For healthcare providers and patients alike, the past few years have brought unprecedented levels of change. Patients’ healthcare habits have evolved in many ways, especially with more than half missing appointments or avoiding routine care at some point during the pandemic. Some practices battled financial worries and faced staff reductions; to continue the delivery of care, many launched telehealth offerings for the first time. It was a very difficult and challenging time with adjustments and accommodations made by just about everyone.
More than a year later, the worst of the pandemic dust has settled. What we see now is that savvy patient-consumers have been returning to more regular habits, with high standards for the care and service they receive from their healthcare providers. According to the third annual PatientPop patient perspective survey, 36.4 percent of patients have left a healthcare provider during the last two years, citing a variety of complaints that led to the switch.
Why patients choose to leave a healthcare provider
Breaking up may be hard to do, but when a patient isn’t getting what they need from their doctor or healthcare practice, they are likely to make the switch.
In the survey report mentioned above, 72 percent of patients said they’d be willing to switch doctors to get the preferences they want most from a healthcare provider. What specifically leads a patient to take such drastic action? As someone who runs or manages a healthcare practice, understanding the answer to that question can help you keep patients satisfied, and keep them at your practice.
In the 3rd annual patient perspective survey, patients who have chosen to go elsewhere for their care included the following as their most common complaints:
#1 Poor experience with their healthcare provider
#2 Poor experience with office staff
#3 Slow or no response to questions or concerns
#4 Long wait times at the practice
What do all of these reasons have in common? In short, they’re all preventable. With the right tools, any medical or dental practice can keep a closer eye on patient sentiment and concern, and implement the changes needed to drive patient loyalty and retention.
The winning combination for patient loyalty: A personal connection + digital convenience
The patient experience has become the primary focus of attention in healthcare today, and for good reason. A positive experience — one that sees each patient as a person, patient, and customer — drives patient loyalty and long-term patient retention.
But, what constitutes a positive patient experience? While the specifics vary based on individual preferences, we know that most patients want two things — a personal connection with their doctor plus digital convenience outside of the exam room.
Our recent survey data indicates that 8 out of 10 patients who’ve switched providers based their decision on a negative in-person experience and/or lack of access and communication with the practice. The greatest emphasis is on the relationship that exists between provider and patient: 67.1 percent of patients say what they want most from their healthcare provider is “a good listener.”
As further data shows, the full patient experience reaches beyond the exam room, into the waiting room and even the patient’s home. Fifty-two percent of patients report they want short wait times at their provider’s office, while 46.9 percent want their questions and concerns answered promptly.
Addressing some of these patient needs can only be accomplished successfully within a digital environment, clearly the choice for patients today. Enhancing the patient experience and maintaining an ongoing, meaningful patient-provider relationship requires having the right tools to facilitate a strong connection, especially in between visits.
Not only is a technology approach good for business, but it’s good for your patients’ health, too. A better patient experience and increased patient engagement has been linked to better patient outcomes, making it a win-win for everyone, both financially and clinically.
Investing in the digital tools needed to best manage the patient-provider connection is just good business sense. Here are four ways patient-centric technology can help healthcare practice managers improve patient loyalty and drive long-term retention.
- Implement automated patient satisfaction surveys following each patient appointment. Simply asking your patients for their feedback demonstrates that you care what they think. Take that input one step further by identifying good or regular advice, and then making continuous practice improvements in response. Doing so is the ultimate display of customer service — making changes that a customer recommends — and can help enhance the patient experience and drive patient loyalty.
- Use email to stay in touch in between appointments. Email newsletters and/or email marketing campaigns can help your healthcare practice stay connected to patients throughout the year. Whether it’s a simple reminder to schedule a routine appointment, updated information about your practice (“Our ultrasound center has moved!”), or a segmented campaign targeted at patients with certain healthcare concerns or interest (such as diabetes, hypertension, pregnancy), proactively reaching out to your patients will keep your practice top of mind and contribute to return appointment volume.
- Streamline patient/practice communication. From secure two-way text messaging to chatbots to Facebook Messenger, businesses are making it easier than ever to connect and communicate quickly, and patients have come to expect this from their healthcare providers, too. By automating certain front office functions, practice staff can respond to incoming inquiries quickly. The use of text messaging can streamline practice-patient communication, and drive even greater patient satisfaction.
- Modernize the patient experience. Give each touchpoint of the patient experience an update. Offering online scheduling, digital registration and intake forms, and other modern conveniences like automated appointment reminders and confirmations make it easy for patients to connect and do business with your healthcare practice.
Utilizing telehealth carefully can also help busy patients stay on track with their care. During the pandemic, as telehealth adoption skyrocketed, patient satisfaction rose right along with it. 2020 PatientPop survey data shows that telehealth patient satisfaction increased from 76 to 81 percent, as more people experienced virtual visits between August and December. In a post-pandemic era, optimizing your telehealth offerings for patient convenience can be a great differentiator for your healthcare practice.
The real business advantage of using digital practice management tools
As we look to the future of patient satisfaction, practices that offer both connection and convenience will be positioned for better long-term success. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, practices who used digital practice management tools had a distinct advantage: PatientPop practices returned to pre-COVID-19 patient volumes 14 weeks before the national practice average, demonstrating the immense value of an all-in-one practice growth platform.