Too often, healthcare practices focus their medical marketing efforts solely on patient acquisition. This overlooks the additional value of patient retention and fails to maximize on the investment made to acquire those new patients in the first place.
Think about your practice marketing strategies. After a new patient comes to your practice, do you have a process to keep them engaged and coming back? If not, you run the risk of them discontinuing care, or switching to another practice where they feel more connected and engaged.
How and why medical and dental patients slip through the cracks
Most patients have the best intentions to manage their health and stay on track with medical and dental appointments. But, when things get hectic, it’s easy for patients to put off important routine care. Yes, some seem to have a propensity for postponing healthcare visits (or, worse, scheduling and then not showing up), but the volume of patients currently not managing their care has skyrocketed.
This should be no surprise for private practices. Patients have been dealing with fears and anxieties related to COVID-19, compounding the stresses of home and work. Letting a few healthcare appointments slide may seem harmless, but research confirms otherwise.
In many cases, patient health is declining due to considerable gaps in care from missed appointments and screenings during the pandemic. Cancer diagnoses and treatments have been delayed, heart attacks have gone untreated, and millions of Americans haven’t kept up with routine care and preventive services.
Regardless of the reasons why patients may not schedule or keep appointments, now is the perfect time to evaluate factors within your practice that may contribute to “patient disengagement.”
Taking a closer look at your practice operations and ongoing retention strategies can help you identify areas of improvement, and make a plan to get patients coming back into the office.
4 mistakes to avoid to keep patients engaged and drive appointment volume
If your return patient volume has declined, or patients aren’t keeping up with routine care, here are four mistakes your healthcare practice may be making.
1. Your practice isn’t rebooking patients before they leave the office.
Getting patients to schedule return or follow-up visits on a regular basis can be challenging. Make it easy for them. As part of your check-out process, encourage patients to schedule their next visit. If they’re hesitant, remind them that booking early means a better selection of time and date options. Let them know they can always reschedule if something comes up before that next appointment date.
If a patient pushes back or refuses, remember that online scheduling can encourage them to make that appointment on their own. (Just let them know it’s available before they walk out the door.) Sixty-eight percent of patients say they’re more likely to choose providers who offer the ability to book, change or cancel appointments online.
2. Your practice isn’t checking in with patients who require follow-up.
For the first few weeks following a visit, most patients do a great job flossing their teeth or taking their medication. Shortly thereafter, things can get a little lax. That’s why clinical follow-ups are imperative, especially for patients with chronic conditions (asthma, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression are practically everywhere). Follow-up is also necessary for recent acute conditions that require a check-in, or for other diagnoses that should be monitored on a regular basis.
There are a number of engagement strategies you can employ to keep patients following their care plan, and staying in contact with your practice. Not only does a consistent schedule of care and communication help maintain patients’ long-term health, but it also fosters patient loyalty as part of an overall practice growth strategy. For patients short on time or experiencing barriers to get to your office, consider telehealth a convenient way to keep them engaged and adhering to their plan of care.
3. Your practice isn’t keeping patients updated with relevant health information.
When you don’t keep your patient base informed, there are two major negative effects: 1. Patients lack information that may be helpful within your community (think about COVID-19-related guidance and safety protocols at your practice); 2. Your practice is out of sight, out of mind.
Practices that use email campaigns, blog posts and social media outreach to connect with patients in between visits can deliver valuable health information while staying top of mind with patients. With email marketing, your team can segment portions of your patient population to deliver the right message at the right time, based on your patients’ demographic information and/or diagnoses.
Whether it’s a customized educational video or a reminder message to follow a diet or medication regimen, taking steps to stay connected with patients all year long can drive appointment volume and improve health outcomes.
4. Your practice isn’t sending next-appointment reminders.
The days of postcard appointment reminders are over. Today, patients prefer email and text message reminders when it’s time for their next appointment. Whether it’s to schedule an annual physical, a routine follow-up, a health screening, or a vaccine appointment, a regular reminder plan will help encourage patients to book those critical visits.
In the latest patient survey research conducted March 2021, patients expressed about equal preference for text message, email, and phone as methods of outreach for appointment reminders.
Regardless of your patient communication strategy, just be sure patients can easily book that next appointment directly from your message, without interruption. For an email or a text message, include a link to your online scheduling calendar, and mark it with a clear call-to-action such as “Book appointment;” also, include a click-to-call phone number to call your office with a single tap; for outgoing calls, be ready with appointment slot options and any flexible or after-hours times that may be available.
Staying connected to patients, avoiding engagement gaps
With each of these mistakes, patients can end up ignoring their health, missing important appointments, and becoming disengaged from your practice. But focusing on simple retention strategies such as keeping patients informed and on track with appointments, and engaging them digitally in between appointments, can help keep them healthy and your practice flourishing throughout the year.