Blog Post

Founder Letter: 3 Ways to Become a Better PT, OT, or SLP in 2019

This year, let's focus on the things that we, as PTs, OTs, and SLPs, can embrace in the year ahead to move our profession forward.

Heidi Jannenga
5 min read
January 8, 2019
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It’s official; we’ve closed out 2018 and are stepping into a brand-new year. While I don’t recommend saving up those important intentions and resolutions for the kick-off of a new year, it does represent a potent time to release the things that no longer serve us—and embrace more of what does. In the past, I’ve used this occasion to put out some predictions for the year to come—and I’ve done that again here—but right now, I’d like focus on the things that we, as PTs, OTs, and SLPs, can embrace in the year ahead to move our profession forward, experience more success, and better serve our patients. Without further ado, here are three things to do more of in 2019:

1. Emphasize patient engagement and experience.

As holistic healthcare practitioners, we’ve always prioritized patient-centered care. That means not only placing the patient first in terms of his or her needs, but also treating the whole patient—not just specific body parts. Thankfully, the rest of the healthcare community is starting to catch on. Not only does it intuitively make sense, but we also now know that happy, engaged patients who have good relationships with their healthcare providers are more likely to achieve positive outcomes. They’re also more likely to recommend your services to friends and family. In other words, happy patients = happy providers.

Leverage technology.

As a practice owner or director, you may think that manually providing the one-on-one engagement that patients require in order to feel connected to their providers (e.g., distributing valuable content at relevant intervals, performing regular check-ins between appointments, and celebrating milestones) is the way to go. However, with the help of technology, many of those tedious efforts can be automated and—more importantly—tracked. In fact, patient-facing technology—such as patient relationship management software (PRM) with a patient portal, interactive home exercise program, automated email platform, and secure messaging channels—can help providers build deeper relationships with patients between appointments. This, in turn, enhances each individual patient’s care experience, overall patient outcomes, and the clinic’s bottom-line revenue (as more patients end up completing the entirety of their care plans).

Build rapport.

Technology can certainly help when it comes to providing reminders of important patient dates and information (e.g., birthdays, upcoming physician appointments, issues to be followed up on, and interesting patient details.) But to be clear, technology won’t ever replace the human touch, which means it’s still on you to actually build rapport with your patients. You may be surprised how far having a non-symptom-related conversation—not to mention providing direct eye contact and a simple handshake—goes in terms of forging a connection. And walking patients to the front desk after their sessions—and ensuring they understand what to do before their next scheduled appointment—should be the norm. In my experience, it’s really important to bookend every session with a personal touch, specifically one that has nothing to do with the reason your patients are seeking your care and everything to do with who they are as complete human beings. It’s less about big gestures and more about consistent little ones.

Monitor NPS.

How do you know you are on the right track in creating an amazing clinic experience? The best way to find out if your patients are engaged in their care and pleased with their experience is to ask them—but traditional satisfaction surveys are seriously flawed. Instead, you should be monitoring your Net Promoter Score® (NPS®). After all, NPS enables you to gauge your patients’ loyalty—a.k.a. their happiness with your services and their willingness to tell others about it. That way, you can tap your already-pleased patients to share their experience with their network—thus driving more new patients to your practice. Additionally, you can address issues reported by displeased patients before they result in early dropout, which is a $6 billion dollar problem currently plaguing our industry.

While you can certainly track your NPS manually, I’d highly recommend leveraging technology to automate the NPS process—much like we all use technology to automate and streamline other aspects of our lives (think about the way we watch TV, store our music, and even drive and park our cars). It only makes sense to do the same in your practice. That way, you can use your patient loyalty data immediately to help generate more patients and maximize current patient visits.

2. Use outcomes data to benefit your practice and future patients.

We’re on the cusp of what could be a major shift in health care. The opioid crisis has focused the entire nation’s attention on the need for better solutions to address pain—specifically, less-invasive, more cost-effective ones that don’t come with the very real risk of addiction and long-term detrimental side effects.

Demonstrate the efficacy of a PT-first care path.

In other words, the entire country is calling out for rehab therapy—some just don’t know it yet, which is why it’s up to us to collect and use our exceptional outcomes data to demonstrate the effectiveness of the care we provide. And it’s imperative that we do so now. Payers, providers in other disciplines, and potential patients need to see cold, hard, objective data that demonstrates the impact of our services (read: outcomes data). That is the only way that we’ll be able to truly step into our role as primary care providers—and help the 90% of patients who could benefit from our care but aren’t yet receiving it. And it’s the only way that we’ll be able to receive the payment rates that will enable us to thrive in the years to come.

Prioritize direct-to-patient marketing.

