The orderly process steps in selecting a healthcare provider begins online with research, awareness and other steps that lead to a provider selection and a new patient appointment.
But don’t kid yourself; patients don’t automatically cross the chasm from “purchase” to “loyalty.”
Patients take the role of informed consumers. Just as they behave in a retail purchase situation, patients increasingly expect (and evaluate) value and benefits to flow from their purchase decision. And they're willing the change providers when they find better value.
Often the decision to change providers hinges on the patient experience. Disappearing patients will leave because they feel of an attitude of indifference. Failing to inspire loyalty—and retaining patients—often has little to do with clinical competence.
Patients will switch doctors for many reasons. In the eyes of the typical consumer, one white-coat-doctor looks about the same as the next. Sometimes it’s the free, but priceless, experience ingredients that make all the difference.
A colleague provided the following real-world example. It’s about a pet owner who switched from one veterinary practice to another—stick with me on this—and it illustrates important lessons for doctors and medical practices.
The DVM office that we had been going to for years was close to home. It turns out that the convenient location was probably it’s best selling point. The office had no computer system; records were handwritten on index cards.
Staff changes were frequent; always the same doctor, but never the same people at the front desk. And, perhaps most annoying, calling for an appointment was always a challenge. When someone did answer the phone, it seemed like an interruption for them, plus their hours were limited.
Recently, we couldn’t get through to our regular vet about a minor medical issue, so we called a competitor down the street. The difference was obvious from first phone call.
OK, none of these little touches have anything to do with the clinical quality of care…although I have greater confidence in a well-organized office with friendly staff and doctors.
And as a result, we’ll not be returning to our previous DVM office. Our loyalty just moved down the street.
Patients are no longer “just patients.” Selecting a competent provider is no assurance of retention or loyalty without good reason to stay connected to your practice. The lesson in our story is that the entire patient experience is vital to patient retention. And what’s more, the things that make a big difference to the consumer are often free…but priceless.
Let us know if you're using "free, but priceless" ideas in your medical practice. It doesn't take much, and usually costs very little, to make a bit impression. To get your creative juices flowing, see our previous article titled, Small Things Thank Build Patient Experience Big-time.
And for more on this topic, read: Empowered Patients: Mad as Hell and Not Taking It Anymore.