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Why Physicians Should Run Their Practices Like Online Retailers

Consumer-friendly digital skills are no longer nice to have — they’re a necessity for patient retention.

Thanks to high-deductible health plans, patients are now spending more out-of-pocket for their healthcare than ever before. The trickle-down of this is that patients are acting like traditional consumers — meaning they search for the best value, prioritize convenience, and demand more from their healthcare experience.

A new study from NTT DATA Services all but confirms the fabled consumerization of healthcare. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said they expect their digital healthcare experience to mirror the ones they have from the most popular retail companies.

More worrisome for physicians at independent practices is the revelation that 78% of survey respondents said the digital customer experience is lacking in healthcare, and 50% said they would leave their current doctor and become a new patient at another practice if it offered a better retail-like experience.

It’s time to start thinking like Amazon to win and retain new patients instead of the hospital system down the road. Here are a few tips healthcare practices of all sizes can implement that will allow them to provide a retail-like experience and achieve better patient retention.

Improve Your Online Presence

Think about the way people buy products now. They’ll do an online search to see what options are out there, read review sites to narrow down the list of potential options, and maybe go to a brick-and-mortar store to test drive before heading back online to find the best price.

The internet has fundamentally changed how people buy things. It’s no different for how new patients find a physician. Instead of asking a friend or family member for a word-of-mouth referral, it’s more likely a patient will turn to Google and review sites to determine whether a healthcare practice is worth visiting.

Healthcare providers need to understand this shift and take advantage of it. By managing their online presence and reputation, providers can make themselves more visible to potential patients and create a more favorable impression before a patient has even set foot in the office.

Use Text or Email Messaging to Communicate

It feels like magic the first time you buy something on Amazon and get a steady stream of text messages or email updates alerting you that: your order has been received, your package has shipped, and your package has arrived.

Healthcare practices should also leverage text messages or emails to communicate at each stage of the patient journey. Automated text message reminders have shown to reduce no-shows by approximately 25%, but providing nudges like this also helps with payment reminders, updates on labs, rescheduling appointments, patient surveys, and more.

Related: The Real Cost of No-Shows — and How to Avoid Them

Make it Easy to Schedule Appointments

Uber has changed the way people hail a cab; thanks to travel sites like Airbnb or Expedia people no longer have the need to use travel agents when booking hotels or flights; and OpenTable has made it simple to make restaurant reservations.

This is what doctor’s offices are competing against when it comes to how new patients schedule appointments. The expectation has been set that having to call and talk to a person to make a reservation or appointment is old fashioned.

Online scheduling, however, isn’t just a nice-to-have. It has been shown to free up office staff and lead to better scheduling density by filling open appointment slots. It’s a winning strategy for better patient retention.

Provide Transparent Pricing

Paying for healthcare is, to put it nicely, a confusing and maze-like experience for patients. It’s not just hard to understand what doctors charge for their services, but it’s also hard to figure out how much insurance will cover for those services.

Contrast this with buying a television. It’s easy to figure out how much Walmart, Amazon, or Best Buy will charge for a TV. Often, each retailer will match the price of a competitor to win a customer’s business.

Practices can win new patients simply by letting them know how much routine services — such as a wellness visit, a flu shot, a last-minute office visit, lab work, and more — cost. Pricing transparency leads to trust, which leads to patient retention.

Check Out: How to Market and Sell Retail Products in Your Practice

Optimize Your Physical Space

If a patient has been to one doctor’s office, chances are good they’ve been to every doctor’s office. There’s the check-in desk, the waiting room with the same magazines, and the sterile and cold exam rooms. The reality is doctors haven’t really had to put much thought into the physical spaces where they deliver care.

But that shouldn’t be the case. One look no further than how Capital One transformed the experience at their physical bank locations from the boring-but-usual to the delightful. Medical practices shouldn’t be afraid to imagine what a doctor’s office could be in the digital age to give new patients the unexpected.

Capital One could reinvent its brick-and-mortar businesses because banking has almost entirely migrated toward a digital experience. It’s wise for doctor’s offices to start thinking about how digital transformation will free up the physical to be reimagined as a patient retention strategy.

As patients continue to place the same expectations they have on healthcare as they do from apps, services, and companies they use and buy from in their everyday lives, it’s clear that medical practices must change and change quickly. The good news is that making a few small changes can go a long way to ensuring they meet the demands of even the pickiest of patients.

For more information on running a successful practice, check out the blog “What Makes One Healthcare Practice More Successful Than Another?

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