Adios. Sayonara. Au revoir. Auf Wiedersehen. No matter how your patients say goodbye, the sting of losing them doesn’t hurt any less. Break-ups between a patient and physician can happen for a variety of reasons, but the challenge for healthcare practices is to retain the patients they have and keep them happy.
Patient retention matters because the average person in the U.S. will spend just north of $10,000 annually on healthcare, according to 2016 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the most recent available. Nearly $2,000 of that spend was directly related to physician and clinical expenses.
And if the old adage is to be believed that it costs practices five times as much to attract a new patient as it does to keep an existing patient happy, then, financially, it’s in a practice’s best interest to make sure existing patients have no good reason to say goodbye.
Here are four reasons why patients leave a practice — and a few tips about what can be done to keep them from leaving.
A patient needs an appointment. They call the office and are greeted by a phone tree menu. They finally get through to a human and the first available appointment is in a few weeks during a time when they are not available. They take the appointment, try to switch around a few commitments but end up needing to reschedule and repeat the process all over again. Sound familiar?
Inconvenience can be a patient loyalty killer, especially when it comes to something as simple as scheduling an appointment. No patient wants to deal with significant friction just from trying to see a doctor. That’s why practices should adopt online scheduling, which allows patients to schedule appointments at their convenience through an online portal by selecting open appointments on the doctor’s calendar.
Having to sit a long time in the waiting room is bad but ultimately forgivable. Negative first impressions during a patient visit created from burnt out or beleaguered front office staff are much harder to come back from, however.
Many routine office tasks that can stress out front office staff or take their attention away from patients — such as scheduling, appointment reminders, and patient surveys — can now be automated. This frees up the front office so they can create an indelible first impression on patients.
All relationships require some level of feeding and watering to remain long-lasting and, in the case of doctors and patients, financially fruitful. Practices must be at the top of a patient’s mind beyond a yearly check-up if they want to ensure patients come in regularly for flu shots, illnesses, and other unexpected maladies.
To prevent patients from developing feelings of indifference due to lack of communication, healthcare practices should develop a patient outreach strategy. This could include creating a real-time social media presence, sending monthly email newsletter updates, and sending yearly holiday or birthday cards.
All it takes is one lackluster experience in the exam room for a patient to begin questioning whether they might receive better care elsewhere. With the proliferation of online review sites for doctors, patients can easily see if their care experience was similar to other patients’ experience. If the reviews are mostly negative that patient might decide to test the waters elsewhere.
Online reputation management can help sway a patient on the fence to stay with a practice despite a so-so experience with a doctor. If the online reviews are mostly positive from other patients, perhaps the doctor will be given the benefit of the doubt for having an off day.
Practices need to provide patients a more robust customer experience. In doing so, they will make patients happier and earn more loyalty from them. Beyond that, practices should not be afraid to get feedback from patients through post-appointment surveys to learn what they can do better or differently.
Don’t give up on departed patients. See this blog for tips on how to win back lost patients.