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STOP PATIENT DROP! The 6-Week Guide to Improving Your Patient Completion Percentage

completed week 3

You’ve seen it a thousand times…

You got a new patient! After just one or two visits they are amazed to find themselves already beginning to feel better – it’s great! … right?

Fast forward 3 weeks. The patient is about 6 visits through their care plan. First, they miss an appointment. Then, they stop answering calls and don’t schedule their final 2-3 weeks of appointments. You’ve now lost as much as 50% of the revenue you budgeted, and worse – you know their condition is likely to return because they didn’t stick with treatment to its completion.

“What happened? They were setting up to have a great success story?!”

If this is you, then read on…

The P.O.C. Completion Percentage Crisis

Whether a patient has a good or bad experience at the beginning of physical therapy, getting them to complete their care is one of the toughest problems facing private practices today. In fact, studies show that the BEST practices only have a completion percentage of about 25%.

The reasons are many. PT is expensive for most people with high deductibles or copays, and if they aren’t seeing results – it’s easy to understand why they would stop coming. But often, even the ones who have a great experience drop because once their physical pain decreases, the financial pain becomes more obvious.

The patient stops seeing the value of what you provide because they no longer feel their need – even if physically they still need to be stronger.

So how does your practice overcome this epidemic? It won’t happen at once, but below is a 6-week guide with tips on WHAT and HOW to teach patients before, during, and after each week of visits. These carefully planned communications aim to help remind them of the importance of finishing care and getting back to full strength in addition to the life-changing benefits of being pain-free.


How to encourage patients to complete physical therapy

Fighting Patient Drop Out with Communication

Now before you check out the guide, let’s put this in perspective. Yes, it would be great to take your completion percentage from 15% to 50%. But, industry data tells us that would be fairly unrealistic with best case averages being around 25-30%.

Additionally,  research by the Harvard Business School estimates that a completion increase of just 5% could boost revenue by 25%! All that to say, this is an area where small adjustments and small boosts in percentages can have a huge impact on your take-home revenue.

To dive more into retention data and best practices, check out this article. But now, let’s get into the guide!



Therapy completion percentage tips

The 6-Week Guide to
Boosting Completion Percentage

6 Weeks of Emails, Reminders, and Other Communications to
Encourage Patients to Complete Their Care:


Week 1 – From Consult to 1st Appointment

Pre-Appointment Email: 3 Days Before

    Have an email template that features 3 key sections: “What to Expect at Your Appointment”, “What to Bring and Wear”, and a “Tips for Week 1”  that discusses pain management. Reassure them that soreness and pain are normal at the beginning but you can, and will help them manage the pain.
    It would also be great to include a friendly profile picture of the therapist they’ll be seeing!

24-Hour Appointment Reminder:

    Send a call or text reminder with their appointment time and who to contact if they have any questions.

During Their First Visit:

    If you didn’t during their consultation, this would be a great time to provide Welcome Packet with printed materials on what to expect, what physical therapy does, conditions you treat, as well as information about the staff and your practice.
    In addition to getting X-rays and other medical information, take time to discuss with the patient what their condition or pain is stopping them from doing. Do they play a certain sport? Do they struggle to play with their kids or grandkids? Can they walk their dog without pain?
    Determining a very personal struggle to set as a goal is a great way to increase the value of PT in their perception. Take note of this goal so that whoever may treat them is able to use that as a reminder in future visits. It’s also a great tool to take before pictures showing a low range of motion or other problems – then work towards the after picture week to week.
    Lastly, remind them of the email they received about pain management and discuss specific details of their case with them as well as any questions they have. This will reassure them, set proper expectations, and make your automated emails appear much more personal.

Follow-Up Email:

    Keep the first followup light. Try to schedule this for the same day as the appointment even if it’s after business hours (email activity is high when people get home). Thank them for coming and affirm the good work they’ve started. You might even use something like a map graphic with the first location checked off to show progress.
    Then, provide an overview of what’s next and finish by providing a very easy way to ask any questions they might have.


completed week 2

Week 2 – Focusing on the End Goal

Pre-Appointment Email: 2 Days Before

    Send an email with encouragement that these first days are tough but worth the effort. Include a patient success story or video to show “what could be” for them.
    If you gave them a home exercise program or instructions encourage them to bring the sheet to their appointment. You or your staff can mark progress the patient will be able to take home and see.

24-Hour Appointment Reminder:

    Send a call or text reminder with their appointment time and who to contact if they have any questions.

During Their Appointment:

    You’re likely still teaching them a lot during this stage, so remember to keep an encouraging tone, listen to any concerns, and keep the focus on their goals set up at the first appointment. End the visit with an affirmation of their progress as well as how the next visit is going to be valuable to them. That could mean building on progress seen today or loosening up a specific area to get them past the initial pain. Show your expertise, but keep it about their benefit.

Follow-Up Email:

    Congratulate the patient on being 2 weeks closer to a pain-free life! This is also a great point to invite them to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, or to check out the ebooks about relieving various pains you have on your website. As their affinity for your advice grows they’ll be more likely to share that advice on their social media profiles.

completed week 3

Week 3 – Past the Pain, On to the Gain!

