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Clinical Solutions Blog

Why Do Patients Self Discharge From Treatment and What To Do About It?

Posted by Rick Lau on Jun 8, 2016 7:31:15 PM

Physiotherapy Patient Engagement.jpg

As a clinic owner, you spend loads of time (and money) on your physiotherapy marketing to acquire new patients.

New patients arrive and seem more than happy with the initial assessment and first treatment. They return for a few subsequent sessions and then, they cancel an appointment and stop coming back.

You’re left wondering, did they suddenly feel better and graduate from treatment? Or has this patient self discharged from treatment?

This concept of self discharge is not isolated to the physical therapy industry.

For example, out of all the people who set up a Canadian bank account, 32% will cancel their bank account within the first 100 days.

And 46% of people who attend a Chuck E Cheese, will never go back again.

In the world of physiotherapists and chiropractors, what percentage of new patients will self discharge? 

Actually, a better question to ask is: How many patients graduate from your treatment plans? 

You probably don’t know.

Well, from the clinics I’ve worked with, this number is 40%. That means that 60% of new patients never complete their treatment plans and will self discharge. Quite a large percentage right?

If you want to stop spending time (and money) on marketing to acquire patients only to lose them, you are going to love what I’ve got to share because we are going to solve this issue once and for all.

We’re going to cover:

  • Why patients self discharge and what you need to do about it
  • Why it’s so important to change this and retain the patients you acquire
  • 4 steps to put a re-activation program in place

Ready to dive in?

Why patients self discharge and what you need to do about it

Since patients are usually in pain and have a problem, the patient journey is already an emotional roller coaster ride. And unfortunately, you’re probably making it worse. Quite frankly, you’re probably so busy that you're oblivious to what is happening for the patient.

Here are some common issues:

1. You create an emotional roller coaster ride before the call instead of making it easy for them to choose you.

For example, is your website easy to find online? Do you have great Google reviews that attract new patients and make them feel confident to choose you? If you don’t, then they are coming in cold and this can increase their emotional state.

Especially if…

2. They have a bad first impression.

When they call your clinic they are put on hold, they speak to a frustrated, irritated front desk person instead of a happy, friendly and polite person. Sure, they make a booking but after the call they feel unsure, they get a sense of buyers remorse and don’t know if they fully trust you.

3. They feel like another number

On day 1 they are overloaded, the processes of your clinic just seem like one big mess. Not only do they have to fill out copious amounts of paperwork, but then they feel they are rushed through their whole experience without being given a treatment plan or discussing progress. Instead of you being one of their most trusted health advisors, they can’t help but feel like they’re just another number.

4. It doesn't get any better for them

They give you the benefit of the doubt because they do feel a little better after their first appointment. Problem is, on their second and third visit, things don’t change. So, they discharge themselves from treatment and go searching for someone who can deliver a better service, or they simply don't bother and put up with their injury or pain.

If you look at it from the patient’s perspective, it’s easy to see that often, they go through a lot.

Instead of making it difficult for them you need to clean up your act and make it easy and enjoyable for them!



Boost your patient engagement today and never lose a patient again.

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Why it’s so important to change this and retain the patients you acquire

According to Bain and Company, it costs 6–7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. 6-7 times as much!

That’s why it’s so important to focus more effort on retaining the patients you already have. You will immediately notice a large cost saving.

The solution to this problem is to call back patients who have self discharged, or to re-activate past patients that may not have been into the clinic for sometime. 

Let’s just take a look at how much this is worth to your clinic?

If you get 80 assessments per month and 40% self discharge, that's 32 recurring patients you’ve lost. 

When you call back and try to WIN BACK those patients you can easily generate more appointments and revenue.

Let’s do the math.

Assuming you call back all 32 patients and an average 50% rebook with you - you regain 16 patients. If each customer is worth an average of $500, making those winback calls is worth 16 x $500 = $8000 per month or $96,000 per year.

Is this amount worth getting your CLINICIANS to call these patients back?


And the key here is the clinician’s are the ones who call, NOT the front desk.

If you implement this process into a monthly re-activation program/ system in your clinic, you are absolutely going to see your patient bookings and revenue move in an upward direction - and fast!

This is easy and below I've outlined exactly how you do it.


Physiotherapy Patient Engagement


4 steps to put a Win Back program in place

Step 1

At the beginning of every month, compile a patient fall off or drop off list. On your list are patients who did not have a treatment in the last 30 days.

You should be able to get this from your practice management software, and it should be able to split the patient list into segments based on the clinician who last saw the patient for treatment.

Step 2

For each clinician, give them a printout of the patients they have previously treated, and who have not attended the clinic in the last 30 days.

You should also have columns for notes, so clinicians can indicate if the “patient is fine” or “patient has rebooked.”

Step 3

When the clinicians have gaps in their day, get them to call back each patient on the list.

Here is a script that Paul Wright, physiotherapy business coach, has famously used.

“Hi (clients name) – it is Paul here from XYZ health care – just following up on that knee problem we treated you for in May - as part of our service, do you mind if I ask you one simple question? Are you now 100%?”

If they are not 100%, it gives you incentive to rebook them for further treatment or make some suggestions or recommendations about what they should do next.

The key is to keep your patient fall off list clean

If the patient actually graduated from your plan, they should be marked off so they don't show up on this list for the next month. Then, rather than being helpful, a follow-up call becomes a nuisance. It’s basic common sense but is an easy tip to overlook.

Your job now is to make this a system - a re-activaton program that your clinic team commits to doing every single month. Guaranteed you will definitely see more patient bookings and revenue, not to mention happier, more satisfied customers.

While you're here, download the free Patient Compliance Form by clicking on the button below. It's got everything you need to have a successful first appointment and set the stage for retaining instead of losing those patients!


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Be Better At The Front Desk: 5 Easy Tactics You Should Know 


Physiotherapy Patient Engagement

Topics: Patient Engagement

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