Why Patient Engagement Matters in PT

This month on the Strive Labs Blog, we’re talking patient engagement, and the huge part it has to play in your practice's growth. By continually developing a relationship and engaging with our patients in ways that are meaningful to THEM, we are building loyal customers.

The Blockbuster Drug

As Leonard Kish says,

“If patient engagement were a drug, it would be the blockbuster drug of the century and malpractice not to use it.”

Referencing Kish’s article in Health IT Outcomes, Ken Congdon says, "Kish references a 2009 study by Kaiser Permanente on coordinated cardiac care. This study showed that patients that enrolled in a coordinated cardiac care program within 90 days of a heart attack had an 88% reduced risk of dying from a cardiac-related cause than those that did not. Coordinated cardiac care teams at Kaiser were able to reduce overall mortality rates by implementing proven CAD (coronary artery disease) risk-reduction strategies (e.g. lifestyle modification, medication management, patient education, lab results monitoring, etc.) and ensuring their patients adhered to the program.”

As Jerry Durham and I discussed in last month’s Impact magazine article:

“Private practice owners know that it is more efficient and cost effective to retain current clients than to constantly look for new potential clients. We spend a great deal of time keeping current with best practices, research, and educational offerings in order to provide effective care for our clients. We seek out opportunities to learn best business practices. We network and receive mentoring. Yet we frequently forget a huge part of the equation – providing outstanding customer service to the client from the moment of their first contact with our practice.

In order to create a customer for life, we need a plan. The plan is the mapping out of the customer’s experience. We need systems in place to standardize our team approach to creating the customer experience. This is important in a single location practice, and vital in practices with multiple locations.

The objectives of the Customer Lifecycle are to facilitate the arrival of new customers, set the treating provider up for success, retain customers and create customers for life. The ultimate goal of the customer experience is to build relationships. This requires a team approach to prevent surprises for any member of the team or the customer along the way.”

At each touchpoint along the Customer Lifecycle, we want to be sure we are engaging with our patients in ways that offer value and build our relationship. When patients and providers work together as a team, and information technologies support engagement, patients attain improved health outcomes.

Engagement Starts Before IE

As outlined above, successful engagement strategies begin prior to the patient’s arrival in the clinic for the initial evaluation. Building a relationship with a patient prior to the initial evaluation allows you to start to make promises and then deliver on those promises to build a relationship. Authentic engagement with a new patient helps them to know they are in the right place for their care. By building trust prior to the first appointment, the therapist is set up to continue to “wow” the patient clinically.

Some clinics use technology like StriveHub Reach, which allows your clinic to automate processes to send relevant information to the patient prior to their first appointment. This may include directions, instructions about what to wear, an introduction to the clinic, and an article that explains the condition for which they are seeking care. By the time the patient arrives for their evaluation, they are already engaged as part of the team. By connecting with patients prior to their first appointment, providers can help frame the patient’s expectations of what PT is, which in turn affects the patient’s mental model and increases “buy in” to reach THEIR goals.

During the first appointment, the therapist has a chance to continue to build trust through skill, empathy and transparency.

The patient is provided with information regarding their plan of care, and they are introduced to the movement portion of their rehab program. This is a time when patients are often provided with a home exercise program (HEP). We feel that the home exercise program is an ideal way for the patient to begin to engage as a partner in their care. Some technologies provide the patient with an online HEP and/or patient portal. When the patient logs into the portal, they begin to actively engage with their therapist. The data we have collected at Strive Labs shows that approximately 50% of patients log in to their portal and begin to engage in their care. This is significant as we work to change behavior over the long term.

Engagement Beyond a Completed Course of Care

Engagement isn't over once your patients have finished their course of care. You can continue to retain loyal customers who will think of you first the next time they need physical therapy.

By allowing you to categorize patients according to demographics such as age and type of injury, StriveHub makes it easy to continually engage with your discharged patients. Through automated emails, clinic owners can, for example, send an email to all previous low back pain patients with an article about shoveling snow. The email can contain an offer for a complimentary session to discuss the patient’s exercise program and identify any issues that may be best addressed by another course of care. This is good for patients, good for communities and good for your business! StriveHub assists you in gaining positive reviews for your clinic by making it easy for your Promoters to leave reviews on sites such as Google, Facebook, and Yelp.

As physical therapists begin to move into risk reduction and population health, we have many opportunities to provide valuable information to patients before, during and after care. When patients are engaged in their care, the quality of care increases and costs are decreased. Successful patient engagement leads to developing a relationship between patient and provider, educating patients about their conditions, and involving them more fully in making decisions about their care. It’s a win/win for everyone!

Join us this month as we discuss strategies to engage your patients.

Looking to jumpstart patient engagement at your clinic? Click below!

Check Out StriveHub Reach

Ann Wendel



Physical Therapist, Writer, Speaker, Consultant, Kettlebell Lover. Director of Brand Marketing for @strive_labs and @APTAtweets Media Spokesperson.