We’re all familiar with the phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Not only does this adage apply in the rehab therapy space, but if private practice physical, occupational and speech therapists play their cards right, creating positive first experiences for patients can play an important role in establishing future referrals for your practice.
And, such referrals would simply be based on developing a clinic culture around positive patient engagement and care – efforts that shouldn’t cost you and your team a dime.
Why Are First Impressions So Important for Referrals?
The initial intake process gives outpatient and private rehab therapy practices their first opportunity to set the stage for a positive first impression by calibrating expectations and standards around the patient experience.
When patients first contact the clinic – especially recent referrals – they’re dealing with a range of emotions. Some may feel a level of anxiety or uncertainty centered around their pain, while others may have heard horror stories about physical therapy from a friend.
The better you anticipate, empathize with and address these emotions during the first contact, the more comfortable and optimistic that patient will be when entering the assessment and treatment phases of their healthcare journeys.
Such levels of personal interaction set the stage for fewer no-shows and cancellations, improved completion-of-care rates, and an increased likelihood of positive patient reviews and referrals.
5 Tactics to Fine-Tune Patient First Impressions
First impressions begin at the initial point of contact before patients even walk through your clinic doors. Here are five strategies to fine-tune patient first impressions at your rehab therapy practice.
1. Practice Empathy on the Initial Call
For many patients, the first interaction they have with your rehab therapy business is an initial phone call. This phone call is the first opportunity to generate rapport versus simply scheduling an appointment.
Establishing rapport starts with building trust, and that process begins with the person answering your phone and scheduling appointments. So, rather than providing this person with a script for speaking with new patient appointments, provide them with helpful talking points.
Talking points should focus on empathy, speaking to the patient with emotion, and creating a sense of understanding for what they’re going through. Never try to get a patient scheduled and off the phone as quickly as possible; spend time building the foundation of a positive patient experience.
2. Set the Proper Expectations
One of the main opportunities you have during your initial interaction with a patient is the chance to establish a proper set of expectations – both for the patient’s first phone call and for the future episode of care.
Begin each phone call by sharing what steps you’re going to take to get their appointment scheduled.
For example, consider beginning each new patient call with, “Hi there. Thank you so much for calling ABC Physical Therapy. What I’d like to do is get your name and some basic information about you. Once we do that, we can schedule your appointment and I’ll tell you exactly what you need to bring with you.”
This way, the practice does the heavy lifting for the patient, guiding them through the experience. This step prepares the patient for the appointment and also sets the stage for compassionate care.
3. Follow Up with Appointment Details
Many new patients, including those who were referred to you via a physician or primary caregiver, may have never been to a physical therapist before. So, they may not know what’s required to set an appointment, what questions to ask, what to bring to the visit, and so on.
That’s why, right from the start, it’s critical you and your staff are proactive in explaining such things both during and after the first appointment is scheduled.
This includes connecting with patients between their initial phone call and their first appointment. This can be in the form of a follow-up phone call, text message, email, or a combination thereof.
When you follow up with the patient, include a reminder of the date and time of their upcoming visit (ideally with the option to add the appointment to a digital calendar) as well as a checklist of what to bring with them (i.e., health insurance documents, new client forms, etc), what to wear, how to get to the clinic, and even where to park.
Set the foundation for a therapeutic alliance or a cooperative, beneficial working relationship between the client and the rehab therapy team. Include your patient pledge and cancellation policy to establish standards of how patients should uphold attendance, as well as a link to learn more about their therapists.
4. Demonstrate Gratitude in Your Communications
Consumers tend to offer repeat business to grateful businesses, and patients gravitate toward gracious providers. So, be sure to demonstrate gratitude for patients any chance you get.
From “Thank you for choosing us” to “We look forward to seeing you on Thursday,” showing new patient referrals this appreciation makes them feel like they’re a person, not just another number in your system.
When you display gratitude during your first encounter with a patient, you plant the seed for a beneficial therapeutic alliance. The provider is grateful for the patient, and the patient is grateful for the clinical intervention from the rehab therapist.
5. Reduce Friction Points to Meet Patient Needs
The underlying principle in the above four tactics is the same: reduce friction points or barriers to treatment by meeting referral patients at their level and fulfilling their needs and wants.
A patient might not tell you they want that follow-up email, but you know what? Patients are busy, too. A lot of them are on the phone juggling multiple tasks, listening to you, and going through the motions of their day.
Plus, they’re anxious and likely in pain, either physically or emotionally. The minute they get off the phone, they might have forgotten important points of what was said.
It happens even to the most organized of people, yet they ultimately become the patients who show up late or unprepared for that first appointment. As the rehab therapy provider, you have the ability to help reduce this friction, making it easier for patients to maneuver the process while providing them the core knowledge they need to begin a positive, successful journey within the walls of your clinic.
Enhance Internal Referrals without Spending a Dime
Establishing a positive first impression during the initial intake is just the tip of the iceberg.
In our latest Net Health webinar, “5 Ways to Boost Internal Referrals without Spending a Dime,” we explore the various opportunities you have throughout the patient experience to develop and enhance future referrals. These opportunities include:
- Initial Intake
- Initial Evaluation
- 90-Day Follow-Up
Increase referrals and convert those referrals into recurring visits, all without dedicating a single cent. Watch the on-demand webinar now to learn more.
5 Ways to Boost Internal Referrals
Without Spending a Dime!