Patient Retention is Key to Any Healthcare Business
Many hospitals, diagnostic imaging centers, and medical practices of all kinds focus primarily on reaching new patients to grow their businesses, without pinpointing why existing patients may not return, or how to increase their patient retention. Focusing only on gaining new patients means failing to nurture existing patients. This can hinder your efforts to build your practice and harm your reputation with the community.
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The first step toward increasing patient retention rates is to understand and address the reasons patients are leaving in the first place.
What’s the real reason patients don’t return?
Hopefully, it’s because they no longer require medical care. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
A Gallup Poll found that 27% of American adults reported a visit to the ER in a single year, including 10% who have been admitted to the ER at least twice that year.
It’s not only an individual decision of where to go for their healthcare needs, patients often choose doctors and hospitals for their families when it comes time for medical care.
To gain a true understanding of what factors may be driving patients away, gathering patient feedback is a must.
Though each patient may have their own reasons, however, studies have shown some significant trends which help us understand what factors tend to send patients in search of another medical provider.
A study of 600 physicians and 3,000 patients by the Altarum Institute Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care suggests that
The reasons providers believe patients leave is not aligned with the reasons patients reported leaving.
According to the study:
The top two reasons providers thought patients left a medical practice were
1. Patient moved
2. Insurance was no longer accepted
While the top two reasons patients reported leaving were
1. Better service
2. Better treatment
Not only is it better for you to have returning patients, it’s also ideal for patients to stick with one doctor or at least a single hospital. Patients who go in search of a new option can suffer negative consequences of disrupted care.
The good news is there are simple ways to improve your patient experience and how your services and treatments are viewed, which builds confidence both with patients and with referring physicians.
Here’s how you can you give your patients the treatment and service they are looking for.
Treatment is the main reason patients come to you in the first place, and their perception of the treatment quality is vital.
Traditionally, medical providers focus on these areas to improve care:
- Staff training and knowledgeability of care.
- Technology, including medical equipment and software.
- Variety of treatment options available.
These certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, however, these are not the only factors influencing a patient perception of treatment quality.
These areas are shown to make the biggest impact on how patients feel about their treatment:
- Amount of time the doctor spends with the patient.
- Patient’s understanding of care and treatment.
- Patient involvement in decisions about their health.
Next, we will address each of these and more ways to improve your patient experience which will lead to high patient retention rates, happier staff, and a better healthcare reputation.
1. Amount of time spent with patients
This can be a tricky one, after all, there are only so many hours in the day and doctors only have a set amount of time available for each patient. And the emergency room? There’s never enough time!
Here are some of the ways you can combat negative perceptions in this area without compromising your schedule:
- Keep an unrushed demeanor during the time you do have with your patients.
- Have a physician’s assistant gather information from the patient has before seeing the doctor.
- Encourage patients to call with any questions they may have later on.
2. Patient understanding of treatment
A patient’s understanding of his or her care is vital not only for their health but also for a positive perception of treatment.
You can help your patients understand their care using the following techniques:
- Ask the patient open-ended questions to encourage them to describe in their own words what you have discussed so that you can check for understanding.
- Address questions and concerns thoughtfully, then check with the patient to be sure your response makes sense to them and fully addresses their concern.
- Provide educational materials to patients about their treatment such as pamphlets or online resources.
3. Patient involvement in decisions about their health
Patients look to you for guidance, but ultimately want to make their own choices about their health.
You can help patients to be actively involved in their care by:
- Encouraging feedback both during and after the office visit.
- Providing Patient Decision Aids such as this Online Tool To Help Patients Decide Whether To Be Screened For Lung Cancer.
- Motivational Interviewing is a well-researched set of principles that can help healthcare providers to avoid taking a paternalistic role with their patients. These simple but powerful techniques foster a collaborative partnership with patients to keep them engaged.
- Using Reflective Listening And Asking Open-Ended Questions will help build trust and collaboration between you and your patients.
Empowering your patients to play an active part in their health care can result in positive outcomes in addition to increasing the positive perception of treatment quality. The practice will experience fewer appointments. Your patient will be more interested in prevention, and the outcome will be better served as the patient is more likely to adhere to the treatment plans.
