December 3, 2020

9 Steps to Expectation Setting with Your PT Patients

It’s not what you did. It’s what you didn’t do.

Customer dissatisfaction is rarely caused by your direct actions. More often, complaints arrive because you did not deliver on what you said you would do – whether verbally or implied.

Patients complain (and rightfully so) when they get less than expected. Indeed, understanding and setting patients’ expectations are keys to enhancing their satisfaction levels. Keep reading for 9 steps to expectation setting with your physical therapy patients!

1. Understand realistic vs. unrealistic expectations

Before taking steps to enforce expectations with your PT clients, you must first establish what can and cannot be reasonably expected of you to begin with. Having clear boundaries will limit the potential for manipulation and provide a clear avenue for conflict resolution. Patients can reasonably expect that they will be listened to, offered thorough explanations, and cared for by compassionate, professional staff. Unreasonable expectations include wanting to discuss several major problems at one time, expecting immediate results, and expecting healthcare providers to be accessible 24/7 via phone.

2. Seek to understand why unreasonable requests are made

Most of the time, patients are not trying to be difficult. Unreasonable expectations are generally rooted in some form of misunderstanding or miscommunication. The ability to notice patterns and understand where patient’s unreasonable expectations are coming from will help you to enhance your practice’s future messaging.

3. Establish a projected timeline for results

In physical therapy, results are rarely instantaneous. It takes time and effort for improvements to become noticeable. Discussing a timeline and setting goals for improvement with your clients will allow them to know when they should and should not be concerned, and eliminate the opportunity for them to say, “It’s not better,” within a week of their first appointment.


4. Discuss costs upfront

Out of pocket healthcare costs, including physical therapy treatment, can be substantial. It’s one thing to know how much you’re paying ahead of time, and an entirely different thing to have unexpected charges sprung on you left and right. Regardless of size, unexpected charges are one of the biggest things that build distrust and cause drop offs. Discussing a plan for scheduled payments upfront will give your clients peace of mind and eliminate surprises that make for unmet expectations.

5. Clearly explain why certain treatment and management is necessary

Ditch the medical jargon and meet your patients where they’re at. Without an understanding of why certain treatments and management methods are necessary, patients are likely to grow frustrated and abandon their home exercise programs and overall plan of care. This is especially important in physical therapy, as clients must take initiative for much of their own treatment. Adherence is key to results, and communication is key to adherence.

6. Stop “selling” physical therapy

Yes, you are running a business. That being said, your job is not to “sell” your clients something they don’t need or that you can’t deliver on. Present a plan for how you can help your patients reach their goals and represent it accurately with compassion. Compare your first conversation to that of a high-end mattress store: You aren’t simply trying to sell a mattress; instead, you want to help the client to get a good night’s sleep.

7. Don’t allow patients to manipulate you with unreasonable requests

It’s easy to find yourself bending over backwards in an attempt to please your patients. While providing patient-centered healthcare should be the objective, you must enforce your boundaries. Allowing yourself to be manipulated by patients with unreasonable requests will only set you up for failure, overwork, and frustration in the long run.

8. Recognize your own limits

There will undoubtedly come times when you simply cannot provide what a patient is looking for. This may be because their needs fall beyond the scope of your practice, or simply because communication is not working. Either way, knowing when to direct them elsewhere will add to your credibility and build trust for future referrals.

9. Cultivate an enthusiastic and happy staff

Patients should rightfully be able to expect a positive experience in your office, where they are greeted by a friendly and comforting staff. The care you extend to your team members will be reflected in how they fulfill the emotional needs of your patients. An office of impatient, grumpy, or unprofessional staff is a surefire way to leave patients feeling worse after their appointments than before.