January 6, 2021 | Net Health

5 min read

Outpatient Therapy: Getting Patients Involved in Their Recovery

Outpatient physical therapy providers hope to have each patient arrive at their appointment feeling excited and encouraged to continue treatment—especially since more engaged patients can lead to better overall outcomes. However, unlike acute care settings, where patients have direct access to physical therapy throughout the day, outpatient therapy settings cause patients to segment treatment over multiple days, weeks, and even months. This lag in treatment time can cause some patients to disassociate from or become disappointed with their current progress.

Read more about the difference between inpatient and outpatient therapy

Fortunately, there are ways to improve patient engagement in outpatient physical therapy. Consider these five methods of getting patients involved in their own recovery. 

1. Review the Patient’s Face Sheet

The majority of patients won’t be familiar with a face sheet, but it’s important they receive an opportunity to review their own before beginning an appointment. A patient face sheet is what physical therapy providers and staff refer to for crucial information about patients, including their medical history and patient preferences. 

Having patients review this information whenever they’re scheduled for an appointment or admitted to a hospital outpatient facility helps support them receiving the highest quality of care possible. Plus, it shows patients you’re committed to more than just functional outcomes; you care about their satisfaction and comfortability. 

2. Establish a Patient Pledge 

Patient commitment is the foundation of functional improvement, but no amount of physical therapy can encourage participation if the patient isn’t invested in their journey. Physical therapy can be a grueling process for patients with severe physical limitations, and progress may not happen as quickly as the patient would like. A patient pledge can outline the importance of treatment as well as the patient’s role in their own recovery.

The pledge doesn’t need to be more than a simple sheet of paper that both the patient and the therapy provider sign. However, it should use clear language to define patient expectations, such as the approximate duration of treatment. Likewise, the patient pledge should be clear about matters of attendance, such as rescheduling appointments if the patients must miss their next visit. 

3. Share Patient Data

Is a patient canceling consecutive appointments or failing to show up to outpatient therapy on time? Data about their recovery can help reinforce the importance of patient engagement. This is where electronic health records (EHRs) can come into play. 

The EHR is the ideal setting for sharing patient goals, healthcare analytics, and outcomes management, allowing clinicians to have more meaningful, data-driven conversations with patients. Therapy providers can track progress and present a consistent message to patients, including the number of visits and duration needed to achieve recovery. Not to mention, the EHR can be used to display how the patient is progressing compared to physical therapy guidelines and how their attendance can impact overall outcomes. 

4. Encourage Open Communication

Open communication drives value-based, patient-centric care. Results of a recent survey by the Picker Institute Europe indicated that among more than 80 aspects of patient care, including aspects relating to communication were rated the most highly.² Of all aspects of healthcare, a physician’s ability to offer clear and simple answers to questions regarding patient conditions and treatment was ranked number one.³

Outpatient therapy providers should encourage patients to ask questions and offer feedback to their clinicians. Patients may be tentative in asking questions, so consider offering a list of questions to ask physical therapy providers upon a patient’s initial appointment. Similarly, promote patient feedback by directly asking patients about their experience or administering mail or phone surveys. 

5. Use a Reward System

Every now and then, unengaged patients require incentives to become excited about treatment. A basic reward system can add a bit of fun to the patient’s recovery process and encourage excitement for achieving their next milestone. The reward system can be anything: small prizes after attending consecutive appointments or a spot on your social media account after achieving functional improvement. 

Aside from the incentive itself, it’s more important to distill to the patient that they’re being rewarded for consistency. The more they can become engaged in their treatment, the better they’ll feel; the prize is just a cherry on top. 

Learn How Outpatient Therapy Providers Can Increase Patient Engagement 

Still on the hunt for more information about increasing patient engagement? Check out our free e-book, 4 Ways Outpatient Therapy Providers Can Increase Patient Engagement, to discover the best practices that can empower your clinicians and staff to keep patients active in their own recovery—and help boost clinic performance along the way.

4 Ways Outpatient Therapy Providers Can Increase Patient Engagement

Motivate patients to stay active in their recovery to boost outcomes and clinic performance.


1 Health Affairs, “What The Evidence Shows About Patient Activation: Better Health Outcomes and Care Experiences,” Feb. 2013. 

2, 3 National Clinical Guideline Centre (UK), “Enabling Patients to Actively Participate in Their Care,” Feb. 2012.

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