Pre-Appointment Email: 2 Days Before

    Send a similar email to what they’ve now come to expect. Briefly mention what to expect, a reminder to bring home exercise notes to track progress, and an easy way to reply with questions.

24-Hour Appointment Reminder:

    Send a call or text reminder with their appointment time and who to contact if they have any questions.

During Their Appointment:

    You already know what to look for as a therapist, but this is a vital week to listen to them as a customer. If they’re struggling to get past the soreness of exercise or not yet seeing results, then they are a high drop risk. Talk about a “custom” plan to help them get over the hump this week.
    If needed, incorporate a story from another patient with a similar issue and say you’ll be reviewing that case to make sure they achieve the same result. Have this story on some printed materials. When the patient is feeling better, this is the time to really teach about the difference between getting over pain and being strong enough to avoid relapse.
    Use light, educational materials to explain how you’ll now be working to make certain muscles stronger than ever and avoid future injury.

Follow-Up Email:

    Once again thank them for coming in and show the visual of their progress with 3 boxes checked (mentioned in week 1). Touch on what the next visit will work on in a way that recaps what you talked about in person – moving from fixing pain to strengthening against future problems.

completed week 4

Week 4 – Feeling Better, Let’s Make Sure It Stays That Way

Pre-Appointment Email: 1-2 Days Before

    By this point, they are beginning to know what to expect. Remind them of the appointment, but then call out something different than normal to increase the impact of the email. This could be a specific blog post, a contest you’re currently running, or upcoming local event!

24-Hour Appointment Reminder:

    Send a call or text reminder with their appointment time and who to contact if they have any questions. At this point, including a personal touch such as “As usual, we’re here if you have questions!” helps keep things friendly.

During Their Appointment:

    You probably have a number of patients who, at 4 weeks in, don’t need as much 1-on-1 time with their therapists. They are used to their exercises, they are stronger now, and maybe you have PTAs or other staff floating to help increase the number of patients you can treat at once. That’s normal – but it comes with an important note: If a patient is feeling better, knows the exercises, and doesn’t feel helpful, personal attention they will stop seeing the benefit of your services as compared to the copay.
    Feel free to work in mini progress evaluations or talk about their progress related to their week 1 goal. If they’re doing well, this is the time to start asking about their friends and family who might need help!

For more on asking for referrals without “sounding salesy”, check out this article!

Follow-Up Email:

    In this follow up email, turn the attention to wanting to hear from them. Include a link to your review page and talk about how their feedback could help others live pain-free lives without drugs or surgery.

completed week 5

Week 5 – Let’s Review

Pre-Appointment Email: 2 Days Before

    Send an email with another progress point checked off, and celebrate how close they are to the end! Include any necessary reminders, and finish with another recent success story – perhaps on Facebook making them more likely to share the post.

24-Hour Appointment Reminder:

    Send a call or text reminder with their appointment time and who to contact if they have any questions before the visit. Again, don’t be afraid to mix this up a little and include a personal sounding touch!

During Their Appointment:

    This a great appointment to start a little differently – keep things fresh as they’ve gotten used to the therapy routine. Sit down with them for about 5 minutes and ask how they’re feeling. Use targeted questions like “When we started do you remember your biggest struggle? How is that now?”
    If this is right before the patient’s last week of therapy, send them home with a “Patient Success Story” form that they can fill out at home and bring back their last day. Tell them you want to get their “after” photos taken on the last day too.

Follow-Up Email:

    Thank them again and include a comment such as “Seeing natural improvement like yours is the reason I decided to become a PT! It’s so great to see your hard work paying off.” Finish with saying you’re looking forward to their final week and that, during the appointment, you’ll have tips for them to stay pain-free after therapy ends.

completed week 6

Week 6 – Finish Strong & Pass it On

Pre-Appointment Email: 2 Days Before

    Send a “this is it!” type email with an excited, happy tone. Include reminders about after photos and their success story form.

24-Hour Appointment Reminder:

    Send a call or text reminder with their appointment time and who to contact if they have any questions.

During Final Appointment:

    It’s graduation! Don’t be afraid to make this extra fun with certificates, photos, or other memorable takeaways. Follow through on the promise of post-therapy tips. If you have ebooks on your website about back pain or other general conditions printed versions of these can make good post-care content.
    Lastly, never let a patient leave without referral cards that offer something of value like a free consultation! Picking up on the theme? Shareable, shareable, shareable.

Follow-Up Email:

    For this, think “Thanks for choosing us – we loved having you!” You also want to invite them to take a patient discharge survey or at least write an online review if they haven’t (try language like “become someone else’s motivation!”). Finally, let them know you’ll be available to them for any future conditions or if their friends and family need help. Include a link to more conditions and information on your website.



In Summary

When it comes to increasing plan of care completion percentage, it boils down to 2 things:

  • Regular, helpful, friendly communications.
  • Creating a sense of value in EVERY appointment and “teasing” that value at the end of appointments and in pre-appointment emails.

A 5% increase in patients completing care could mean a 25% increase in revenue, so this is a huge opportunity for any practice. Additionally, that means if you need email automation or other tools to make this happen it is worth investing in! WebPT Reach has some great tools for patient communications, or you can look at including email marketing in your practice website.

For more guides and free tools, check out our PT Marketing Training page.



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