I was talking with someone the other day about patient relationships, and thought that the main points may be helpful to some folks. (Here’s a link to the original LinkedIn post) I created this infographic to outline the 5 basic steps to developing strong patient relationships.

The 5 Steps to Developing Strong Patient Relationships

Here are 5 distinct stages of patient relationships:

  1. Attract & Acquire5 Steps Funnels
  2. Establish
  3. Engage
  4. Amaze & Delight
  5. Retain

Each stage requires a different communication strategy.

Attract & Acquire

Whether a patient is referred to your clinic by another medical provider, or if they hear about you through your marketing, your prospective patients start their relationship with you before you even see them.

You need to be proactive and intentional in your communication with patients that are in this stage of their relationship with you and your clinic.


Patients are no longer “prospects”. You don’t need to convince them to schedule that first appointment or interaction, but you do need to provide them reasons to become engaged in treatment.

At the first appointment, you or your clinician(s) took time to listen to the patient, to validate their experiences, and to answer their questions in a way that communicated empathy, understanding, and competence.


The next step is to seek input from the patient in the treatment planning process. Focusing on goals and objectives that are meaningful to the patient leads to greater engagement and experience.

Just because a patient schedules a follow-up visit (or two or three) doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. We need to make sure that we never take our current patients for granted. We must always take steps to ensure that they’re engaged and satisfied.

Amaze & Delight

You need to make good on those promises you’ve made in your message and marketing and during the initial appointment.

Ask your patients “Are we doing everything that you expect or desire to help your recovery?” or “Is there anything we can do to better help you meet your goals?” Taking the time to ask these questions really makes an impact on patients’ perspectives of the clinic.


There are 2 types of patient retention:

  1. Course of Care Retention
  2. Clinic Retention

Course of Care Retention means retaining a patient through to completing their plan of care. This should be one of the few key metrics that you focus on regularly. Patients that are engaged and are having good experiences in your clinic are more likely to finish their course of care. If you notice low numbers with plan of care completion, take a closure look at patient engagement and experience.

Then there’s Clinic Retention. This means repeat patients. These patients had a great experience, felt engaged in treatment, met their goals, and completed their plan of care. Now, perhaps they have another issue. They choose to return to you clinic (because they had such a great experience the last time). Now, obviously, we hope that our patients complete their plan of care in our clinics then go on to live a long, pain-free life. But, if they’re in a position where they need services again, we want them to think of us first, right?

You NEED to track these two types of patient retention! At the end of the day, lead generation (or drumming up referrals) covers up problems with patient experience, engagement, and retention.

Putting it All Together

When a patient walks into your clinic for their first appointment, you need to make good on those promises you’ve made in your message and marketing. You need to make sure that you never take your current patients for granted. Keep them actively engaged and make them feel valued and listened to. You must take steps to ensure that they’re engaged and satisfied (and if not, figure out how to fix it).

And finally, whether it be via social media, email marketing, or phone calls, you need to have some way of both following-up with former patients and maintaining that relationship. And then, look at your metrics: Low numbers in the areas of plan of care completion, returning patients, and cancelled appointments/no-shows indicate problems in the patient relationship cycle. Understanding this cycle is the key for any clinic owner or manager to increase retention, engagement, and returning patients. It all revolves around mastering these 5 steps.

Check out the infographic below that summarizes this concept:

5 steps to patient relationships


How does your clinic intentionally form patient relationships?  Share any additional resources that you found helpful in the comments below!

For more informational reads, check out our Blog to see all the articles we’ve published to date. Click here to head over to our resources section and check out our variety of clinical and professional resources aimed at increasing your knowledge and skills. If you’d like to make some changes in your clinic or health center, and would like some help, check out our consulting and advisement services or contact us to see how we can help you break out of the norm and provide a truly impactful patient experience.

Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L is the president and CEO of Rehab U Practice Solutions. He has experience in a variety of rehab settings, working with patients recovering from a variety of injuries and surgeries. He worked as the lead clinician in an outpatient specialty clinic at his local VA Medical center. He also has experience as an adjunct faculty instructor at Augusta University’s Occupational Therapy Program, as a Licensed Board Member on the GA State OT Board, has served on several committees for the national OT Board (NBCOT), and as a consultant working for the State of Georgia’s DBHDD. He is also on the Board of Directors for NBCOT. He works to help healthcare clinics and organizations deliver uniquely impactful patient experiences by improving service delivery through training & advisement.

Read his full bio Here. Read about Rehab U Here.

Schedule a call with him Here.

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