Nov 24, 2023

Practitioners: 5 Tips for Creating Treatment Plans Patients Will Actually Follow

As a dedicated practitioner, you understand that the success of any treatment plan hinges not only on your expertise but also on your patient's commitment to follow through. Crafting a treatment plan that resonates with your patient, and aligns with their goals, is paramount. To help you achieve this, we've compiled five actionable tips that will improve your treatment planning process and foster patient adherence.

1. Personalize the Plan

Find Their "Why"
“One-size-fits-all” doesn't apply in the world of therapy. Just as Simon Sinek emphasizes finding the "Why" in business, uncovering your patient's "Why" in therapy is crucial. What motivates them? What are their end goals? Whether it’s playing golf, keeping up with grandkids, or simply living pain-free, tailor your treatment plan and explanations to align with their "Why." Personalized therapy plans are more likely to resonate with your patients and instill commitment.

Shared Descision-Making
Involve your patients in the decision-making process. Show them how each intervention ties directly to their desired outcome or goal. If your patients can't see the link between a particular exercise or intervention and their objective, it's less likely to stick. Ask questions like, "Is this plan feasible with your schedule? If not, what barriers do you foresee?" This not only empowers them with a sense of control but also aligns your plan with their lifestyle and preferences. Studies show that patients with an external locus of control (where the therapist is the one making decisions based on authority) demonstrate a lesser degree of adherence to an intervention.

2. Plan the Details

Research suggests that specific plans can boost goal adherence by two to three times. When crafting a treatment plan, help your patient create a clear and detailed plan for when, where, and how they will perform prescribed exercises or interventions. Discuss how these elements will fit into their daily lives. Consider the plan's practicality — consider if it requires specialized equipment or a gym membership that may not be realistic for them — and modify accordingly.

3. Break Goals into Subgoals

Breaking down the main goal into subgoals or milestones can make the therapeutic journey more manageable and motivating. Subgoals provide feedback during a more extended recovery process, allowing adjustments if needed. Studies have shown that structuring the pursuit of an overarching goal into smaller, achievable steps reduces the difficulty of the journey and fosters motivation and persistence.

A simple example of this in rehabilitation is measuring the range of motion after surgery. Many surgical protocols will have targets to reach during each phase of treatment. Breaking your rehab into phases, with patient-specific milestones that help determine progression from one phase to the next, is an excellent way to incorporate subgoals into your treatment. This makes the journey more manageable and provides patients with clear markers of their progress and achievements along the way.

4. Start Small and Use Habit Stacking

Starting with small goals is fundamental in creating treatment plans that patients will follow. Avoid overwhelming patients on day one, as research indicates high rates of nonadherence when home exercise programs are too demanding. For instance, when working with patients who are not currently active, begin by prescribing 1-3 exercises. These exercises should be chosen specifically to align with their goals, and clearly explain how each one contributes to their overall progress. This gradual approach allows patients to establish a consistent routine and build confidence in their ability to adhere to the treatment plan.

To make adherence even more effective, consider using the concept of habit stacking, popularized in the book "Atomic Habits." Encourage patients to identify their existing daily habits and integrate new therapeutic behaviours alongside them. For example, have your patient practice their single-leg balance while brushing their teeth. This approach leverages the connectedness of behaviours to their advantage. As a bonus, it can help save time for those patients who “never have enough time” for their exercises.

5. Follow-up

Maintaining communication between sessions is a crucial aspect of patient engagement and adherence. Reach out to your patients through a secure messaging app or email to check on their progress, answer questions, and offer support. For therapists who struggle with caseload management, this approach not only improves home program consistency but also enhances patient retention. Many therapists are hesitant to follow up with patients between sessions for a variety of reasons, but patients are often very appreciative of the check-in and mindful of respecting your time. Taking two minutes to reach out to your patient, especially at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship, can help strengthen trust and improve consistency in their treatment plan.

Incorporating these tips into your treatment planning process will enhance patient adherence and strengthen your therapeutic relationship. By personalizing plans, planning meticulously, breaking down goals, starting small, and using effective communication, you can empower your patients to take control of their healing journey and achieve their desired outcomes. Remember, it's not just about what you prescribe; it's about how you guide and support your patients every step of the way.

Blog Contributor: 

Corey Persic 
Physiotherapist | Co-founder @ Careplan AI 
corey@careplan.ai

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