Next, let’s talk about
Patient perception of service can be influenced by a lot of factors including:
- Staying connected
- Staff attitude
- Convenience of scheduling
- Wait times
- Extra effort to make a patient feel valued
Next, we will take a closer look at these and discuss how to improve patient perception of each.
4. Staying connected
Providing better service in healthcare means being there for patients when they need you, and that includes after they leave your office. Stay connected with your patients by:
- Reaching out to them when it’s time for a follow-up
- Encouraging them to call or email if they have questions about medications or treatment
- If you have a lot of health-related information on your website or blog, give your patients the URL
- Ask patients to connect with you on social media
Whether you’re a hospital or a small practice, if you’re thinking about using social media to engage with your patients, or if you’re already doing so, check out our article Your Reputation Could be Ruined by Your Social Media Strategy
5. Staff attitude
Every staff member has an impact on how patients will perceive your practice. Patients who view the staff as “nice” will be more likely to come back.
You can foster a genuine and kind staff by:
- Empathy training. This may be the most important item in this article. Empathy shows patients you understand, respect, and care about how they feel. A lack of empathy by any staff member can cause patients to turn around and never look back.
- Keeping your staff happy. Find out what your staff really wants, from insurance, to pay, to time off and lunch breaks. A happy staff tends to have a good attitude.
6. Convenience of scheduling
Making scheduling an easy task can make a world of difference to both existing and new patients. It’s equally important to make sure appointments are available within a reasonable timeframe or your patient retention rate could take a nose dive.
Did you know? Since 2014, the average wait time has increased by 30%. As of 2017, the average wait to schedule an appointment is 24 days.
Having appointment times available sooner means a higher likelihood a patient will schedule with you. The number of no-shows also tends to decrease as the wait to schedule an appointment decreases.
You can help facilitate convenient scheduling by:
- Using an Online Scheduling System.
- Scheduling follow-ups before the patient leaves the office.
- Implementing a wait list so you can contact patients who have requested an earlier appointment as soon as one becomes available.
- Using ZocDoc to help fill last-minute time slots.
- Offering walk-in times.
- Offering extended hours or weekend appointments to accommodate patients who work during the week.
7. Reducing wait times
Reducing waiting room times shows patients that your practice respects their schedule and values their time.
You can keep patients satisfied with their wait time by:
- Gathering patient information early. This could be through online forms, or from the referring physician.
- Eliminating excess paperwork. Avoid redundancies in paperwork, especially if a patient has been to your practice before.
- Maintaining a late or no-show policy and keep track of repeat offenders.
- Sending out appointment reminders. Keep your team on schedule by helping patients remember their appointment date and time.
- Remind patients to arrive early to fill out paperwork. If they don’t know they need 20 minutes to fill out paperwork, things will end up running behind.
8. Extra effort to make patients feel valued
Integrating thoughtful touches may seem tedious, but it turns out it’s the little things that make a big difference.
Let your patients know you care by:
- Keep in touch with your patients, for example by mailing holiday cards and check-up or event reminders. Not only does keeping in touch with your patients show them that you care, it can also help remind them to take care of their health, which could mean coming in for a follow-up.
- Make your waiting room hospitable. Having small conveniences available makes a patient’s visit more enjoyable and helps you stand out from the crowd. Ample seating, appealing decor, beverages, and a variety of reading material can keep people happy, even if they have to wait a few minutes.
- Value their feedback. Not only is gathering feedback beneficial for your team, it reminds patients that you care about their opinion and that you’re always striving to meet their expectations. Sending a “Thank you” to patients who submit feedback or online reviews shows that you’re listening and that you appreciate your patients.
These 8 Strategies Will Increase Your Patient Retention and Your Healthcare Reputation.
These patient retention strategies require some thought, investment, and training up front but can quickly become an automatic part of your daily routine. Not only will they help improve your patient satisfaction, and reputation, they also help to foster a positive workplace culture making your office an enjoyable place for everyone.
Looking for more insight into your patient experience?
Learn how MedRev gathers valuable patient feedback and helps improve your online reputation!