How to improve the patient experience and build patient retention at your healthcare practice

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Digital transformation, consumerization, value-based payment models, market consolidation. There is so much swirl in healthcare today it can sometimes feel impossible to focus on the one thing that truly matters: overall patient satisfaction.

Although you certainly give your patients your full attention during their office visits, patients see the exam as only one aspect of the complete patient experience. Healthcare providers need to think strategically about about all the nuances that go into patient retention, including the creation of a patient marketing plan.

Consider the following:

  • The rise of retail and urgent care centers in America has occurred primarily at the same time service-oriented companies like Amazon, Apple, and Netflix have taken off. Patients want medical practices to deliver an experience that’s as convenient as those they have grown accustomed to in their everyday lives.

  • Patient retention and patient marketing matters because the average person in the U.S. spends just upward of $10,000 annually on healthcare, according to 2016 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the most recent available. Nearly $2,000 of that is directly related to physician and clinical expenses.

  • A recent survey from Bright Local suggests that just one negative online review could cost a business at least 30 customers. Independent practices fighting for market share need every patient.

By prioritizing not just the care delivered inside the exam room, but also the entire patient experience, medical practices can begin to develop muscles that will help them weather any unforeseen industry trends and regulations.

In this whitepaper, we share a high-level roadmap for how healthcare providers can begin thinking about a holistic patient experience — and improve patient retention in the process.

How to improve the patient experience and build patient retention at your healthcare practice

Improve re-visit patient experiences

The pre-visit patient experience encompasses every interaction a patient has with a practice leading up to the moment they sit down in the exam room. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Discovering a practice and choosing to schedule an appointment
  • Whether the patient remembers to show up for an appointment
  • The number and redundancy of paper forms they fill out during check-in
  • How comfortable they feel sitting in the waiting room

By putting yourself into the mindsets of patients, you can begin to build multi-channel strategies to meet pre-vist expectations.

Taking a page from what Apple or Amazon does right and applying it to the patient experience at a healthcare practice will not only delight patients but also help you earn their loyalty and love.

Start by examining your practice’s online presence, an essential exercise considering more than 72 percent of Americans begin their search for healthcare providers online. First, Google the name of your practice or a phrase like [doctors near me] to see what results are returned. This will give you a real look into what prospective patients see the first time they come across your practice — assuming they find your practice within the first page of Google results.

Successful practices focus their marketing efforts on getting found in search results, as well as other popular web destinations like business directories and social media.

But it’s not enough to be found on the web. You need a website that paints an accurate picture of the practice so prospective patients can get to know you quickly. This can be done with a thoughtful biography, by providing answers to frequently asked questions, and by clearly listing hours of operation, accepted insurance, and services — and sometimes even including prices.

A website is even better if patients can conveniently schedule appointments online right from the website without having to call. PatientPop research shows 42 percent of patients prefer to use online scheduling rather than the telephone.

Going even further into reimagining the pre-visit experience, practices can automate many routine communications channels with patients, to send reminders for an upcoming appointment or patient alerts if the doctor is running behind the scheduled appointment time, for example. These updates are familiar to people because they are similar to those they receive and expect from Amazon leading up to a package delivery.

Small changes to your patient engagement strategies like these within the pre-visit experience can collectively make a big difference in whether existing patients return to your practice and whether new patients choose your practice out of the many available to them. This is the essence of patient marketing, and your patients will thank you for it.

Improve the in-office experience

The surest path to a better in-office experience starts with a friendly and happy staff. It sounds simple, but it can actually be a difficult challenge for medical practices. Burnout can negatively impact a practice, even when hiring the best staff and brightest cultural fits. Staff and providers not only need to feel like they are contributing to the overall mission and purpose of the medical practice but, on a day-to-day basis, they need to feel they are contributing to the practice’s success in a way that only they can. 

For doctors, that means delivering the best patient care. For staff, it means being able to focus on face-to-face interaction with patients and providers, which requires removing tasks from their to-do list that can otherwise be automated.

At many healthcare practices, front office staff spend most of their days booking and confirming appointments. Not only is this tedious for them — often demanding hours on the phone — it’s also inopportune for patients who must wait to be greeted and served. If your practice has improved the pre-visit experience by automating routine tasks related to scheduling appointments, sending appointment reminders, filling out forms, and collecting insurance information, your staff will have the ability to be fully present and focused on interacting with patients as they walk through the door.

The downstream of this additional time, of course, is the ability to empower your front office staff to take on special projects. Think of the hundreds of projects your practice might be itching to tackle if only it weren’t busy putting out fires on a daily basis. You might want to update your waiting room, for example, to create a more welcoming space for patients. 

Special projects not only help engage staff in the mission of the practice, but they lead to tangible business results by giving patients a better overall experience.

This, in turn, leads to better online reviews and word-of-mouth referrals. It is a virtuous cycle.

When you combine these refinements with providers who are on time to exams, demonstrate excellent and caring bedside manner, and clearly communicate care plans and next steps, you have a winning formula for better patient retention. When staff and providers have time to do more than answer the phone, check a box in an EHR, or deal with the latest crisis, it creates a lasting and noticeable impression on patients.

Improve post-visit experience

Even if you have managed to attract new patients, get them to come in for an appointment, and deliver an exceptional in-person experience, your job is still not done. Providers need to also think about designing and engineering the post-visit experience to be just as pleasant and seamless as they do for other aspects of the patient experience. 

When done right, a post-visit experience can create an endless feedback loop between patient and practice that becomes the engine for continuous improvement and ongoing patient satisfaction.

Start by sending automated feedback surveys to patients via text message or email. Even negative feedback can be useful for a practice because it offers a chance to see if any issues are trending and need to be addressed. The negative feedback can be collected to form the basis for a special projects list.

Once patients begin reviewing the practice with some regularity, having a member of the staff address online reviews will be crucial. 

Nearly two-thirds of patients consider it “very” or “moderately” important for doctors to respond to a bad review, according to a survey about online reviews.

Thank patients for positive reviews and acknowledge negative reviews by addressing and resolving them privately and promptly. Often, when patients who leave a negative online review have their concerns acknowledged and resolved, those patients will go back to update their initial review.

Practices that engage meaningfully with online reviews show prospective patients that they care enough to make the time to do something other practices might find trivial. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference.

When practices set out to tackle something as mercurial as the patient experience, it must surely feel like a daunting challenge to know where to even begin. But, by thinking instead about how a practice can help patients during three distinct moments — pre-visit, in-office, and post-visit — the tasks to be done become much smaller and easier to strategically plan against.

This service-oriented approach to patient marketing and the patient experience will lead to higher patient retention, happier staff, and an organization positioned constructed to stand any unforeseen challenge.

Get help improving patient experience and boosting patient retention at your practice today. Visit for information.

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How to improve the patient experience and build patient retention at your healthcare practice