Why Patients Stop Going to Physical Therapy

Signs and Symptoms of Patient Drop Out
By Lily Beltran
Why Patients Stop Going to Physical Therapy

In physical therapy, it can be disheartening when you start to get the feeling that a patient is about to discontinue care. When searching for answers, it can be easy to accept the responsibility yourself, while other times, it feels like it was completely out of your control. Continuing care is important for overall patient well being and closer connections with clinicians lead to better outcomes. So what does it look like when a patient is going to stop going to therapy?

Unrealistic Expectations

Knowing timelines and educating patients on the process can help your patient feel control and responsibility. Patients often begin therapy with unrealistic assumptions in terms of the roles of the therapist and the patient, the degree of commitment that's required, and their expectations on seeing results. Patients like to be educated on what is expected with clear timelines, guidelines, and a linear trajectory for what recovery is going to look like.

Begin With the End In Sight

When patients begin therapy, they are not sure what the duration will be. By talking about the end of therapy and when that is, expectations are set. It gives patients a goal to work toward, right from the beginning.

Outside Circumstances Impede Further Treatment

People are all living their own unique lives, and sometimes, life can get in the way of a physical therapy appointment. The important thing to do is communicate with patients. It’s better to know what’s going on with your patients, than to simply have them vanish without an explanation.

If a trend of no-shows or last minute cancels appears, communicate with your patient in an effort to understand what is happening and why. Perhaps the time of the appointment is a challenge. Frequency can also be an issue for patients. The key here is empowering patients to take control of their progress and commit to their choice of receiving care.

How to Cope Personally

Dropouts happen, so don’t take it personally. More likely than not, other therapists also experience attrition from time to time. For every extenuating circumstance that leads a patient to drop out, there are a variety of impactful interactions that have positively shaped the course of your patients’ lives for the better.  

By communicating with patients, a game plan for success can be created to help prevent patient drop out. By understanding what goes into a patient drop out, we can create a playbook that can help us best cope. With this knowledge, we can watch patients achieve their dreams, goals, and live the life they’ve always wanted.

Give patients hope they can get better. Be flexible when outside circumstances get in the way.


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