When you are thinking of ways to grow your business or a new program or type of therapy you offer, what do you consider? Brochures, flyers, marketing visits to referral sources, free screens, etc. probably top the list. Have you thought about eliminating barriers to therapy, though? I’m sure you have thought of that at least somewhat; that is, after all, what drives many PT clinics to be open far more than 40 hour, 8-5 stretch per week (my own clinic opens for patient care at 6 AM, and yep, I’m right there to see folks at that time-our nurse and teacher clients love it!). Think outside the box, though-are there additional ways that you can eliminate barriers to attendance (or increase perceived value) for the patient population that comes to your clinic (or the one you would like to draw in)?
When I first arrived to begin my current job, I found that I missed treating women who were pregnant (that was one of my favorite patient populations at my prior employment location). So the obvious solution (especially since I had been hired to launch the first satellite clinic for a university hospital system) was to start a program and grow that business! So I started visiting the local OB/GYN and family practice doctors, I held free classes for midwives in the area, made relationships with doulas, and offered free prenatal exercise and wellness classes (which also had guest speakers on a variety of topics along with the exercise class) as well as free fittings for prenatal support belts. We slowly started to see more referrals, but struggled with attendance (and eventually had to cancel the prenatal classes due to low attendance).
However, my satellite clinic was booming, and we had actually far outgrown our originally allotted space. When we moved into the new one, we decided to try something new for this patient population. All of the therapists who worked with me at the time (as well as I myself!) were mothers of young children, so we all donated things that we weren’t using (all the annoying loud toys that Uncle Billy thinks are SO CUTE and Mom and Dad want OUT OF THE HOUSE!!). We ended up with a laundry basket of toys, a little stack of books and puzzles, a baby swing, and a play pen. We then purchased a kid sized table and chair set and some crayons, as well as outlet covers and foam pads to put on the underside of surfaces that little heads might run into. We put all of these things in our largest treatment room and designated it “The Family Room” (note: if you don’t have enough treatment rooms to do this, you could purchase a self enclosing play yard and just gate off a corner of your clinic) and started telling moms, “Please bring your kids! They are welcome here, we have a special space designated for them where you can get treatment in the same area while they play. No, really, don’t worry, we really don’t mind if they are loud and run around. We all have kids too and totally understand. And don’t worry if your baby cries, I can either hold her while you do your exercises or we can modify what you are doing to where you can hold her, and even nurse her if you want! I promise, it’s fine! Not only do we not mind, it seriously makes our day when kiddos come in with their moms!”
All of a sudden, our “young mom” population started increasing like crazy (to the point where I had to hire 4 additional therapists within a 9 month period). Women were driving to come to us (bypassing other, closer clinics) because the word was spreading (word of mouth and social media-never underestimate the power of mom support groups on Facebook!) that our clinic welcomed babies, toddlers, and kids of all ages and had provided a safe place for them to play. One mom told me her friend told her, in an astounded voice, “They actually really want you to bring your kids! It’s not like those places that say it’s okay and it really isn’t” as I strapped her baby into a carrier on myself so that I could help guide her through her exercises. I smiled back and said, “No, we definitely genuinely enjoy the little ones here! I am glad you brought him.”
As healthcare costs rise, and more people are looking to wellness oriented services, we need to stay on top of helping to make sure that we are getting rid of any barriers to care that are within our control. Our entire family setup cost me less than $200, and has paid for itself so many times over I can’t even begin to count; and it has really increased the value that the patients receive from therapy. They aren’t having to pay a babysitter AND their copay. Nor are they having to arrange for a babysitter multiple times a week (as a mother of 3 kids age 4 and under, that is not an easy task at all!).
This principle can translate to exercise performance (wellness exercise or home program performance) as well. I know it is really easy to roll our eyes internally when patients say they didn’t have time to do their home program (“But I only gave you 5 minutes worth of exercise. Come on, person! You have 5 minutes somewhere in your day. Geez.”). I think that is code for “I don’t know how to establish a new habit; can you help me figure it out?” So what are the barriers? If it is remembering, maybe an alarm on their phone would help. If it is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks once they get home at night, help them figure out a way to do it during their lunch break at work. If they truly legitimately feel like they don’t have time, can you figure out a way to have them do an exercise or 2 while doing something they do already (driving, showering, brushing teeth)?
What are some creative ways to help remove barriers (real or perceived) to therapy attendance and compliance? This could vary based on your patient population makeup, I would love to hear your ideas for various patient types in the comments below!