The Secret to an Engaging, Effective Home Exercise Program

Imagine a world where all patients did exactly what their physical therapist recommended. What would the result be? What would the patients’ health outcomes be? How engaged would these patients be in their care? You may be thinking that the patients that are compliant with their home exercise programs would have better results and you may be thinking the patients may getter better faster.  Both of those thoughts would likely be correct if we could figure out a way to get patients to improve compliance with home exercises. If patients were more compliant with their home exercise program they would have better outcomes, need fewer visits, and get better faster.  

Well, that is a nice thought but we know that this isn’t the reality we live in. There are many reasons that patients are not compliant with their home programs. Patient’s have many excuses that may be legitimate reasons to them as to why they just can’t get the exercises done at home. Patient’s lead busy lives, they may not understand what they are supposed to do. They may be too tired or they may not see why the exercises are important or how they really help them anyway.  

We need to find ways to engage our patients and get them involved in their care so that the importance of doing the exercises far outweighs any reason they may have to not perform their home program.

We need to be able to get patients to buy into what we as healthcare providers already know in order for patients to prioritize doing exercise at home even when they have a hundred reasons not to. Physical therapists go to school to learn evidence based interventions to help people get better and return to their previous level of function. Physical therapists tailor each program to each individual patient in order for patients to reach their maximum rehabilitation potential.  Physical therapists know what will help patients get better faster but that will only help the patient so much. The patients need to understand why they are doing certain exercises and why it is important to do the exercises at home in order to improve patient compliance.  In today’s world technology can really help bridge the gap between what is done during a visit and what can be done at home.  Technology can be used in so many different ways, we as healthcare providers just need to figure out the best way to reach our patients.   

According to an article on WebPT, there are 3 ways home exercise programs can improve patient engagement.  

Make the Home Exercise Program Valuable

It is important to make the home program valuable to the patient in order to get their buy in as to why it is important to do the exercises.  The therapist must essentially “sell” the importance of doing the exercises to the patient in order to get their “buy in”.  The therapist needs to set the expectations early on to help the patient understand the value of doing the home program.  If a patient doesn’t understand how a specific exercise is going to help them, then they may never do the exercises at home. If a patient understands why and how the exercise is going to help them then they will value doing the exercises more.  Value alone, however, will not ensure patient compliance.  If the program is too difficult to understand or a patient doesn’t have the proper instructions to perform the exercises correctly at home then they may not even bother trying it at home.

Make the Home Exercise Program Interactive

Information technology can support patient engagement.  A paper home exercise program may not give the patient enough information or instruction to know that they are doing the exercises correctly and they may just give up.  Paper is no longer our only option as healthcare providers.  Paper home programs may still be necessary for patients who do not use technology, however, we are moving more towards a world where patients want more information via technology. Patients often no longer even want a copy of their schedule when it can be found online and many would prefer not to have a paper copy of their home program if there is a way to access it online. An interactive home program can help patients get more out of their treatment sessions by creating better follow through at home.  Patients may feel more confident and comfortable doing their exercises at home when they have an interactive guide to use at home.  The more interactive the program is the more the patient is likely to perform the exercises on their own at home. If there was a way to hold patients more accountable in doing their home program by tracking how many times they do the exercises through a web platform or mobile application then it may improve their compliance. Patients’ may feel that they will be held more accountable if they had to track their performance at home or if they had to “check in” each time they performed their exercises.  An interactive program may also give the therapist more information about how their patient is doing at home. If a therapist notices the patient is not doing their program at home then they will know they need to spend more time on patient education and explaining the value of the program at the upcoming sessions.  If a patient is compliant with their home program and demonstrates independence early on then the therapist may be able to focus more on progression which will allow decreased number of visits and decreased cost to the patient.  Patients want to have fewer visits because they want to get better faster but also because they are busy and don’t want to have to continue therapy any longer than they need to.

Make the Home Exercise Program Accessible

Patients are frequently on the go, they are not just at home trying to do their exercises. Patients are trying to perform the home programs while they are at work, at their kid’s baseball game, traveling, and doing many other things. People need to be able to access their home program on the go. They don’t want to have to remember their written instructions every time they leave the house. They don’t want to travel out of state for work and then realize they don’t remember what they were supposed to do and not have the program with them. Patient’s want easy access to their information so that they can do their home program at anytime of the day and wherever they are.  If patients are more compliant with their home program they may have better outcomes which will improve patient satisfaction and in turn patient engagement. If a patient could access the information regarding their home program on their phone then they could take their program anywhere. Patients may be more compliant if they know that they have access to their program wherever they go and it doesn’t add to the list of things they have to remember during their busy lives.

If we get patients to see the value of their home exercise program early on in their care then they may be more engaged for their duration of care. If patients are more engaged in their care then they will participate more. If the patient participates more in their care then they will likely have better outcomes.  If home programs are more interactive then patients may be more engaged because they will have the tools they need to succeed at home. If there was a way to make the program interactive for both the patient and the therapist it will increase the quality of care because it will allow patients and therapists to interact and communicate outside of the office. A patient will have greater “buy in” if they feel supported even when they are at home.  If a patient has more accessibility to the information they need to successfully perform their exercises at home then they will be more engaged in their care. Overall, the amount of effort that is put into issuing a home program will essentially increase patient engagement.  Remember, success patient engagement equals home exercise programs that are valuable, interactive, and accessible.



3 Ways Home Exercise Programs Improve Patient Engagement.