Patient engagement isn’t just about being friendly and nice. It’s about giving your patients the information they need for their treatment to be successful. That’s why it’s so important to prepare your patients for their first visits—in an effort to both set appropriate patient expectations and improve patient retention.

Therapy Expectations

If a patient has never been to PT before, expect lots of questions. Better yet, preempt those inquiries by sending patients information on how to prepare for their first appointments at your office. Be sure to address common fears or misunderstandings, like what PT is really like or whether it will hurt. You might even go so far as to suggest each patient brings the following items to his or her first appointment:

  • Completed patient intake forms (if you offer them online)
  • Insurance card
  • Government-issued photo ID (like a driver’s license or state ID)
  • Physician’s referral—if applicable and/or necessary
  • Medical records from primary care physician (if that physician’s office didn’t send them over)
  • Most recent lab or diagnostic reports  
  • List of current medications and allergies
  • Medical history—including injuries, incidents, or environmental factors affecting your condition
  • List of pertinent family medical issues
  • Information about symptoms—what, when, where, and for how long
  • Loose, comfortable clothing that allows access to the injured area
  • Closed-toe athletic shoes
  • Family member or friend to provide comfort or support if the patient is nervous or needs assistance

Financial Obligations

As I explained before, patient engagement involves all kinds of patient interactions—including payment collection. So, while you’re at it, be sure your patients understand their financial obligations. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Put your patient data collection forms online.
  • Verify insurance before the first visit.
  • Have the benefits conversation right away—and try to get acknowledgment of each patient’s understanding in writing.
  • Collect coinsurance or copay at the first visit.
  • Install a 72-hour verification period policy. That means your front office must check benefits within 72 hours of the patient’s appointment. Not only does this help ensure patients are up to speed on their financial obligations, but it also allows you to inform a patient if he or she has a high deductible. That way, if the patient decides to cancel, you still have time to fill the open time slot. That’s a win-win.

Letting patients know what to expect and bring will allay their fears and help make sure they—and you—get the most out of their first visit. You can simply add this information as an FAQ page or blog post on your website, or send it out as an email—but be sure to send the email to new patients only.

Patient Retention

Your clinic’s revenue is dependent on the total number of patients you treat, the average number of visits per patient, and the average revenue you generate for each visit. Of course, you can only increase your revenue per visit so much, so increasing your patient load and ensuring each patient continues attending visits for the full duration of care are the two most important variables for revenue growth. But, 30% of new referrals stop coming to PT within the first three visits, so it’s pivotal that you emphasize the value of physical therapy from the very beginning. This is crucial for the health of not only your patients, but also your bottom line. Make sure you communicate to your patients:

  • Their plans of care
  • What they can expect from you over the course of treatment
  • What your expectations are
  • What might happen if they don’t progress as expected

The initial visit is just the first—and second—step, but without it, you’d be up a creek without a patient-engagement paddle. Curious about how to build the rest of your strategy? Keep your eyes on our blog. All month long, we’ll be dishing out handy tips and tricks to help you improve patient engagement at your clinic. Have your own advice? Share it in the comments section below.