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Healthcare heartbreak: Why patients break up with practices

Patient satisfaction and patient retention are at the heart of a successful practice.


There’s nearly 1 million doctors in the U.S., according to October 2018 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, but your patients chose you. Don’t take them for granted, however, because like any relationship, they might leave if they’re not treated right.

Every practice experiences patient turnover, but if yours has recently experienced an uptick, it’s time to make a change. Here’s a look at several common reasons patients leave and tips to increase patient satisfaction.

It’s not me, it’s you: Possible reasons patient satisfaction is low at your practice

Long wait to get an appointment

When patients have a health concern, they want you to examine them as quickly as possible. If they have to wait several days or weeks, there’s a good chance they’ll seek care from another practice willing to see them in a timely manner.

The average wait time for a new patient appointment is 24.1 days, according to a 2017 survey conducted by physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. Avoid this issue by leaving a couple time slots open each day for last-minute appointments. Patients want a doctor they can count on, and seeing them right away will make them feel like a priority.

Read: 10 things patients hate about healthcare practices

Notably poor punctuality

Patient retention is largely tied to office wait times. In fact, one in five patients have changed doctors because of long wait times, according to Vitals.

The vast majority (84 percent) of those surveyed rated wait time as “somewhat important” or “very important,” highlighting its significance. Don’t worry: Reasonable patients don’t mind a bit of a wait. The report found that doctors with a 5-star rating have an average wait time of approximately 13 minutes, compared with roughly 34 minutes for those with 1-star ratings.

If this is an issue at your practice, schedule longer appointment times and stop double-booking patient time slots. This will help you stay on track and avoid earning a reputation of being perpetually late.

Check out: 5 ideas to make waiting more pleasant at your healthcare practice

Failure to make a connection

The doctor-patient relationship plays a major role in patient retention. If patients don’t feel like you have their best interests at heart or otherwise don’t feel comfortable with you, they probably won’t be inclined to make a return visit.

Avoid this by giving each person your undivided attention for the entire duration of their appointment. Treat them with compassion, ask questions, and listen carefully to everything they say.

Feeling rushed during appointments

Patients get an average of 11 seconds to explain the reason for their visit before they’re interrupted by their doctor, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Findings revealed only one in three doctors gave their patients enough time to explain their situation.

Being a good listener is important in every relationship and serves as one of the best patient retention strategies. This shouldn’t require much effort on your part, so give patients the floor and allow them to speak without interruption.

Look: How adjusting your bedside manner can boost patient retention

Absence of trust

Misdiagnosis isn’t uncommon in the medical field. For example, up to 88 percent of patients who visit the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion leave with a different diagnosis, according to a 2017 study conducted by the nonprofit medical organization.

Patients put their lives in your hands, so if they don’t trust you, they won’t come back for a return visit. Build trust by listening to patients and carefully examining them to learn as much as possible about their symptoms before making a diagnosis.

Lack of communication

Medical jargon is your second language, but patients don’t understand these complex terms. If people have trouble deciphering what you’re saying, they probably won’t be inclined to continue the relationship.

From reading nonverbal cues to gauge a patient’s level of comprehension to making sure test results are delivered in a timely manner, communication plays a huge role in the care process. Find out how you’re doing by sending patient satisfaction surveys after each visit. This will provide you with valuable feedback that can be used to learn and grow.

Also see: The 6 best communication channels to drive patient retention

Unpleasant office staff

Patient satisfaction in healthcare is about more than just the doctor. Your office staff might actually have more contact with patients than you do. If they don’t greet them warmly upon arrival, treat them with kindness during their visit, and display excellent phone manners, this could be enough for them to leave your practice.

Learn: How to boost patient satisfaction by empowering your staff

Now that you’re aware of common breakup causes, you’re better equipped to give your patients what they need. Use the advice provided to maintain a healthy relationship that lasts for years to come.

For more on the topics of patient retention and patient satisfaction, check out the blog post “5 questions doctors should ask to gauge patient satisfaction.”

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