In the therapy world, cancellations are inevitable, especially in outpatient physical therapy clinics. Cancellations can interrupt a patient’s treatment plan and lead to regression, if a patient is cancelling too often. There are several techniques that can be utilized, by both the therapist and the front desk, to help decrease the number of cancellations your clinic is experiencing. If your practice is experiencing a high volume of cancellations, here are a few techniques to try:

Lower your cancellation rate with these 7 tips!

  • Educate your Patient on the Importance of Attending Therapy. First and foremost, patient education on the plan of care and length of treatment should be discussed, in depth, at the initial visit. In conjunction, therapists should also be emphasizing the importance of patient attendance, to remain on track with their individualized treatment plan and stay on the expected course of recovery, at each follow up session. Explaining each exercise and identifying the patient’s progress at follow up sessions can also help the patient to stay motivated and continue to be invested in their recovery plan.
  • Collaboration is Key. Oftentimes the patients who continue attending their regularly scheduled therapy sessions are the ones who are directly involved in their treatment plan and who have collaboratively set goals with their therapist. Allowing the patient to give input as to the goals he/she wants to accomplish by the end of therapy provides each patient with the opportunity to be more invested in their individualized care plan. When a patient is invested and buys into his/her recovery, the likelihood of the patient cancelling decreases.
  • Create a Fun, Welcoming, Encouraging and Positive Environment. Give praise, high fives, and celebrate accomplishments, whether a patient progresses with an exercise or achieves one of his/her goals! Building an interpersonal relationship and getting to know your patients, on a more personal level, has a much greater impact than you may think! The more invested you are in your patient’s recovery, the more invested the patient is likely to be in showing up to his/her therapy appointments.
  • Continually Progress the Patient’s Treatment Plan. Another good way to keep the patient engaged and invested in his/her therapy is to continually progress the patient’s treatment plan. As the patient progresses and continues to be able to do more activities and exercises, the therapist should adjust the treatment plan so that the patient is always being challenged. By keeping the treatment session fresh and interesting, the patient is more likely to show up to his/her session and less likely to attempt to finish up his/her plan of care at home. If the therapist is not providing cues or does not frequently switch up the patient’s exercises, then what’s to prevent the patient from cancelling and just completing his/her exercises at the gym or at home?


Techniques for the Front Desk:

  • Create and Enforce a Cancellation Policy. If you don’t have one already and you are seeing a large number of cancellations, enforcing a cancellation policy may be the way to go. It might help to charge a fee if a patient cancels less than 24 hours prior to his/her appointment time. Explaining and emphasizing the cancellation policy at the patient’s first appointment is crucial to ensure there is no misunderstanding.
  • Remind Patients by Phone or Email. Many patients often forget about their appointments, especially if they are only attending therapy once or twice a week. Therefore, sending out an appointment reminder 24-48 hours prior to the patient’s appointment may help reduce cancellation rates. This also provides the patient with an adequate amount of time to cancel and reschedule, if an emergency or conflict of interest has occurred. Be sure to check with each patient, at the first appointment, to determine which communication method works best for them!
  • Provide wallet-sized appointment cards. While it may seem outdated, providing wallet-sized appointment cards, especially for those patients who are not as tech savvy can do wonders. The appointment card should have the date and time along with the clinic’s phone number and address on it so that should the patient need to re-schedule, he/she can easily contact the clinic.

Note: There are times when emergencies do occur and cancellations are unavoidable. In those cases, the best thing to do is to attempt to reschedule the patient that same week so that there is no disruption in his/her plan of care.

Cancellations will always be present in therapy clinics, but through implementing the above techniques and improving the soft skills of not only your front desk workers, but your therapists as well, you will likely see a decrease in your clinic’s cancellation rate and overall improved patient outcomes. Just remember, as Dr. Francis Peabody once said, “the secret of the care of the patient is caring for the patient”.

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