Where does the patient journey begin? For people looking for a new provider, or researching a specialty or type of treatment, it begins with that first page of online search results. This is where patients start forming their opinions and making their decisions. The result can be a new patient at your practice — or at another practice in your area.
After the appointment has occurred, where does the patient experience end? When the bill is paid? That idea has been voiced before, but it’s incorrect and very short-sighted for business. Is it when the patient’s next appointment has been booked? That is a big part of any retention strategy. But, by itself, it’s also incomplete in addressing the potential range of touchpoints that can benefit both patient and practice.
At PatientPop, we consider the patient experience an ongoing loop of connection between practice and patient. It begins the moment that person first finds the practice online, and continues through the appointment to post-visit communications that drive loyalty, return visits, and more new patients.
This reflects the way most patients look for and assess care today, and decide to stay with a practice. Our survey research shows that 3 in 4 patients have gone online to find out about a doctor or care — and about 7 in 10 people would switch doctors for a better experience or greater convenience.
To respond to those habits and preferences, it’s important to understand the touchpoints within the loop, and then apply technology and convenience to each one. Here’s a step-by-step look at how your healthcare practice can attract new patients, help meet their needs, and then retain them as patients for life.
Patient touchpoint 1: Search
At this initial stage, a patient looks online for a doctor or specialty using one of two types of searches: 1. Discovery search, in which they use care-related terms such as “pediatrician near me” or “best OB-GYN”; 2. Branded search, in which they enter a doctor or practice name in the search query, based on a referral or word-of-mouth recommendation.
This first point is potentially the most pivotal. If you and your practice aren’t easily found via search, you severely limit your acquisition opportunities.
Practice need: search engine optimization (SEO) strategy; enhanced web presence via accurate, consistent online business listings (ex: Google, WebMD, Yelp, Facebook)
Patient touchpoint 2: Consideration
How do your online patient reviews look right now? After a patient finds you online, they begin assessing whether they want to connect and make an appointment. This is your opportunity to make an exceptional first impression, with online reviews as the primary factor of influence.
In our 2020 patient survey, 73 percent of patients say positive reviews are very important when choosing a doctor. Online reviews are word of mouth at today’s speed and scale. It’s imperative that your practice excel in the three components of online reviews: total number of reviews, average star rating, and how recent and regularly your practice receives reviews.
There are other ways to establish a solid reputation as a trusted expert in your community, including a strategy you can implement right on your practice website. Think about adding specific pages to your site, with each page focused on one healthcare topic for which you want to be associated. The most common choice of topics include conditions you treat, services you provide, and your approaches to treatment.
Not only can these answer questions prospective patients are most likely to have, but they also alert Google and other search engines to fresh content on your site, for particular topics.
Practice need: requesting patient feedback, preferably via patient satisfaction surveys. When patients are asked for feedback by a provider or practice, they are 50.5 percent more likely to post a review.
Patient touchpoint 3: Conversion
Once you have a prospective patient’s attention, and have made a strong first impression by way of a solid reputation and online profiles, it’s time to secure an appointment. Getting that prospective “customer” to take action is what marketers call “conversion”.
To nudge an interested patient into your office, it’s important to offer them as many points of contact as possible. Empower them to book or request an appointment right from where they found you in the first place — while keeping your front desk staff’s administrative work to a minimum.
Online scheduling functionality is a must, and meets both of the above requirements. According to Accenture, more than two-thirds of patients prefer practices that offer online scheduling. It’s a convenience offered in any industry that relies on reservations or advanced scheduling. It’s also your first step in delivering a positive experience to a new patient.
Practice need: multiple communication channels for appointment requests, and to help reduce incoming phone calls. Online scheduling on your website is strongly recommended — and on every listing website that offers it with your profile. Text messaging for appointment requests can also help drive conversion opportunities.
Patient touchpoint 4: Pre-appointment
Acquiring a new patient is not complete until that person arrives at your practice (or sees a provider via telehealth). A big part of seeing that through, and reducing no-shows and late cancellations, is proactively sending out appointment reminders.
This is a convenience for which patients clearly want a text message, according to our 2020 survey insights. Two-thirds of patients say they prefer a text-message reminder, compared to 16 percent choosing a reminder email.
To drive down your no-show rate, ask patients to confirm their appointment in response to the reminder. Also, understand an effective rhythm by which to send out reminders, from three days before, to the day before and/or of the appointment.
Practice need: an automated service to send out appointment reminders, based on your upcoming schedule. For added patient satisfaction and staff convenience, enable online digital registration at your practice. Patients can complete the registration on their time, before arriving at your office.
Patient touchpoint 5: In-person or virtual visit
When a patient enters your practice, they are again forming opinions and assessing their experience. For in-person appointments, a warm welcome from the front desk is a tremendous start. Having an easy script, similar to that used on the phone, can help cover all bases when welcoming any patient, especially someone visiting your practice for the first time.
Then, as is the case with so many healthcare practices, it’s all about the waiting. Some waiting is inevitable, and we recognize that difficult balance of keeping a full schedule while still minimizing wait times.
In our survey research, nearly 6 in 10 patients say they begin feeling frustrated after 20 minutes of waiting to see the doctor. One smart way to prevent an angry or unhappy patient — or keep an angry patient from getting angrier — is to keep them apprised of their wait time. If there may be an additional delay, provide an update while they’re in your waiting area (or, as is the case more recently, their car).
There’s another way to optimize convenience and save time for everyone during the encounter: by conducting the visit via telehealth. More than 3 in 4 patients tell us they’d prefer a virtual visit in the future.
Practice need: implementing telehealth into your practice strategy, both now and for the longer term. With the COVID-19 pandemic turning telehealth into a necessity, there are now more patients than ever who have experienced a virtual visit. The large majority feel comfortable seeing their healthcare provider via audio-video, giving you the opportunity to satisfy patients with that option.
In many cases, a video visit also allows for more of a one-on-one connection with patients, as both doctor and patient hold eye contact and interact via video screen. Here are ideas on how to develop a telehealth strategy at your practice.
Patient touchpoint 6: Post-appointment
Here’s where you expand beyond that single visit, where the transition from patient acquisition to patient retention picks up speed. This is when the visit to your practice is fresh in the patient’s mind — the perfect time to ask for patient feedback.
Most effective is to request that feedback via email or text message in the form of a simple patient satisfaction survey. The feedback you receive from patients can inform improvements at your practice, reinforce what you’re doing right, and lead to a positive online review… which can then impress new prospective patients and continue the “loop.”
Practices should also be proactive with additional communication, sending text messages and email campaigns that remind patients to book their next appointment. You can also stay connected with established patients by sending strategically timed emails that keep you top-of-mind, sharing health information and updating anything relevant happening at the practice.
Practice need: Automated patient satisfaction surveys, email marketing campaign software, text messaging service
Patient touchpoint 7: Advocacy
Here’s where the loop begins again. By improving the touchpoints listed above, you’ve positioned your happy, satisfied patients to act as your practice advocates. They post positive reviews to any of the websites that surface professional profiles (Google is the most popular, based on our research); new, prospective patients can then use those patient reviews to make a decision to contact your practice.
Always respond to any constructive or negative patient feedback you may receive. This is a key facet of both acquisition and retention. The good news is that 2 of 3 patients who’ve posted reviews have shared only positive experiences.
Any healthcare practice not considering the lifetime value of their patients is short-changing opportunities at ongoing revenue and patients’ access to years of consistent, trusted care.
By addressing each stage of the patient experience in looking for and receiving care, every practice can win over new patients, retain current ones, and use technology to deliver a significant portion of a positive patient experience.