Tuesday Tip: How to Build a Relationship with Your Physical Therapy Patient

Those of you who are active on Twitter need no introduction to Lisa Maczura. She is the sassy, well-spoken, thought-provoking instigator behind the account @lisamacncheese. Lisa is an adult with Cerebral Palsy who reminds all of us that we need to partner with our patients in order to build lifelong relationships. I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa at CSM2016 in Anaheim, where she shared her story as part of a patient panel through the Section on Women’s Health.

This week, we handed our Tuesday Tip over to Lisa, who has laid out some guidelines-- from the patient's perspective -- on how best to develop strong relationships with new patients. Thanks, Lisa!


How to Build a Relationship with your Physical Therapy Patient

Be polite, and don’t neglect formalities. Introduce yourself by your full name. You are not a waiter. You are, in a sense, auditioning. Be friendly. Ask your patient what they prefer to be called. Let them interview you a little too. You are going to have to learn to move and talk at the same time.

• When you do an initial evaluation, explain in brief layman’s terms what you are looking for as you do it. Let the patient’s questions be your guide. If the patient is quiet, then you should verbalize what you are doing anyway. Make it simple, not scary.

Keep intra-office gossip to a minimum when working with a new/newer patient.

• If the patient has worked with a physical therapist before, ask how that went. Pay particular attention to affect, not just facts.

Stay calm. You can wonder aloud online with other physical therapists if you want, but it is essential to stay calm with the patient.

Expect push-back at times. This often has less to do with your skills and charm than with the patient’s fears. Try to root out fears with consistent, verbalized support.

• Don’t forget to share bits of your real life with your patients as they will need to share their real life with you too. Reciprocity builds trust.

• The rules for physical therapists who take care of chronic (versus acute) patients are the same. If you have a short time frame based on allowed number of visits, acknowledge that openly to the patient, and ask for their help in getting the most done in a short space of time. Create a partnership with your patient. When working with chronic patients, don’t take them for granted or assume that their physical circumstances will not change.

And lastly:

Remember, relationships take time.


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Ann Wendel



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