With increasing access to information on the internet, patient expectations are higher than they’ve ever been, and the competition is fierce. Patient trust has always been important for the success and growth of your physical therapy clinic, but this new environment makes it absolutely vital.
Once you gain patient trust, it increases the likelihood they will consistently choose your practice over another. It also gives you a little leeway if problems arise in the future. No matter what may happen, earning the trust of your patients ensures your practice can survive.
Arguably, the “caring” in health care, seems to have declined over the last decade.
So, what is patient trust and how is it earned? This isn’t a new concept, but it’s an area in which some practices fail. The transparency that leads to trust is more than including standard marketing and communications about why your practice is better than the rest — you have to “truly care” about your patients and their problems.
What Is Patient Trust and Why Is It Important?
Generally, patient trust happens when you have a deep understanding of your patients’ needs and a valid solution to their problems. You provide them with relevant information and personalized care that caters to their unique needs, rather than just touting the benefits of choosing your practice.
Ultimately, this trust is about putting the patient first in your marketing content and your services.
The reason trust is more important now than it’s ever been is a direct result of the variety of treatment options available to patients today. Patients no longer need to choose between only one or two clinics. They have options and virtually limitless access to reviews & testimonials that can give them an idea of what you have to offer.
Because of this, practice owners need to look beyond the competitive pricing, features, and benefits, and direct their attention more toward the history and legacy. Patients have become empowered and skeptical, so they’re looking for the whole package — one that will not only give them reliable solutions to their pain, but also a physical therapy practice with patient services they can count on now and in the future. Ideally, your services will address their dysfunction, disability, and functional limitations; but in the event your services don’t completely alleviate their problems, patients still want to have an exceptional experience.
In my personal experience, patients often care as much about the customer service, communication, and convenience as they do the outcomes of the treatment. In other words, they don’t expect miracles, just a sincere attempt by the physical therapy practice to rehabilitate them.
How Is Patient Trust Created?
As we know, the idea of building consumer trust isn’t new, but it is difficult to achieve. Just making promises about your practice is no longer enough, since patients are looking for actions that back-up your claims. This has a big influence on loyalty as well since patients are more likely to return to the practice that gave them the experience and results they wanted the first time around.
Authenticity is key. Authenticity is the one thing that transcends industries, generations, and cultures since it’s the universal thing that all patients are looking for. It’s about being transparent and giving patients what they expect, both in developing the patient/therapist relationship and delivering on their expectations of meeting personal health goals and finding a solution to their existing condition.
Of course, authenticity and transparency are useless for the pure sake of it. You need to be able to translate this into the right verbiage, demonstrating an in-depth understanding of your patients’ needs and expectations, so you can provide them with relevant, valuable solutions. Superlatives, false claims, half-truths and other marketing hype that can’t be verified, instantly read as false, credibility killers. Focus on positive information of substance and value to your patient.
Also, if you’re falling below expectations in some way, it’s vital to learn from it and find ways to improve. While it may be difficult to accurately measure the value and performance in terms of patient trust, you can set standards for your physical therapy practice to ensure that each aspect of your patient’s experience is accounted for and completed. This not only makes your trust tangible for your audience, but it also keeps your business living up to the image of excellence you’re sharing with your community.
Why Is Patient Trust Hard to Earn?
There are many reasons trust can be hard to earn, but skeptical and savvy patients are the main reason. More and more false claims, scams, data breaches and misuse of data are dominating the headlines. It’s becoming more difficult for consumers to immediately trust a business and be open to trying an the little known practice of physical therapy.
Fortunately, this issue is easy to combat if you’re truly putting the patient first. A physical therapy practice must be clear about its purpose and values, as well as being transparent with policy and procedures. Perception is everything, and a clinic that offers the truth is more likely to have good impressions with potential patients.
There’s been a shift in power between the practice owner and the consumer. In the past, the physicians and physical therapy practice owners had the power and patients had to accept what was given. Now, patients have a broad outlook and understand more about what physical therapy should and should not be, so they’re less forgiving of missteps. Patients want a practice that shows loyalty and demonstrates shared values, so an effective strategy would be to align your practice’s values with the information you’d gladly offer to the public.
In addition, transparency is often forced upon the physical therapy practice, since patients can “find dirt on the practice” if they look hard enough. More than ever, questionable ethics and lack of sincerity are an major risk. It’s so easy for them now to be published on social media and to be found by potential patients, leaving a practice looking disingenuous and sleazy. Of course, this is worse than having no trust at all.
Handling Breaches of Trust
As hard as it is to earn the trust of your patients in the first place, it’s even harder to get it back following a breach. That’s why developing deep trust with your patient base in the first place, is the only way to bounce back and survive the fallout.
Physical therapy groups that offer a positive patient experience which meets or exceeds their expectations and delivers benefits that resonate with the patient is so important. An overall culture that demonstrates a willingness to learn from mistakes is paramount. Gone are the days of media spin, since the best way to approach a mistake in the current climate is by owning up to shortcomings and showing a determination to move forward.
ADVANCED TIP: while most practice owners understand the importance of capturing online ratings and reviews, still very few do it. Moreover, responding to negative reviews is a great example of owning up to legitimate mistakes that happen in the practice.
If handled properly, a small mistake or breach of trust can even provide an opportunity for growth. A physical therapy practice that gracefully addresses a mistake and has an effective plan to recover can gain some positive exposure.
While the patient’s trust may sound like a swift strategy or “silver bullet” for new leads and business growth, it’s anything but. Trust is difficult to earn and keep and is far more than just a marketing strategy.
The authenticity and transparency necessary to garner real patient trust comes from honest communications, a solid practice culture, and treating the patient as you would want to be treated, rather than just lip service on your physical therapy website or marketing materials.
Though it’s clear that consumers want a relationship built on trust with their physical therapist, their general trust of small business isn’t high. This can be an area of opportunity for new or developing clinics, or physical therapy groups looking to revamp their image and surge ahead of competitors. Whether we like it or not, the power is with the consumer, so it’s more important than ever to put their needs first for business success.