Patient Attrition in Physical Therapy – A Growing Problem

What questions to ask yourself about prescribed treatment not being completed

patient attrition

The phrase, “stop and smell the roses” should not be a metaphor for pausing where you are in life. But things happen. Whether it is a car accident, sport or work injury, it’s never a convenient time to be out of work and holding back on the things you enjoy.

Physical therapy is the preservation, enhancement, and restoration of movement for physical function. In other words, when you do experience an injury, this platform of service is designed to help get you back on your feet. Seems simple enough. Yet, regardless of the recommendations of doctors, people still are not attending all of their prescribed or scheduled sessions. This impedes recovery and in many cases – means patients fail to return to full function post injury. Many factors can play into this lack of treatment, and understanding why can help reduce patient attrition.

One of the most common reasons for missing treatment can be that life just gets in the way. It is important that the therapist and the patient communicate the amount of time the sessions will take. It’s hard to see the big picture when the patient feels like he or she is accomplishing the tasks and feels that they no longer need treatment. If the scheduled treatment is on an eight to ten-week plan, but the patient is completing tasks early on, they may lose interest in future sessions. Other times, it just becomes difficult to make time for the sessions. Everyone is busy, there never seems to be enough time to work full time, get groceries, go to the gym, make dinner, and all the other errands that come up. Having a clear understanding of how long treatment will take and why each step is crucial will help the patient stay focused and motivated.

Other times, the patient could be struggling with an emotional battle. If they have been in a serious accident and are having to cope with a new way of life, it can be incredibly difficult to stay motivated. They could also be searching for help from chronic pain, which is a completely different struggle, as it is something they feel and suffer from every single day. The best way to approach someone struggling is to treat the person, not just treat the injury. Take the time to listen to the patient’s needs and to understand his or her frustrations to reduce patient attrition.

It goes beyond the patient as well. Clinicians should take a look to see if there are any patterns within the facility for non-treatment or missed appointments. Are there more cancellations or skipped appointments on the weekends? Are you over-booked or short-staffed and moving patients further out? Internal process can be a factor in non-treatments. Maybe there is a therapist that has great reviews that everyone wants to work with, but there isn’t the time. Meet with your employees and find their strengths and weaknesses to make for a stronger clinic. Be sure to keep your employees motivated, and provide the necessary resources to help make them successful.

Increasingly, clinics are getting creative finding ways to reduce patient attrition. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, sharing some of the techniques that are working for clinics today.