In the PatientPop 2020 practice growth survey report, seven of 10 healthcare providers define growth as the acquisition of more patients. For private practices, especially smaller or newer practices, patient acquisition is the key component to growing a successful business. However, too often, healthcare practice owners don’t think beyond the value of an immediate new booking to consider the true potential of patient retention.
Every patient has a lifetime value that each practice should recognize. At PatientPop, we talk about retaining a patient for life, and the ways that it benefits both patient and practice.
Return visits (in-person or via telehealth) help patients maintain good health, whether it’s for active, preventive care, or to manage a chronic care situation. Patients also benefit from having the consistency of the same healthcare providers or care team tending to their care needs.
For the practice, a satisfied patient is almost always a loyal patient — and that means a greater likelihood they will book regular visits for necessary care and follow-up. In turn, the practice can expect fewer no-shows, and better patient adherence and outcomes.
What does it take to retain a patient? At the core is communication — how and when you reach out to patients, and what you say to keep their business. Satisfied, well-informed patients are more likely to stay with your practice; conversely, 69 percent of patients say they would switch providers for a better or more convenient experience.
To inform your patient retention strategy, here are four tactics to implement at your practice.
Patient retention tip 1: Respond to patient feedback
If you’re following best practices, you already survey patients about their experience with you and your practice. The next step is critical: responding to their feedback, especially if it’s negative. Data illustrates that without receiving a response, an unhappy patient almost always remains unhappy.
When healthcare practices fail to respond to negative comments or feedback, only 3.6 percent of patients express satisfaction with the practice. Practices that do respond see a different, far more positive picture: a patient satisfaction rate of 59 percent.
Responding to feedback can contribute to whether a patient chooses to stick with or leave your practice. In our 2020 patient survey, patients listed having “a good listener” as what they want most from their healthcare providers. Paying attention to, and responding to, feedback from potentially dissatisfied patients is essential to directly meeting that desire.
Patient retention tip 2: Use preferred patient communication methods
Delivering convenience is one of the keys to meeting patient demand and securing patient satisfaction. Our survey insights show that when receiving communication from their healthcare providers, patients prefer the ease and convenience of text messaging.
Specifically, this is the case for appointment reminders (66.8 percent of patients want text messages), and reminders for patients to make their next appointment (58.7 percent). Operationally, sending messages like these using an automated service can reduce no-shows and drive return visits with minimal administrative work from your staff.
When patients initiate communication with you and your practice, the choice of communication channel changes. For patients that have a question for the practice, 32.4 percent prefer to pick up the phone.
What’s important here is what patients expect when they do call your office: 52.1 percent of patients say that having a person answer the phone is one of the things they want most from their healthcare practice.
Patient retention tip 3: Maintain a regular schedule of email marketing campaigns
Part of any retention strategy is delivering value and staying top-of-mind, even when an appointment isn’t necessary or relevant.
This is where email marketing campaigns come in. By sending patients a regular schedule of email communications, you can continually convey your position as the trusted expert in your specialty, while maintaining a connection with patients.
Efficiency and scalability are key here. Consider using a service that lets you easily create email communications using pre-existing templates, deploys the email, and tracks the activity of your recipients. To optimize your message — and your opportunity for patients to take action (like booking an appointment online) — try segmenting your patient base and sending focused emails.
You might send a specific, segmented email based on patients’ age, condition, time until their next appointment, or need for care such as an annual visit or vaccination. Studies show that email clickthroughs double for segmented campaigns.
Patient retention tip 4: Be prepared to make changes based on patient feedback
If you want to satisfy and retain patients, consider what they share — with you directly and in online reviews — about their experiences with your practice. Sometimes, constructive feedback gives you insights you wouldn’t get otherwise. A patient may mention something troubling about a check-in or waiting process (especially as those have changed to ensure safety). It may be an experience with a particular staff member. It may be a helpful suggestion around scheduling, billing, or preferences for communication, as mentioned above.
If you’re seeing repeat comments, can you make a change? Think about issues that can be addressed with relative ease. Then, after making an adjustment, take on two retention actions: First, connect directly with the patient or patients that raised the issue originally. Let them know that, thanks to their feedback, you’ve made a change at your practice.
Then, if you’ve enacted a change you’re proud to share with others (like a more streamlined way to register or pay, for instance), include it in upcoming scheduled patient communications, perhaps on social media or an email campaign. You’ll be telling your patient base that you ask for feedback, listen to it, and respond to better serve your patients.
It’s a well-known fact that retaining a customer is usually easier and cheaper than acquiring one. As your practice moves forward in continually expanding your patient base, integrating retention tactics into the mix will work toward your overall practice growth and patient satisfaction.