to deliver quality care to a dog.

As therapists, we have a more difficult problem. Our dilemma, which is what makes health care so interesting, is that we're not quite sure what patients really want. Even when patients think they know what they want, they tend to add layers and layers of subtleties.

"I want to feel better so I can do the things I used to be able to do," patients tell us. As trained professionals, we spring into action—taking medical history, performing clinical exams, creating treatment plans, and so on. But that doesn't necessarily tell us what patients want or need from us.

Almost everyone who has money is privileged enough to confuse wants and needs.
-Seth Godin

What consumers truly need and value can be difficult to nail down. The value patients place on therapy mostly lies in the eye of the beholder. However, there’s new research therapists can employ to improve consumer satisfaction and loyalty.

Researchers at Stanford University have identified 30 Elements of Value that—when used in the right combination—have been shown to make people more willing to choose a particular service and thus, increase revenues. You may find the 30 Elements of Value framework to be an effective tool for improving the patient experience in your practice.

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30 Things Consumers Really Value

Eric Almquist and his colleagues have created a conceptual model of value based on Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. They have categorized 30 fundamental elements into four kinds of needs: functional, emotional, life changing, and social impact. Similar to Maslow's pyramid of needs, these elements are arranged in an ascending order of impact.

Their research seems to indicate that—generally—the more elements you provide, the greater your consumer loyalty and revenue sustainability. In your “quest for value,” you might find the descriptions of patients’ needs helpful when it comes to differentiating your clinic from other practices. I think we all agree there is no substitute for quality care that helps patients get better. All things being equal, making value a priority in a couple of key elements can be a great growth strategy.

Overemphasis on Functional Outcomes

In rehab, there has been an emphasis on measuring functional outcomes. Somehow, it's evolved into the default standard of value. It's assumed that if we document functional improvement, then we have provided value—and thus, proven the worth of our services. Unfortunately, this diminishes the emotional and life-changing elements that often are a part of patients’ therapeutic experiences. Have we relinquished the measuring stick of our value to insurance companies? Shouldn’t we be measuring the elements at the top of the pyramid rather than focusing solely on functional elements alone?

Ultimately, it's our patients who determine the value of the care they receive from us. We shouldn't allow insurance companies to pressure us into adopting their definition of value. Instead, we need to promote the emotional and life-changing benefits of our care.

Price is what you pay, value is what you get.
-Warren Buffet

Ways to Deliver Value

There are different ways to deliver value. We, as therapists, should strive to deliver some of the higher elements on the pyramid. By tapping into some of the life-changing and social elements, we can help our patients experience breakthroughs. Here are a few practical suggestions on how to put the value elements to work for you:

Examine the 30 Elements of Value pyramid and thoughtfully write down the answers to these questions:

  1. Identify your top three core values that originate from your mission statement. Focus on your strengths. Avoid the temptation to work on several elements at the same time.
    1. Functional: What do we help people do?
    2. Emotional: How does it make people feel?
    3. Life-Changing: How does it change people's lives
    4. Social Impact: What value do we add to society?
  2. Emulate successful companies. Don't limit your research to healthcare companies like WebMD or CVS Health; instead, explore companies like Fitbit or Amazon. Learn how they use the elements to generate consumer satisfaction and loyalty.
  3. Don't focus solely on functional needs. To offer life-changing experiences and maximize social impact, you should target elements near the top of the pyramid.
  4. Setting yourself apart from the competition by providing "better" care is not enough. Proving better value means delivering tangible results.


For example, your clinic might initially focus on simplifying and connecting by providing online intake forms and a welcome video—all with a goal of fostering a remarkable patient onboarding experience.

You may want to plan celebrations—and offer and gifts—when patients graduate from therapy (thus fulfilling the “fun/entertainment” and “rewards me” elements) and transition into your group wellness programs (which aligns with the “motivation” and “affiliation & belonging” elements). Exploring the many elements of value could open your eyes to the remarkable ways in which you meet your patients’ deepest needs.

Value-added services eventually prove their effectiveness by increasing patient satisfaction, customer loyalty, and revenues. Thus, incorporating more elements of value into your practice works when leaders make value a priority and use it as a part of a long-term growth strategy.

Finding out what patients really want doesn't have to be akin to solving a great mystery. The 30 Elements of Value make it much easier to flesh out—and meet—the emotional and psychological needs of your patients. And that, in turn, can help you creatively add to the value you already provide.

Paul Potter is a physical therapist and mentor who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, who is also a therapist. They have four daughters. For more than 35 years, he successfully managed his own private practice. He now shares his knowledge and experience through teaching and mentoring therapists who want to have their own practices. His website., helps therapists achieve professional and financial freedom. Connect with Paul on his website or on LinkedIn.




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