Patients seek physical therapy for a variety of reasons.
Many get referrals from their primary physicians following surgery or after experiencing an injury from a specific event such as a twisted ankle in a pickup basketball game. Lingering dull or debilitating pain in the back, shoulder, or other body part also sends many people to their local PT. And still others have found the wellness programs at physical therapy clinics to be a better fit for them than joining a health club.
Regardless of the reason patients come through the door, the large majority of physical therapy clinics realize the value of each and every patient not only from a care perspective but how their attendance affects the bottom lines especially in the current era of dwindling reimbursements and other insurance issues.
Across all businesses, it’s generally accepted that it costs more to acquire new customers than it does to retain existing ones. Opinions and studies vary on this. Some estimate acquiring new customers costs 4 to 10 times more than retaining existing ones. Others say the cost is even higher.
“Research shows that it can cost up to 30 times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an existing one. It pays to stay very close to your customers, so you know their exact needs, today and tomorrow. Your aim is to be irreplaceable as their supplier.”
Mike Johnston The Chartered Institute of Marketing
How does this relate to physical therapy? Missed appointments are not only damaging to a patient’s progress but they are also costly to the clinic’s financial health.
A study conducted by the University of West Florida examined the impact of patient non-attendance at 11 physical therapy clinics in the Pensacola, FL, area.
The researchers tracked data from 54,678 scheduled appointments and recorded 9,790 missed appointments (or approximately 18%). Assuming a $200 appointment fee, that was a combined $1,958,900 in potential lost income to these clinics. And if it is assumed each missed appointment slows progress by two days, the patients lost a concerning 19,580 recovery days.
Patients miss physical therapy appointments for a variety of reasons of course. Some have conflicts at work, transportation issues, illnesses and other reasons that are beyond their control. Others may stop attending for financial reasons; some simply stop going to physical therapy once they start to feel better.
We know many clinics have established a “missed appointment fee” to cover the clinic financially in case of absences. But what about the harm to a patient’s progress from non-attendance or non-compliance with their exercise program?
At In Hand Health, we included features in our telehealth solution that connect physical therapists and patients inside or outside clinic walls such as secure instant messaging, real-time compliance monitoring, and progress meters (our CaRe Index). We believe tools such as these enable physical therapists to extend their expertise beyond office visits while also encouraging the patient to assume ownership of their part in the rehabilitation process. What’s more, your clinic generates additional revenue when your patients use it.
We know many of you have developed your own methods for keeping patients engaged in physical therapy for the long term. Care to share some of your ideas? Let us know in the comments section below.