5+ reasons why patients don’t come back! How to interpret non-verbal cues [4min read]

Non-verbal cues are missed at your peril…

It leads to one of the most common questions we get from new grads: “My patient didn’t return, what can I fix with my clinical approach?

A no-show can leave a new Physio feeling demoralised, questioning their ability.

But the truth is usually not as bad as you feared.

Don’t assume the worst!

Human nature is prone to self doubt, so you’ll often make the wrong assumptions and head down the wrong path.

The simplest example is a new patient who attends one session, then doesn’t show up for session 2.

You screwed up, right? You made the injury worse? You got the diagnosis wrong?

Chances are it’s none of those!

Reasons why patients don’t return

Patients won’t show up for the 2nd session because:

  • they got better quickly and didn’t need more treatment
  • they got held up at work and forgot to cancel the session
  • they aren’t in a financial position to continue treatment
  • they got their appointment date wrong
  • your approach wasn’t what they wanted
  • + lots more

Now there’s a chance you didn’t provide the perfect treatment, but that’s unlikely to be the reason behind it.

If there’s anything you need to improve on, it’s not your treatment selection or diagnostic abilities.

Learn about non-verbal cues

Work on your ability to read non-verbal cues.

The way the patient folds their arms when you mention exercise programs. The look they give when you ask them to come back this week.

If you can pick up on these unspoken hints, you’ll be able to assist your delivery and approach to better align with the patient’s expectations.

BIG POINT THOUGH: that’s not saying to massage them if they want massage. It’s about adjusting your approach to improve patient compliance while keeping true to the principles of evidence based practice.

What are non-verbal cues?

Non-verbal cues are literally everything except the words that are spoken.

It’s the way something is said. It’s a lack of eye contact. It’s a person’s body position.

It may sound complex but they are your key to reading between the lines.

So how do you get better at non-verbal cues?

Techniques to get better at reading of non-verbal cues

First step is to read, watch and understand what you’re looking for.

This YouTube clip (although it’s really just audio with a static screen) is a great place to start. It gives an overview of classic cues and their meaning.

Then you need to refine your practical application of reading cues by politely clarifying some with patients. But this will only work if they trust you and you seem approachable and open.

You mentioned exercise and the patient broke eye contact and just gazed at the floor? It could be a bad sign or it might be nothing.

If you put it to them “I feel that you’re not a fan of exercises“, the patient is likely to get defensive and deny it.

But if you explain to them:

these types of exercises are only effective if they’re easy to set up at home, otherwise we’ve got another option that will help. Would these exercises be easy to set up or would you prefer an alternative option?

It doesn’t seem confrontational and is more likely to get an honest answer.