In the 2021 patient perspective survey, patients revealed insights into their behavior and preferences when assessing and choosing healthcare providers. The survey results highlighted what matters most to patients and what they’re willing to switch providers for.
To be successful in 2021, medical and dental practices must satisfy current patient demands, both in and outside of the office. Based on this latest research in patient behavior, habits, and preferences, we’ve identified five reasons patients are not choosing your medical or dental practice — and how to solve each problem.
Problem #1: Your patients cannot find you online.
When it comes to making healthcare decisions, the majority of patients rely on the internet as their main resource. In fact, three out of four patients have looked online to learn about a doctor, a dentist, or medical care.
If you’re not showing up prominently online, potential new patients may not even be aware of your practice. Consider the challenge of getting found in search results: online search attention tends to focus on the first couple of slots and drop off drastically after the #5 position. Earning a high search ranking as part of maintaining a strong web presence is imperative.
Enhancing your overall web presence positions your practice to connect with and secure new patients where they already are — online, searching for care or the answer to a care-related question. Two areas to focus on when expanding your web presence include:
- Optimizing your practice website’s SEO strategy.
Your practice website plays a pivotal role in your SEO strategy. Your website should be high performing: optimized to look and work great on mobile devices, load quickly, and be secure. When organizing your website information, each of the services you offer and conditions you treat should be listed on individual web pages. These pages should include helpful information for patients, filled with relevant keywords designed to help answer online search queries. That way, patients searching online in your local area can find an answer to their health-related questions on your site, learn about your practice, and then request an appointment.
- Claiming and building out your online profiles.
Your online professional profiles exist on websites such as WebMD, Yelp, Vitals, and Google, even if you’re not aware of them. You may already have an individual profile across a number of websites, and your practice may have its own profiles, especially if you operate a multi-location healthcare practice. (In that case, each office location should have its own profile, to be surfaced for patients searching online within that local area.)If the information on these pages is outdated, inaccurate or, worse, does not match the information on your website, it can confuse both search engines and potential patients. The solution is to claim your online profiles with each website, and update them with accurate, consistent information. Just being consistent everywhere will help expand your online reach. When working on your online profiles, be sure to prioritize your Google business profile. Based on the search engine’s enormous level of use and market share, the way you present yourself on Google really offers the most business opportunities.
Problem #2: You’re neglecting your online reputation.
When patients look online for a healthcare provider, their most influential resource is online reviews from other patients. In fact, 74 percent of people find online reviews to be a very or extremely important part of their decision-making. Even among patients who access their insurance company’s directory to find a doctor, two-thirds will also read reviews of the providers.
With this much reliance on reviews, managing your online reputation is a critical component of your patient acquisition strategy. Within the past couple of years, patients have become even more reliant on reviews and selective when choosing their provider. Currently, 69 percent say they will not consider a healthcare provider with an average star rating lower than 4.0 out of 5. Nearly one in five will only consider providers that have a minimum of 4.5 stars.
Ways to best manage your online reputation include:
- Monitoring all critical feedback and following up with patients.
To ensure your online reputation is in top shape, you must track and be aware of the feedback patients are posting online about your practice. Staying on top of feedback has multiple benefits: it helps inform you of what matters most to your patients; it lets you know where you can make improvements at your practice; perhaps most important, it gives you the opportunity to address any negative feedback patients share. Addressing negative reviews is mandatory to maintain a healthy reputation. First, responding to negative feedback publicly shows potential new patients that you care about the patient experience and wish to remedy any problems patients may encounter. Second, responding to an unhappy patient, and offering to resolve their issue, helps you connect with that patient and keep them coming back to your pratice.
- Requesting patient feedback.
The best way to ensure a strong online reputation is to gather reviews that reflect the patient experience at your practice. The only real way to achieve that is to request feedback from your patients. In fact, in our most recent patient survey research, patients asked for feedback from their healthcare provider have been 2.3 times more likely to post a review on their own. The most effective, scalable way to reach out to patients and accomplish this is to send strategically timed automated patient surveys following each visit.
Problem #3: You’re not using technology to deliver a convenient, accessible patient experience.
You may have heard many times that patients demand technological ease when it comes to communicating with your practice. We probed further with our research and found the majority of patients desire digital access for five specific, key patient interactions.
Whether it be online, via email, or text, at least 51 percent of patients want to be able to schedule an appointment, fill out registration forms, ask their provider a question, pay their bill, or access their health records.
If your practice offers all of these as digital exchanges, it is sure to stand out among others. If a patient can schedule an appointment online and fill out registration or intake forms before they ever walk into your office, you are allowing them to engage with you at their own convenience, on their time. Your practice staff has the benefit of saving time for both interactions (no phone call, no office clipboard), and can focus on the in-person experience.
To make the transition to a digital patient experience, first identify and cut down on manual front-desk tasks. Prioritize digital options that help drive your business, such as online scheduling, online bill pay, online form registration, and two-way text messaging. Finally, don’t forget to promote these digital upgrades to your patients.
A closer look: 5 top tech interactions patients want
Problem #4: You’re not engaging your patients with text messages.
When it comes to communication with your practice, patients are clear: they want text messages. In fact, 66.3% of patients prefer texts for upcoming appointment reminders, and 59% prefer text reminders when it’s time to book a new appointment.
By integrating text messages into your patient communication process, you not only satisfy and meet patient desires, but you take steps to reduce no-shows (a text message encourages a patient to confirm an appointment) and even increases your appointment volume.
Even for personal interactions with a practice, patients prefer text messages as often as other communication choices such as phone and email. More than one in four patients prefer text messaging to ask their doctor or the practice a question and get an answer.
When integrating text messaging into your patient communication, be sure to opt for two-way communication. This way you can send out appointment reminders and receive incoming messages from patients. You may still have a fair amount of patients who prefer email for certain communications, so give them an opportunity to identify their preferences. If you use costly or time-consuming communication methods — the old outgoing phone call list is a particular pain — work to eliminate them from your workflow.
Problem #5: You’re not emphasizing the patient experience “sweet spot.”
Patients treat their healthcare decisions in the same ways they treat any other major purchasing decisions. Today’s patients act like healthcare consumers and will leave a practice when their preferences are not being met. Over the last two years, 36.4 percent of patients have left a healthcare provider. Eight in 10 of these patients say their leaving was due to a negative in-person experience, or a lack of access and communication.
Clearly, retention relies on pairing a fantastic in-person experience with convenience and access before and in between visits. This is what we call the patient experience “sweet spot,” one that combines empathy with the kind of ease and flexibility that only technology and a practice technology platform can provide. By offering patients the ability to book online, fill out forms before visiting the office, and text messaging a confirmation or question, you and your staff can better focus on the patient experience in the office.
Read more: The realities of patient attrition