If you don’t already have a direct-to-patient marketing strategy in your practice, then now is the time to implement one—specifically by using your outcomes data. With the rise of high-deductible health plans, patients are taking a significantly more active role in their care decisions, often performing research on providers and treatment options before ever stepping foot in a physician’s or therapist’s office. Now that some form of direct access to physical therapy services is available across the country, there’s absolutely no reason not to share the value of our services with potential patients to help them make more informed decisions about their care journeys. After all, so many people still don’t fully understand what we do (as evidenced by the 90% of potential patients who could benefit from our services but aren’t receiving them)—and why it matters. And that’s on us to address; no one else is going to do it for us. So, in addition to marketing our individual practices, let’s also make it a point to sing the praises of our profession in 2019—backed by data, of course.

Plus, with the rise in consolidation and insurance payment pressures, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for rehab therapists to remain in business relying solely on referrals from physicians. Of course, relationships with other providers are still beneficial to retain, but it’s time we opened our aperture and started communicating directly with patients in the most effective way possible: and right now, that’s online.

3. Make sound business decisions.

While most of us went into this profession to be healers, we’d be remiss not to realize that we’re also entrepreneurs and businesspeople—and running a private practice requires business acumen (something we probably didn’t learn much about in school). So, in addition to understanding profit and loss, budgeting, people management, and the financial metrics critical to a thriving practice, you should also take stock of your operations and processes—basically, everything that goes into providing patient care—and use business analytics to optimize them for success. The good news is that when done right, optimizing your operations can enable you to spend more time with your patients, which is why we all got into this profession in the first place.

Use your time and resources wisely.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of making business decisions based on emotion—sometimes even fear. This is why it’s important to step back and take an objective look at the facts before rushing into a decision that could end up costing you unnecessary time and resources. For example, PTs, OTs, and SLPs should think long and hard about participating in Medicare’s Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). While 2019 is the first year that rehab therapists are eligible to participate, most aren’t required to do so. And there are potential benefits and drawbacks to joining in. We took a deep dive into the new reporting program here, but for now, suffice it to say that the choice to participate—or not—needs to be a sound business decision that takes into consideration all of the program details, including the submission options as well as the specific attributes of your clinic (i.e., the time and resources you’ll spend to satisfactorily report compared to the potential incentive). Do not opt in or out based on fear. And remember, MIPS is a budget-neutral program, which means that there must be enough negative payment adjustments to balance out the incentives. That means there’s no guarantee your practice will receive a positive payment adjustment—no matter how well you perform (or what someone trying to sell you something may promise).

Track the right metrics.

In terms of analytics, you’ll want to implement software that at minimum provides you with a key performance indicator (KPI) dashboard, so you can identify at-a-glance how your practice is performing in terms of:

  • visits scheduled compared to open appointment spots;
  • number of patient visits per clinic and per therapist;
  • average (direct and indirect) units billed per visit for each clinic and therapist; and
  • cancel and no-show rates per clinic and therapist.

You’ll also want to be able to drill down into:

  • referral numbers by source, so you can allocate time and resources accordingly;
  • staff and clinic productivity, so you can optimize your therapists’ time—without sacrificing quality of care; and
  • billed units per payer and referral sources, so you know which sources make up the highest percentage of payments—and the amount of revenue generated by therapist for your practice.

Choose better CEUs.

As I alluded to above, there’s a gap in PT education when it comes to business acumen, but instead of looking backward, we can address it now—ourselves—with the right continuing education courses. Sure, you could select the easiest, least expensive CEUs available to knock them off your annual to-do list, but that’s not doing your practice, your patients, or our profession any favors. Instead, try to select high-quality courses that will improve your abilities as a therapist, leader, and business owner. And that is going to require some research and due diligence, because the caliber of CEUs out there is incredibly varied. Luckily, the good ones aren’t as expensive or hard to come by as you might expect. And the fact that many states allow providers to complete their courses online means you have access to industry leaders from all over the country providing their expertise in a plethora of uber-beneficial topics—at a fraction of the cost of attending an in-person session, especially if you have to travel to attend. That way, you can save the in-person courses for when you want to learn a new hands-on intervention.

As I wrote here, “this holds true for everyone—but especially for rehab therapists: in 2019, we must become more comfortable with change,” because, after all, things are changing. This next year is going to require even more adaptability and flexibility on our part when it comes to alternative payment models, business structures, technology, and service offerings. If we want to really thrive, to really serve our patients, and to really practice at the top of our profession, then we’ve got to be willing to step up—to hold ourselves and each other accountable for being our best in everything from business performance and patient care to community service and industry advocacy. As I’ve said in years past (and will keep repeating for as long as necessary), it’s time to show the world what we’re capable of—together. But, now more than ever before, it’s time to lead.

With that, I’d like to wish you all the best for the new year. I, for one, am incredibly excited about all 2019 has in store for us—and all that we’re going to make of it. What are you most looking forward to professionally this year? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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